BRUTAL AMERICAN NATIVISM REDUX
Largely in response to the excesses of the McCarthy era, John Higham, a historian at Johns Hopkins wrote STRANGERS IN THE LAND: PATTERNS OF AMERICAN NATIVISM, 1860-1925 and published his work in 1955. In that work, he identifies three basic factors underlying nativism in that earlier era. First, anti-Catholicism was at the heart of much of that nativism; the second factor was anti-radicalism; finally, the belief that America was an Anglo-Saxon nation at risk of losing its identity acted as the last leg of this wretched three-legged stool.
Nativism has seen a resurgence in recent days. Obviously, we have the blatant racism and nativism in our current president ― Make America Great, America First, Obama is not an American, Mexicans are murderers and rapists, etc.), and then we have nativism sentiments in segments of the electorate that find voice in the president’s pronouncements. All of this makes it worthwhile to consider whether these three axes apply to our current situation.
ANTI-CATHOLICISM ― Was this serious? Absolutely! Remember as late as the 1960 election, John Kennedy had to assure voters that he wouldn’t be taking orders from the Pope. But, now, this is so old hat. Its current manifestation is the Anti-Islamic Fervor (or fever) we see afoot day. All those wing-nuts braying about Sharia law are just kissing-cousins to those who battled against the sins of “popery” way back when.
ANTI-RADICALISM ― The political unrest and violence during the last decades of the 19th century and the early 20th century, much of it associated with European political movements exported to America as well as the labor movement and attempts to repress it, make a large proportion of the leftist unrest of the ‘60s and ‘70s look like kiddies playing in the sandbox. Today, the bomb-throwing leftist and the labor “agitator” of earlier years have been replaced with Muslims, all of whom are un-American, untrustworthy, and thought in some circles to just be waiting for the right opportunity to grab an AK-47 or an explosive vest to become Radical Islamic Terrorists. We’ve seen this before in the Palmer Raids after WWI and in the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. Now, we had candidate Trump telling Yahoo news that it was probably a good idea if all Muslims were required to be registered in a federal database and, maybe, issued identification cards (shades of Nazi Germany and yellow Stars of David).
AMERICAN IS AN ANGLO-SAXON NATION ― The increasing visibility of White Supremacist and the “America Firsters” egged on by the president and the likes of Steve Bannon are simply singing a new verse to this old song. The attacks on refugees from Mexico, Central, and South America, as well as The Middle East is carried out in the guise of crime control and anti-terror tactics. But, as Charlottesville showed us, there is something brutal and nasty at the true heart of all this rhetoric. We just need to remember the chant used in Charlottesville during the torchlight (shades of Nuremberg) parade ― You will not replace us! Jew will not replace us! ― that makes this stunning bigotry clear. However, we must remember the president’s view that “there were some nice people out there” marching with those neo-Nazis and KKK mouth-breathers.
Interestingly, in earlier days, each of these strands bled together ― After all, Sacco and Vanzetti were non-Anglo-Saxon radicals who immigrated to America from a notoriously Catholic country.
The same is true today. The same people who go on about Latino criminals, Islamic terrorists, and Islam’s incompatibility with American values are tying these three strands of nativism up into a single nasty rope, which many of them, it seems, would like to use in a figurative or literal lynching.
Evangelical Christians, the Republican donor class, college-educated Republicans, and their fellow-travelers no longer demand decency in the world of politics. They are craven opportunists willing to debase the world of politics to the extent of supporting a pedophile over someone who will vote against tax cuts for the rich or Supreme Court justices who won’t try to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Probably the most horrible thing is that Republican members of Congress, Republican appointed to positions in the government, and Trump supporters all know that the president is removing the top from and vigorously stirring a pot of bigotry, hatred, and violence that we all thought was simply “the ghost of Christmas past.”
Unfortunately, it seems that filthy pot may hold portends of “Christmas Yet to Come.”