I was reading something yesterday that struck me as interesting. It was about a far right fringe group I hadn't heard of before, by the name of "Nativists." This faction is described by the author as anti-immigrant, afraid about seeing "the American way of life threatened with ruination by the hordes of immigrant poor," those "flooding into the country, bringing with them their ignorance" and their heathen religion. In one town, an angry mob of followers had attacked an immigrant's house of worship, burning it to the ground.
Stories like this are always so despicable to me, not just for the obvious reasons of being against the human spirit and decency, but in part too because it always seem to hide behind the cloak of the purity of Original Americanism. Supposedly being the Real Patriots. When in fact it's against most everything patriotic that America stands for.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
“Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
“The home of the free, the land of the brave.”
I suspect that there are some on the far right who will nod approvingly at what concerns the Nativists, perhaps not supporting their violent actions, though perhaps so, since we've seen burnings of the Koran and efforts trying to suppress irrational concerns of Sharia law.
But while those who think the goals and efforts are, at the very least, understandable, it's important to note that I left something out of the story.
The passage doesn't come from a newspaper, but rather David McCullough's book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, and it concerns a movement in the United States in 1840. Moreover, who the immigrants were and what the religion was are not precisely what you might have presumed. The ignorant, immigrant hordes the Nativists were referring to who they said threatened the ruination of America were the Irish, Italians and Germans, and the hated "Romish" religion was the Catholic Church.
As George Santayana famously wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
For those who never quite knew or believed what he was referring to -- there you have the explanation.
Or as I not-famously at all write, it's so much easier to demean others and stir up hatred out of pure hatred of your own or fear or racism or ignorance when you don't realize that that the very same arguments you're using against others are demeaning those who you support, if not you yourself.
By the way, lest anyone suggest that the comparisons aren't apt since, after all, it was those of the Muslim faith who actually attacked the U.S., I merely grab hold of that pesky history bag and remind of our fighting Germany in World War I, and both Germany and Italy in World War II. Those wars might be "after the fact," but in today's parlance that would make the immigrants of the 1840 "sleeper cells."
Of course, the only war the United States fought with Mexico was when the we took Texas from them. Other than that, it's been a pretty peaceful co-existence with bordering neighbors.
Anyway, the next time you hear someone on the far right outraged at ignorant immigrants, the poor, and with unfamiliar religions, just remember you might have heard that song before. And before. And before. And...
Some people happily remember the song though -- it's like that nagging tune you hear on the clock-radio when you wake up and can't get it out of your head -- and have learned how to deal with others unfamiliar to them and live in peace. While others are condemned to repeat themselves and live in their own gut-wrenching, small-minded, thoughtless angst -- trying to keep churning up hatred in others, all the while wrapped up in a mean-spirited, fake American flag pin of faux-patriotic imagery, whether as Nativists, America First, the Tea Party, FreedomWorks, or the always safe standby, just plain, old "Real Americans."
As John Prine wrote, “Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore.”
P.S. If Mexico would like to take Texas back, it's okay with me.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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