Saturday, August 6, 2011

Election of America's First Black President Fueled Birther & Tea Party Movements

Birthers at Tea Party Rally
In electoral politics, someone must lose, with supporters of that candidate left grumbling on the sidelines.  But the explosive energy that fueled first the Birthers and later the Tea Party Movements is a nuclear bomb blast beyond mere grumbling.  And thoughtful observers are left to ask why?  The noted Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, would call the mainstreaming of what would otherwise have remained extemist fringe groups as the "shadow" of America's having elected its first African-American president.  The fact that Barack Obama won an electoral victory, could simply not erase the fears lurking in the souls of people, whose ancestors once defended white skin privilege with the Confederacy and when that failed, the Ku Klux Klan.  
However, it is not useful to label Birthers and Tea Partiers racists.  That is, their members neither value nor nurture the introspective tools required to look within, and thereby come to understand why the election of Barack Obama shook them to the core.   Perhaps a  more helpful way to understand their emergence in the context of American History would be the concept of "Nativism."  Not only was Barack Obama "black," but he also had a strange, Muslim-sounding last name.  Ergo he must have been born in Kenya, as birthers like Orly Taitz still insist. 

According to Wikipedia:

In the United States, anti-immigration views have a long history. For a while Benjamin Franklin was hostile to Germans in colonial Pennsylvania[8] President, John Adams in 1798 signed the Alien and Sedition Acts which limited the ability of immigrants, especially radicals from France and Ireland, to gain full political rights, and they became a major political issue in the 1800 election.[9]
Nativism gained its name from the "Native American" parties. In this context "Native" does not mean indigenous or American Indian but rather those descended from the inhabitants of the original Thirteen Colonies. It impacted politics in the mid-19th century because of the large inflows of immigrants from cultures that were somewhat different from the existing American culture. Thus, nativists objected primarily to Irish Roman Catholics because of their loyalty to the Pope and also because of their supposed rejection of republicanism as an American ideal.[10]
Nativist movements included the Know Nothing or American Party of the 1850s, the Immigration Restriction League of the 1890s, the anti-Asian movements in the West, resulting in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the "Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907" by which Japan's government stopped emigration to the U.S. Labor unions were strong supporters of Chinese exclusion and limits on immigration, because of fears that they would lower wages and make it harder to organize unions.[11]

Nativist outbursts occurred in the Northeast from the 1830s to the 1850s, primarily in response to a surge of Irish Catholic immigration. In 1836, Samuel F. B. Morse ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of New York City on a Nativist ticket, receiving 1,496 votes. In New York City, an Order of United Americans was founded as a nativist fraternity, following the Philadelphia Nativist Riots of the preceding spring and summer, in December, 1844.[12]

In 1849–50 Charles B. Allen founded a nativist society called the Order of the Star Spangled Banner in New York City. In order to join the Order, a man had to be twenty-one, a Protestant, a believer in God, and willing to obey without question the dictates of the order. Members of the Order became known as the Know Nothings (a label applied to them because if asked they said they "know nothing about" the secret society).[12]
The Nativists went public in 1854 when they formed the 'American Party', which was especially hostile to the immigration of Irish Catholics and campaigned for laws to require longer wait time between immigration and naturalization. (The laws never passed.) It was at this time that the term "nativist" first appears, opponents denounced them as "bigoted nativists." Former President Millard Fillmore ran on the American Party ticket for the Presidency in 1856. The American Party also included many ex-Whigs who ignored nativism, and included (in the South) a few Catholics whose families had long lived in America. Conversely, much of the opposition to Catholics came from Protestant Irish immigrants and German Lutheran immigrants who were not native at all and can hardly be called "nativists."[13]
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