Saturday, May 1, 2021
Immigration Article of the Day: The Political Branding of Us and Them: The Branding of Asian Immigrants in the Democratic and Republican Party Platforms and Supreme Court Opinions 1876-1924 by Ciara Torres-Spelliscy
The Political Branding of Us and Them: The Branding of Asian Immigrants in the Democratic and Republican Party Platforms and Supreme Court Opinions 1876-1924 by Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, New York University Law Review, Vol. 96, 2021
This piece builds on my work from 2019, when I explored how different aspects of American political life in the Trump era were being rebranded in the book Political Brands. Branding in politics is very similar to commercial branding: repeat a message ad infinitum until the intended audience accepts the message as true. Here, I examine the platforms of the Republican and Democratic parties starting in 1876 and ending in 1924. Over that time span, neither party held the moral high ground when it came to mischaracterizing Asian immigrants. Instead, there was a race to the bottom in determining who could vilify Asian immigrants more. These texts are significant because political platforms were written by elected elites. Meanwhile, the audience was incredibly broad. Platforms were often either printed in full in newspapers, or heavily excerpted in the media of their day. The full 1896 Republican platform was printed in the New York Times, as were the 1920 and the 1924 platforms. Moreover, the objective of a 4-year platform was to attract as many registered voters as possible, and to expand that party’s power in government. Thus, these texts had to be accessible to the average voter both in verbiage and tone. Political platforms are thus rich sources for examining how political branding evolved.
The political platforms over 48 years branded the Chinese through rhetorical caricatures as a threat to labor; as a threat to morals; as unassimilable; as diseased; and as invaders. Then some of these anti-Chinese brands showed up in the Supreme Court’s choice of language in legal decisions.
This piece focuses on two textual sources that are not typically considered together: the rhetoric in political platforms and Supreme Court opinions. I compare and contrast the portrayal of Asian immigrants in party platforms to the similar portrayal of Asian immigrants echoed in Supreme Court opinions. I argue that the casual racism of political parties is a harbinger of the Court’s unequal treatment towards objects of political racial hatred, all of which took place against a backdrop of incredible violence directed at Asian immigrants, which I largely won’t address in this piece because of space constraints. Suffice it to say that the violence experienced by Asian Americans in 2020-2021 had many historical antecedents.