“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it,” said British philosopher Edmund Burke, who is often considered the founder of modern conservatism. Truer words have not spoken about modern American conservatism in the form of the Tea Party movement.
The Tea Party movement – a Frankenstein-esque political monster created in the dungeons of the Republican Party – bears a striking resemblance to the Know Nothing movement of the 1840s and ’50s.
That’s right, there was actually a political movement in America called the Know Nothings and, as its name suggests, its members took pride in ignorance.
The Know Nothings were a nativist, anti-immigrant movement who feared America would be overrun with German and Irish Catholic immigrants who were brainwashed by the pope and threatened American values. Sound familiar?
Know Nothing candidates were swept into power in the early to mid-1850s by promising to stop immigration and give jobs only to people born in America.
Compare this to the Tea Party’s desire to repeal the 14th Amendment which guarantees birthright citizen ship. The constitution states that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” are citizens.
Unsurprisingly, the Tea Party also supports Arizona’s radical anti-immigration law which legalizes racial profiling of Hispanics.
It is difficult to fathom how a party that claims to be protecting the values of America’s Founding Fathers can justify changing the very constitution that the Founding Fathers built the country on.
Much like the Know Nothings feared the Irish Catholics because of their religion, the Tea Party fears Muslims because of theirs.
The uproar over the planned Muslim community centre a few blocks from Ground Zero became a lightning rod of hate within the Tea Party movement.
Tea Party Republican senate candidate Gary Bernstein said on CBS News the proposed community centre “looks like a foreign effort to put something there” and “it will be a magnate for militants, militants will be driven to that mosque.”
The Brooklyn Tea Party held a rally to fight the “Islamization of America” and movement leader Mark Williams said that Muslims worship a “monkey god.”
There is apparently no need to respect property and religious rights when you can get votes by generating fear and division. But hey, reactionary anti-immigrant sentiment is what sells in the Tea Party and recognizing the hypocrisy would require some knowledge of history.
In its brief time as a relevant force in American politics, the Know Nothings elected eight governors, 43 congressmen and five senators.
Tea Party-backed candidates have won the Republican nomination for the Senate, House of Representatives or governor in Delaware, Colorado, Alaska, Nevada, Utah, Kentucky and New York.
There is still the possibility that come the Nov. 2 midterm elections, the Tea Party-backed candidates become the Republicans’ Ralph Nader and the movement dies out under the weight of its own intolerance like their ancestors, the Know Nothings.
Hopefully history repeats itself in this manner too.