Polyps, Nativism And American Névrose

John Higham years ago diagnosed American nativism as far more than mere general enthocentric animus. We agree with his analysis that American Nativism is a complex psychological fever. It draws on cultural antipathies and ethnocentric concerns. Throughout our history, it can be characterized is “a zeal to destroy the enemies of a ‘distinctly’ American form of life.” Nationalism, Higham noted, often is the main ignition flash point that launches the resulting fever.

According to this formulation, we have endured now 6 major fevers:

(a) the partisan strife surrounding the Alien and Sedition Acts in the late 1790s and ‘foreign radicals’;
(b) the rise of the ‘Know Nothings’ and the ‘America Party’ in the 1850s, reacting to immigrants and social instability before the Civil War;
(c) later, during the 1880s, Nativism thrived on another wave of pessimism over social mobility and anti-immigrant influx;
(d) WWI and the resulting post-war fear of foreign radicalism/ and immigrant ethnic tensions;
(e) WW II and post war concerns again about constricting social mobility and alien subversion.

And now the latest 7 year fever. Today, across the Rightist landscape we see a barely concealed fear of Anglo Saxon culural, racial/genetic and political dilution. It’s not new, either. American invocation of Anglo-Saxon purity emerged only during the course of the periodic cycles. It emerged ironically in the 1850s as a general politically liberal point of view, only to be turned by the Righists into a key engine stroking Nativist fevers ever since.

So that explains the Tancredos and their ilk — the fear of “brown people” and Buchananism are tired and predictable echoes of the past. The wild card? Their poison so much more potent because they buildi upon the embers of Nationalism and Fear generated by the Warlord’s Christian Socialist Authoritarian (CSA) regime after 9/11. It is worthwhile noting that the Tancredo/Buchanan types use “national security”/securing the borders as an after thought and convenient talking point. It is not their main focus. (Their anti-war/anti-Neocon/anti-‘cosmopolitan’ element fits in nicely here, too, as further rejection of alien Neocon ‘them’).

The Warlord’s CSA regime was an even more potent Patient Zero for spreading Nativism than its predecessors such as the Adams Administration, etc., because of 9/11 but also because it had the support of the permanent National Security State elements created after 1945. True, the CSA and Neocons sought to purge, destroy and rebuild their own, new radicalized intelligence/law enforcement apparatus. They have largely successfuly cowed or radicalized the professional officers of the armed forces. A ruling regime’s attempt to co-opt or remake such “power institutions” is a pattern familiar with nascent authoritarian regimes of all political philosophies since time immemorial.

Our Nativism is also distinguishable from the past because of our media saturation. The reality that globalization impinges, constricts and challenges Americans and their children is shoved in their faces immediately and obviously. Whereas earlier fears about declining social mobility and standards of living in the 1880s and the 1850s were largelyt abstract, even the SUV driving Soccer/Security/blah blah Moms can see outsourcing, Walmart, the death of employment stability.

The Stiftung has to laugh that the financial (dare one say plutocratic) strata on Wall Street now tremble. They were content to see much of America atrophy and the fever rage as long as their bonuses came. Now they belatedly see their ephemeral ‘value’ is also a global, fungible commodity. Pathetically, they seek protectionism. They blame over-regulation as the reason their own economic toe-hold evaporates and deals go to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, London and Frankfurt. (A not small percentage columnists and journalists you read advancing this regulation problem the Stiftung can reliably report are paid, directly or indirectly to do so and agitate). Another sign of the end of the U.S. as global metropole.


So where does that leave us? Breaking the latest Nativist fever still requires one to address the underlying policy issues that began and still stoke it. The solution is not their wall, a moat with sharks with frickin laser beams on their heads, etc. or drag nets on city streets, etc.

First, the Stiftung believes that a real American political conversation must re-evaluate the role of corporations and society. Corporations are entities sanctioned by societies with a long social/political history (subject for another post). How the tax code and other mechanisms encourage off shore registration (with a mail box) for tax reasons while the corporations focus on short term profits (including but not limited to the hiring of illegal immigrants) is merely one issue. The fundamental question? Is America a nation and society with an economic philosophy and practice? Or is it an economic construct with a society as an adornment?

