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Nativism Isn't New
But it's certainly a consistent tool for political grifting.
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WASHINGTON - JULY 18: The entrance to the office of Representative Marsha Blackburn in Washington DC on July 18, 2017. Marsha Blackburn is a congresswoman from the state of Tennessee.
America’s story is one of economic development. The tale is about an expansion that displaced and robbed marginalized peoples.
Though, it is also about the fight for democratization.
A laissez faire corrupting force is enabled within the nation from time to time. It’s a force that threatens the health and well-being of our citizens and our environment. At the same time, it is intricately connected to the political corruption we experience.
In a more positive sense, this force can be understood and recalibrated towards developing ways to secure and revitalize our humanity and shared understanding of each other.
Trouble at the Tennessee Border
Yesterday, the Senator from Tennessee made a comment about the desires of her constituents.
It may get awkward if Steve Bannon is involved.
Still, this is a healthy reminder that nativism can be big business in America - if enabled.
The Know-Nothing Party
By the middle of the 19th century, Irish immigration had jumped in the United States due to the Potato Famine in Ireland. This wave of immigration created anxieties within communities considering themselves the original citizens. This often was fused with a religious supremacy that cast negativity on an immigrant’s Catholic traditions.
The Know-Nothing Party, or the American Party, was certainly an aggressive bunch.
Their induction oath included they:
not vote or give your influence for any man for any office in the gift of the people, unless he be an American-born citizen in favor of Americans ruling America, nor if he a Roman Catholic.
The party won multiple governorships and controlled several state legislatures in the mid 1850s. In 1857, the Massachusetts party successfully pushed for a state constitutional amendment that disenfranchised immigrants and the formerly enslaved from voting through the use of grandfather clauses. However, they failed to make immigrants wait 21 years before gaining voting rights. Other platforms included the mandatory reading of the King James Bible in public schools. The party’s influence was strong in Massachusetts with a budding Irish community.
The Know-Nothings were a fracture from the original Whig party that split over the expansion of slavery. Many Northern Whigs were politically homeless. They gravitated to the Know-Nothings, especially Americans in closer proximity to Irish populations. Much of the nativist fears are reminiscent of today - like demagoguing policies towards destitute Irish immigrants with no social safety.
The Massachusetts economy was rapidly industrializing and this meant a process of crowd out and deskilling. Local residents and workers blamed their lowering wages, lost jobs, and other economic shifts on low-skilled Irish immigrants (notably different from their pre-famine counterparts). The massive growth of large manufacturing was overlooked.
The antebellum Massachusetts that began with small farms and local manufacturers was in a rapid process of urbanization and industrialization.
The party’s popularity and electoral successes were short-lived. But, they were able to build on a playbook of nativist politics that returns.
Back to Tennessee
It’s shameful that the Senator from this state feels the need to demagogue the inhibitions of people. By the way, these emotions were unnecessarily inflamed from years of right-wing marketing reliant on fear and framing asylum-seekers as the personification of a deep-seated cultural threat.
It’s all just to reach her base constituents.
This behavior sheds an imbalanced leadership structure. But, these are not new tactics.
We are reminded daily that economic development is a complex and nuanced subject. We are rightfully concerned about the loss of manufacturing jobs to more lax labor markets while sometimes overlooking our reliance on cheaply made goods sent and packaged around the globe.
We all do it.
But, this lazy attempt to rekindle the Trump flame and just outright troll is not conducive. It also serves to undermine a global struggle to uphold free markets and democracy. The world is grappling with atrocious war crimes conducted by a ruler saturated in false narratives about the sovereignty of a neighboring people. His economy has reverted to a command economy out of the ashes of international sanctions. It is a pariah state.
That is the end stages of losing a sense of humanity when policymaking.
Senator Marsha Blackburn adds to a nativist strain in the Republican Party. It, in fact, is making our policy discussions less humane.
This right-wing toxicity is also muddying up our needed and nuanced discourse about the relationship between future economic development, immigration, and labor relations.
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Understanding the Success of the Know-Nothing Party Marcella Alsan, Katherine Eriksson, and Gregory Niemesh NBER Working Paper No. 28078 November 2020 JEL No. J01,J1,J15,J71,N12,N32