SECOND VERSE, SAME AS FIRST

If you're looking for interesting non-fiction reads you could do substantially worse than Vincent Cannato's American Passage: The History of Ellis Island. It gives a good historical overview of the island itself but, more interestingly, a tour through 19th and early 20th Century nativist / anti-immigration movements in American politics.

The striking thing is to compare historical examples to the modern equivalent on full-throated display through the Trump campaign. The rhetoric of anti-immigration rabble-rousing has not changed in 150 years. Not one bit. A simple ctrl-F find and replace for the relevant nouns – Irish, Italian, Oriental, Mexican, A-rab, etc. – would fit the material seamlessly into any period in American history. And this is true across classes as well, from the highbrow arguments about "stock" and "moral tone" from your Henry Cabot Lodge / National Review types to quasi-economic "They Took Our Jorbs" rhetoric to the lowest kind of racism and xenophobia. The modern anti-immigration movement is the latest iteration of an ideology that hasn't had a new idea in two centuries. If the "terrorist" angle feels new, refresh your memory on what "anarchist" meant in the context of Gilded Age politics.

Most ideas evolve over time, if only incrementally. You almost have to admire the immutability of xenophobic rhetoric. Almost. It's like the Rock of Gibraltar of being an asshole.

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6 Responses to “SECOND VERSE, SAME AS FIRST”

  1. Wednesday, are we there yet? Reads | Sky Dancing Says:

    […] SECOND VERSE, SAME AS FIRST | Gin and Tacos […]

  2. Ten Bears Says:

    Fascinating how it parallels the War On Some People Who Use Drugs Not Sanctioned By Our Corporate Government.

  3. Kaleberg Says:

    The parallels are to be expected. We've been having a new gilded age. There was massive technological change in the late 19th century and into the 20th along with a lot of societal change as the nation urbanized. Productivity was soaring, but the rich and powerful controlled everything. The general public had been left behind.

    Despite all the talk, computerization has dramatically increased productivity and changed the way we live and work. We have be re-urbanizing after our experiment with the suburbs. Despite the rising productivity, wages have remained stagnant while the benefits have gone almost entirely to the rich and powerful. The general public has been left behind.

  4. Mo Says:

    OK, let's play political Old Maid:

    Does Donald Trump pair with William Jennings Bryan?
    Does Obama match Woodrow Wilson?
    Do the teabaggers match the anarchists, communists, and socialists?
    Do the anarchist bombers match todays pro-fetus clinic bombers and assassins?
    Was the Progressive era crop of conspiracy paranoids pretty much the same as today's militia groups?
    The Grange matches up with… Monsanto???
    Labor organizers with the NRA?
    Are the Kochs the Old Maid?

    Ow… now I have a brain cramp.

  5. cekman Says:

    Ed, do you know of Jonathan Schwarz, who used to blog at tinyrevolution.com and now writes for the Intercept? Years ago, he and his comedy writing partner Michael Gerber drew up a handy all-purpose fill-in-the-blank checklist making your point about "the immutability of xenophobic rhetoric":

    http://www.villagevoice.com/news/why-the-s-hate-the-s-6413702

  6. Anaximander of Xidon Says:

    I don't think it is an idea so much as an archetype. Those either don't change or change on a literally glacial (as in ice sheets carving out the Great Lakes, not the zippy little mountain glaciers) pace.