A Really Important History Lesson

At Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed Brayton highlighted a truly important segment from Rachel Maddow’s show, in which she traces America’s history of xenophobia and anti-immigrant hysteria.

Many readers of this blog are familiar with the broad outlines of America’s nativist history–the periodic eruptions of movements like the Know-Nothings and later, the Klan. But in this explanatory segment, Maddow ties these episodes to the nation’s political history in a way that I, certainly, had never considered, and shows how Donald Trump’s increasingly explicit and ugly fact-free rhetoric fits into that history–and what it means for the Republican party and the American two-party system.

No summary of this extraordinary history lesson could do it justice.

Watch it.


  1. I watched this history lesson from Rachel; one of the few investigative journalists alive, well and still providing news. I doubt very much that Donald Trump was aware of the Know-Nothing history factor…or the true history of President Abraham Lincoln he proudly claims to have a Republican party connection to. Trump is simply racist, bigoted, xenophobic and anti-immigrant – plus a list of “antis” – at heart. He learned this at his father’s knee while accepting fists full of family money to uplift the status and power of the racist, bigoted, xenophobic and anti-immigrant faction he has unleashed on this country and given them permission to use violence when they feel the urge.

    Sheila; prior to signing onto your blog a small window appeared on my screen stating “Sheila” was concerned about Hillary Clinton’s serious health issues and that she should not be campaigning for the presidency. Was that from you? If not; any idea who or where it came from? I have never seen a popup message like that before.

  2. It sounds like your blog has been hacked. I hope you can resolve it easily. It didn’t happen with my email.

  3. IMO this kind of racist/bigoted/xenophobic/anti-immigrant nativism is always with us. It gets handed down in families finding root in the most ignorant and emotionally vulnerable in each generation. The organization of such attitudes may take on different names over time, but it is all the same. The targets for such hatred also change over time, but there is always a new target. Surprisingly, the target of one period may become the hater in another era.

    What’s most worrisome about this current display of hatred is its expression that we already see in our society, namely the beatings at political rallies, intimidation from the podium, shootings, out and out lies unchallenged by political leaders, a media devoid of journalistic principles.

    I do not know where this is all going, but I am reminded of the famous line from the movie All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts, we are in for a bumpy night”. For night is surely falling.

  4. I too saw Rachel’s show that night and was reminded of the “Know Nothing” movement. I had learned a bit about it in American History classes and remembered it from some PBS programs (probably American Experience). I was also fascinated with the historical continuum into which she placed the current election.
    I watch Rachel every night on the midnight repeat when I get home from work. She’s fascinating, brilliant and so informative. I learn so much about American politics from this amazing woman who has a PhD. in poli sci from Oxford. She is unarguably the most intelligent person on TV today.

  5. Watch on C-SPAN today the second day of ACT for America Convention 2016. It bills itself “the NRA of national security.” A claim is jihadists have infiltrated the U. S. government. The web site is well done. They claim 300,000 members in 1,000 chapters. The portion of a speech I heard yesterday promoted extreme vetting of Muslims.

  6. Thanks for sharing this video. Rachel is a wealth of intelligent information.

    One question though – were there uber wealthy political operatives in our country back in the early 1800’s, such as the Kochs and other current billionaire families that use their wealth to buy control of our government?

  7. The easiest way to get people excited is to make them afraid. Our so called leaders have been doing that since the beginning of time. They will continue to do it because, in the short term, it works.

  8. Sheila: “from Rachel Maddow’s show, in which she traces America’s history of xenophobia and anti-immigrant hysteria.”

    That’s not enough. It has to be supplemented by the German history of xenophobia and anti-immigrant hysteria in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s or you will get nowhere. The Trump/Republican parties PLAYBOOK is based on the Nazi movement as distinguished from the No-Nothing or Klan movements.

    Does anyone really believe all the facts we NEED TO KNOW can be transmitted on American TV?

    This “fire” will continue to become more and more out of control until we look at the hard facts we are facing.

    “I skate to where the puck is gonna be not where it has been.” ~Wayne Gretzky, NHL hockey great

    Rachel Madow, might be the best we have in the media, but she is definitely skating to where the puck has been not where it is gonna be. And that’s gonna be a DISASTROUS LOSS.

  9. Jan,

    “She [Rachel Madow] is unarguably the most intelligent person on TV today.”

    I agree 100%. However, she is controlled. She had this same information months ago. Why wasn’t it communicated? Answer: It might have made a significant impact back then. Now it is just a lesson in American history. Its POLITICAL effectiveness has been diminished. So it’s O.K. to air it on TV. Her job will not be threatened.

