Political commentator Mark Shields likened the Republican Party to the Know Nothings on yesterday’s PBS News Hour. I had completely forgotten about the Know Nothings, but now that I am reminded, I do find a striking resemblance between the Know Nothing Party of the 1850 and today’s Trump supporters.
The Know Nothing movement was popular name for the Native American Party, renamed the American Party in 1855. The so-called Native Americans were not real Native Americans, of course. They were descendants of Protestant European immigrants who felt they had the exclusive right to live in the United States.
The Know Nothings were a response to immigration by German and Irish Catholics, whom they viewed as a corrupting influence, hostile to “Republican values.” They claimed that many Irish and German who were not American citizens were illegally voting and influencing who got elected to office. There was no proof that their accusations were true. Does that sound familiar?
Replace “German” and “Irish” with “Mexican” and “Catholic” with “Moslem,” and the Know-Nothing movement sounds an awful lot like the movement that backs Donald Trump for president today.
The Know Nothing movement formally died out after its members split over slavery. The anti-slavery Know Nothings joined the Republican Party, where their descendents maintain a strong influence today. The pro-slavery faction remained strong, especially in the South and morphed into the American Protective Association in the 1890s and the Klu Klux Klan, which is still active today and supports the Donald Trump candidacy.
Modern Trump supporters share the Know Nothings’ desire to go back to what they perceive as a better time when white males ran the country, and immigrants knew their place. Such a time never existed, of course, but Trump’s Know Nothings are not influenced by facts. The Know Nothings of the 1850s were unable to elect their candidate to the presidency. I hope that the Know Nothings of 2016 are unable to elect theirs, as well.
Changing the subject, if you have time, check out two of the books I have written, Running for President and A Senior Citizen Walks the Camino of Santiago by clicking on the books’ cover images in this blog’s left sidebar.