Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Is this America?

CBC's Radio program "The Sunday Edition" interviewed Rebecca Solnit and Andrew Solomon on the "Trump phenomenon" and violence in American politics. They were appalled, of course. Solomon said among other things
The gap has got wider and wider and wider ... The Trump phenomenon is so bewildering to the people who do not subscribe to it and feels so urgent to the people who do subscribe to it that I have the sense of a country and people who have no understanding of one other. Many friends of mine have said to me that "I thought I was an American but I don't know if I am if this is going on in our country." And I think that there is a real feeling that the sides are so far apart and that in particular the Republican side is so uninterested in compromise of any kind on any topic no matter how much such compromise might serve the public good I think ...the level of anger and frustration and alienation on both sides has escalated to a point that I have not seen in my lifetime.
I don't know how old Solomon is, but I wonder if he remembers the civil rights movement and the murders and the riots of the 1960s. He certainly does not remember the imposition of Jim Crow to put the African-American population of the South back in their place, but I am sure he has heard of it.

What this all reminds me of is the 1840s and 1850s, where besides the intense battle over the possible extension of slavery to the West, there was a strong anti-immigrant, anti-foreign religion, anti-intellectual movement best seen in the American Party, also known as the Know-Nothings. Of course, there were differences: back then the undesireable immigrants were Irish and German, and the bad anti-American religion was Catholicism. But what really reminds me of today was the possibly apochryphal origin of the name Know-Nothings: "I know nothing...except Americanism." Yes, this is America. Image: The Know-Nothings repel the invading papal hordes.

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