  10. If you consider that the early 1800 political parties were entirely comprised of men, no women or certainly anyone of color, almost always Protestant by religious affiliation, it is not hard to see the pattern of progression and regression that is manifest today in Trumpism.
    The bigotry is passed from generation to generation by those who want to “protect” their perceived superiority from the “other” who threaten the status quo by wanting full participation in the political discourse. We can ascribe this generational bigotry to the rise of the KKK, exclusive “fraternal” organizations, eugenics ideology that allowed politician to enact legislation (with popular support) to involuntarily sterilize those considered mentally and thus spiritually deficient, to the modern day efforts to disenfranchise those same “others” by enacting voter suppression laws. Fear and suspicion, tribalism, racism, misogyny, xenophobia are always lurking just below the surface, even after a bloody civil war and countless lives lost in a country that is supposed to be the refuge for the oppressed of the world (immigrants seeking asylum from war, death, disease, persecution and starvation).
    The disarray of the Republican party of today, with entrenched partisanship driving the ideology, supported by the vast wealth of a few, much like the landed gentry of the plantation/slavery South, may give impetus to the collapse of our two party system for a while. As history has shown, new parties arise from the ashes, but often harbor the regressive genes that led to the collapse in the first place. Under the right circumstances those genes become dominant and corrosive once again.
    In this day of nuclear weapons, rogue states and globalization, what were once isolated infections have become worldwide plagues. Those same ideologies can mean mass destruction for our political way of life as well as our culture and our children’s future.

  11. Marv; Rachel Maddow is not the administrator of MSNBC, nor is she the decision maker regarding her own program and it’s content or the timing. Think back to what MSNBC was one year ago after new administration took over in July 2015. She and probably Chris Matthews and Chris Hayes are still there because they have the intelligence to “know when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em; know when to walk away and when to run” in the words of Kenny Rogers’. Passing along that information before Trump was running his campaign – and his mouth – in 3rd gear while keeping both feet in his mouth, wouldn’t have had the clout at that time that it has now. Most voters, especially those supporting Trump, wouldn’t understand or make the connection which is firmly fixed at this time.

    His current reasonable Mr. Nice Guy facade cannot possibly last two months longer. His softening of immigration reform didn’t last 24 hours. Lord have mercy; he has planned a full day his first day in office if elected – no time for bathroom breaks if he carries out all 10 of his immigration reform proposals after the inauguration. (He seems to be unaware of the fact that he will legally be unable to take any action on any issue at that time.) And he will miss the speeches, the parade, dinners and those inaugural balls. Haven’t seen Melania recently; maybe he doesn’t have a date for the balls, her immigration status is now being questioned.

  12. JoAnn,

    “She and probably Chris Matthews and Chris Hayes are still there because they have the intelligence to “know when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em; know when to walk away and when to run” in the words of Kenny Rogers’. ”

    You have a lot more confidence in the MSNB that I do. I’m not basing my opinion on PROBABILITIES or a SONG by Kenny Rogers. There ‘s much more to all this than just the MOUTH of Donald Trump as there is much more to this than just an “Intelligence Report” from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

  13. I had caught the tail-end of her talk last week and so thanks for sharing the full analysis. This may have aired the same night when Lawrence O’Donnell, (I think the only media person even mentioning the protests in Dakota by several Native American tribes) talked about how America was founded by genocide before genocide was even a word. When I first heard this it stopped me in my tracks and he went on making his case on how Americans throughout our history have tried to rid ourselves of the Native American population and in the earlier years by trying to kill them away…genocide. I now live close to the Trail of Tears and Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage where I recently visited and reminded again on how many died on that death March.

  14. I’ve read, watched and heard many presentations and discussions like this but then it occurs to me that the ones who need to be exposed to them aren’t exposing themselves to these perspectives or a broader understanding of reality. Their conceptions only get deeper, not broader. They don’t read the Washington Post, Slate, Salon, Huff Post, watch Rachel Maddow or Public TV. They neither want to be confronted with history or different opinions nor are they open to perspectives that might broaden their understanding. Somehow they like being feeling fearful, hopeless and angry, are satisfied with nonexistent conspiracies and are just fine with untrue slogans that fit their predispositions. They haven’t learned from electing Ricard Nixon , George Bush or other demagogues, and there seems to be so many of them. This does not bode well for the republic.

  15. Marv; obviously I should be flogged for referring to Sheila’s issue on the blog today, “A Really Important History Lesson” which she considers “extraordinary”…as do I and other readers. I voiced my view, my opinion based on what I have seen on MSNBC, what was spewed from Donald’s mouth and – IN THE PAST – had the balls to reference The Intelligence Report from Southern Poverty Law Center, a source you have repeatedly taken me to task for.

    I do not have your education, your vast legal history and experience, your current sources of inside information or your ability to actively participate in today’s political agenda as a person of substance. Am I to ignore the news sources of MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, et al, other news sources I haven’t mentioned, Southern Poverty Law Center, forget Donald Trump; should I reach no opinion or conclusion on of my own and wait for Marv Kramer’s words of wisdom from on high?

    Marv, are you aware that you are, at times, extremely condescending?

  16. Stuart,

    “This does not bode well for the republic.”

    You’re right about that. We’re stuck trying to confirm the old status quo which is no longer there. It’s been eclipsing since the 60’s and now is in the final stages of a total eclipse. It’s a looming disaster of cognitive dissonance not only with the general public but also with the so-called experts, which is even more of a problem. They can only offer TECHNICAL changes to what has become a FUNDAMENTAL change. They are locked in. And for many, it’s a matter of age.