Second, to lessen if not extinguish the growing radicalization of the American middle, we strongly believe that education and college issues must be made a positive political program. Tuition costs even for middle tier schools that run over $40,000 a year and growing far outstripping inflation simply is not sustainable politically. This is on top of the collapse of American public education (a joint goal of Rightists/Schmitteans and elements of Left).

Health care concerns are actually also a key component in this debate. Providing some predictable and fair health care system for the broad society of Americans will lessen significant anxities fueling our current Nativist fever.
We need a bold, unapologetic and overt political program predicated on advancing and executing policies to remove, ameliorate and defuse social mobility anxities. Such a political program will re-marginalize the Tancredo/Buchananites faster than an Olbermann ‘Special Comment.’

Third, the border does need to be controlled. And be seen to be controlled. But by the federal government, not vigilantes mainstreamed by Nativist AgitProp. Frankly, a little populism would not necessarily be a bad thing per se, perhaps. We do not need embrace “All the Kings Men” to make sound, fever-reducing policy.


Many political, social and media elements have a vested interest in profitting off the current Nativist Fever. Or ‘cooling it off’ on their terms. A Falangist America, as one prominent pundit said to the Stiftung who writes Nativist columns and says the same on a cable news channel, “would not be so bad.” This pundit, a semi-covert critic of the Warlord, has resigned himself to such pessimism. In other words, Christian Socialist Authoritarianism with a ‘humane face’. Perhaps that would be the ultimate in Greenspan’s vaunted ‘soft landing’. Doubtless Andrea Mitchell, with yet another blonde treatment, would report it breathlessly for us.

We firmly believe how we treat and cure our current fever will help establish the trajectory of our Nation post-Warlord. Jefferson’s actions decisively deflated the Nativism of the late 1790s. So it can be done. True, external events often intrude and dictate events as the Nativism of the 1920s met the Depression and other problems. But that is no reason not to try.


  1. DrLeoStrauss says

    Saw this over at Positive Liberty:


    It’s not as fringe as one might think. There are alot of Republican Movement types who have said the same thing to the Stiftung in the last two years, convinced that the WH is a den of San Francisco steam bath devotees — and also, btw, a convenient scapegoat for the domestic stab in the back meme.

  2. cato90025 says

    Not to ignore the Lookism exegesis in prior piece; HRC has a softer more feminine look. Thermage/Botox?

    Likewise–Edwards finally got rid of those Bobby Sherman 70’s bangs. Yeah–is an aesthetic Spengler cycle at work?

    As for the Hegels on the Right–I have a Pavlovian wretch response that precludes a dispassionate view.

    Great work as always–any thoughts on Wayne Madsen?

  3. Aldershot says

    Obama’s such a great guy, but you could just see him kinda winging it. He might make a great president some day.

    Armchair, HRC is just a woman, not a saint!

  4. Comment says

    There were some question that Obama gave shakey answers to – He sounded a bit tentative and unsure of himself. This has happened in previous debates, but those clips tend to vanish down the memory hole.

  5. Aldershot says

    His shakey parts?

    Armchair, did the birds eat your breadcrumbs?

    Good-night, gentlemen. And when we next meet, I would like your opinions on which white male would best serve as an HRC running mate, should she be nominated. Because I’m thinking…maybe…

  6. Armchair says

    If Hillary is elected – she should select another woman as her VP. But to show that she is not threatned by competion from her running mate, she should select a very sexy woman – One that could go toe to toe with Segolene Royal in a global sex appeal contest.

  7. Comment says

    Barack will probably win the post-debate debate over the next week because his clips will be superior and his shakey parts will be ignored. HRC looks happy, at long last.

  8. Aldershot says

    I don’t think Richardson would pass the focus group tests for appeal, or whatever. And to be blunt, if Hillary is the nominee, she’ll have a hard enough time dealing with the woman issue. Barak or Richardson would be a double negative in too many eyes. I think the VP would have to be white. Now, I’m thinking….maybe….

