Monday, August 31, 2015

Knowing Nothing

The populist siren call of ant-immigration is not a new phenomenon in the life of our republic. Donald Trump is but the latest (and, sadly, probably not the last) in a long line of populist demagogues who rally discontented voters by demonizing and fixing blame on the newest members of American society.

Nativist sentiment has manifested itself in political movements several times since the founding of the republic.

A wave of Irish and German Catholic immigrants flooded cities on the Eastern Seaboard in the first half of the 19th Century, straining physical and societal infrastructure. Overcrowding, high unemployment, and the inevitable soaring crime rate -- coupled with anti-Catholicism -- created a toxic brew of resentment and retaliation. 

The resultant sectarian violence would make Northern Ireland's "Troubles" look like a domestic squabble in comparison.

Institutional violence against immigrants in northern cities during this time would make Bull Connor blush.

Unscrupulous, power-hungry politicians climbed into the saddle aboard the wild steed of anti-immigration sentiment in the late 1830's and by 1856 had forged a third-party movement that named a former U.S. President (Millard Fillmore) as its Presidential Nominee.

Fillmore lost, of course. Buchanan won that election.

The party went by many names -- The American Party, The American Republican Party, The Native American Party -- but members were universally referred to as "Know Nothings" because most local chapters began in secret and members denied their early participation with the phrase: "I Know Nothing."

Seriously. The Colonel ain't makin' this stuff up.

And, finding a curious echo in the current Trumpista movement, the vast majority of Know Nothing party membership were middle class with a distinct disdain for politicians. As the movement grew, Northeastern state legislatures, in particular, became majority Know Nothing, the new members by and large possessing no prior political experience.

The Know Nothing movement faded as the country fell inexorably into the gravity well of civil war. By the second year of that war, whole divisions of the Union Army were completely Irish or German immigrants, many stepping off a boat in New York or Boston and right into formations that marched toward Richmond.

And, therein lies a probable solution to our current debate.

Jeb Bush is right, you know. The vast majority of illegal immigration to our country is an act of love. They love our freedom. They love their children. They fear the violence and repression in their native lands.

Oh sure, there is a small, but not insignificant, percentage that have come here as a clear and present threat to the security and welfare of our citizens.

But, security is rarely found on the defense.

Walls don't work.

Qin Shi Huang's Great Wall didn't keep out the Mongols.

Hadrian's Wall failed to secure Britannia for Rome.

No, dear readers, walls and other defensive measures are not the answer.

Offense wins.

You take it from here...
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