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.
(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.