  9. Comment says

    Update – We just tuned into the debate and heard Biden explain his vote for NCLB by saying that he voted for it just because Teddy Kennedy cares about education, but that he is now against it because his wife told him about problems yada yada yada – That’s his 1100 SAT score showing. No dubt when he is Prez he will consult with Dellinger about his SCOTUS pick and with Tribe. Then he will ask the leading experts at Columbia to staff this, Harvard to staff that, etc. He just bumps up against limitations – Biden was wise to shake his head that “my baby” gun guy question. That was odd. HRC must be taking some happy pills –

  10. Comment says

    That SAT comment may have been off point, since we don’t really know how those things are scored these days.

  11. Comment says

    It would be a mistake to send troops to Sudan. What would they do? Just sit there in the sand and wait until everyone waits until they leave?

  12. Comment says

    Aldershot’s HRC points are on point – She was pretty cool and we say that somewhat reluctantly. She was good when she just basically dismissed the foolish question about whether she would be taken seriously. Barack probably would have made the mistake of trying to answer such a question.
    Biden is just not that bright – he’s not dumb. He’s just like someone whose SATs peak at 1200 after taking endless prep classes. So he always looks to establishment worthies for guidence. Bush is actually smarter than Biden (though less well informed) – but few Dems would admit that.
    Richardson is gunning for VP – He’s just not a President. Edwards has been successfully bitched, so that even those of us who think that was unfair still have a hard time getting passed all that.

  13. Aldershot says

    I must be a commoner, I enjoyed the format of the debate. Too bad the Republican one isn’t till September. Hillary amazed me. I’m a total introvert, so her coolness under stress is awesome. And she manages to somehow hit the balance between womanly, business-like, and authoritativeness. And she looked like a million bucks (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

    Biden, I think had the biggest goof with saying so vehemently we should send troops to Darfur. Too much emotion, too illogical.

    You gotta love Gravel.

    Maybe we should get Doc to live-blog the Republican one.

    Do we need to send up a flare for armchair?

  14. Comment says

    Just a debate note – We have to concede that HRC probably won this debate – Though we think she won the previous ones and the polls showed mixed results. Anyway – Biden says no troops can leave Iraq until there is a political solution – That is wrong – very wrong and it illustrates Biden’s B-team Luger/CFR mentality.
    A withdrawl of troops at our own initiative might created a political solution. No withdrawl might lead to a disasterous withdrawl later.

  15. Comment says

    re Falangist America – what would the party symbol look like? An extra sharp talon on the Eagle? Maybe a Newt going to Colmbey quote?

  16. Aldershot says

    Thanks for the insightful article. A lot to mull over. Pessimist that I am, I think ultimately we’ll be lucky just to get that soft landing. It’s interesting to consider the various way ‘cooling the fever’ will play into our economy/labor market, such as the increased need for teachers, interpreters, and social workers to assimilate the Latino influx, and increased FDA/USDA facilities and inspectors to detect dangerous imports.


    The Stiftung: shaping your world-view since 2005.

  17. Hunter says

    “Jefferson’s actions decisively deflated the Nativism of the late 1790s. So it can be done. True, external events often intrude and dictate events as the Nativism of the 1920s met the Depression and other problems. But that is no reason not to try.”

    Actually, it was doable in the 1790s. And by (more or less) just Jefferson. Even if external events don’t intrude, is the internal dynamic of the system really that malleable today? (Of course all this is assuming an unproblematic relationship between internal and external, but what are you gonna do…)

    If I take you seriously and decide to “try”, how, exactly, do we nullify the corrosive influence of the media, deal with the special interests opposed to the various necessary reforms, and de-radicalize the power institutions? I mean, as long as the Congress is owned by those corporations, the place of which in our society you’re so concerned about, how can we possibly expect to have anything approximating the political conversation you say is the FIRST thing we need to do? As far as the necessary reforms that are a bit more concrete (e.g. health care) how can we have those political conversations as long as the associated industries own Congress? Of course, all this is made tremendously more difficult by the nature of today’s mass media business.

    The other major reform – the deradicalization of the power institutions – is one that is desperately necessary for reasons that (as you know) go FAR beyond a worrisome resurgent nativism. But how do we do this? Elect Obama and pray?

    I don’t want to sound like a natering nabob of etc. I’m genuinely interested in specific programs to acheive these goals. I’m just too inexperienced to be able to come up with any on my own…

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