  17. After seeing Sheila’s link to Maddow’s history lesson, I was prompted to pull a hardback book from my bookshelf, one that I’d not thought about for a couple of decades, “The Fear Brokers” by Senator Thomas J McIntyre, published in 1979.

    I purchased this book in 1979 while living in the Tidewater Virginia area as a relatively young and extremely curious woman fresh from graduate school and suddenly living in an area that seemed to draw all manner of self-assured spiritual and religious gurus, from the Edgar Cayce Foundation’s Association for Research and Enlightenment (the ARE) to Pat Robertson’s fledgling 700 Club and Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).

    I will never forget an ‘aha’ moment in the late 1970’s when my husband and I somehow found ourselves at a dinner party where the guest of honor was Cal Thomas. We had never heard of the man, but it didn’t take long for a young couple to pick up his message.

    During the 1970’s, the term Tea Party did not exist; however, the term used as per McIntyre was the New Right. Oh, and they were ever so right, ever so clever in devising a message of fear directed toward some really good people who were hurting for various and sundry reasons, people from both the Democrat and the Republican parties. One particular name that comes to memory is Richard Viguerie, the king of selling the message of fear via his understanding and expertise with computerized databases and mass marketing strategies.

    Richard Viguerie is still alive and still operating in the background where he’s always been most comfortable and effective. Attached below is a link to “The Open Mind” where Viguerie is interviewed in May 1981 and captured for history in video.


  18. JoAnn,

    “Marv are you aware that you are, at times, extremely condescending?

    con-de-scend(kan’di send’) vi. [ <L com-, together+ descendere, descend] 1. to be gracious about doing a thing regarded as beneath ones dignity. 2. to deal with others in a proud or haughty way–con'de-scend'ing-ly adv.–con'de-scen'scion (-sen'shan) n.

    Could you be a little more specific? I would like to learn from my mistakes. As I remember, aren't you the one who challenged me? Where were your facts in doing that? Where are your facts in attacking my integrity?

  19. To me it is the movements, not the candidates themselves, and maybe not even the ignorant who get sucked into the movements, that we have to most aware of.

    Organizations have purpose, focus, and it’s always power for a small group or an individual. They hate Democracy and free people.

    I believe that there are several dangerous groups today hoping that Trump’s blindness will provide them cover.

    We have much work to do after Nov.

  20. Pete,

    You are correct. There are movements underfoot. Movements that have been growing for several decades. It is not the particular candidate that is worrisome, but rather it is the particular movement behind the candidate.

    Perhaps some folks have a natural antenna whereby they pick up on trends, societal movements early on, and then there are those folks who pass through life basically clueless unless someone or something whacks them upside the head with a 2×4.

  21. Rachel Maddow is an intellectual powerhouse with a rather consistent delivery problem. Maddow tends to take a tortuously repetitive path to her point; but she always manages to get there – and not always at full strength. All in all, this was a missed opportunity weakened by meaningless pauses and repetition of the same point when the time could have been used to provide more of the constancy of anti-immigration sentiments that permeate our history consequential to the strength of the two party system. One can get a lot done via her platform in 16 minutes. Still, one has to appreciate her intent.

  22. BSH,

    “After seeing Sheila’s link to Maddow’s history lesson, I was prompted to pull a hardback book from my bookshelf, one that I’d not thought about for a couple of decades, “The Fear Brokers” by Senator Thomas J McIntyre, published in 1979.”

    Actually, I believe you are the one who recommended “The Fear Brokers” to me some months back. I purchased it then.

    This is from the next to last page:

    “There is a further consideration. The first necessity of political wisdom is to be in touch with REALITY. Today’s reality is not that of 1789, when America was a young struggling nation largely isolated from the world. Neither is the present reality that of 1945, when the United States was triumphant in war and largely untouched by its physical ravages, when virtually every other nation was largely in ruins and heavily in debt, and when this country was soley possessor of the atom bomb. At that time neither any single power nor any possible combination of powers could have challenged us….My final recommendation returns to the main theme of this book: that we must confront the New Right with courage and boldness.

    “The New Right must not be allowed to intimidate responsible citizens. They must not be allowed to use their perverted brand of Americanism to frighten other Americans into silence. They must be confronted and challenged and questioned at every turn. They must be made ACCOUNTABLE.”

    “The Fear Brokers” was published in 1979. The New Right now labeled the Far Right has never been confronted or challenged by any so-called pro-democracy NGO or moreover made accountable. That’s pretty much what I have been trying to say for the past year. I apologize if I have offended anyone in doing so.

    This is still a very important book.

  23. BSH

    re your comment: “and then there are those folks who pass through life basically clueless unless someone or something whacks them upside the head with a 2×4”

    These are the people who make life difficult for the rest of us because we are forced to suffer from their cluelessness.

  24. I agree with you, Stephan. I do not watch much of Rachel Maddow anymore because of her poor delivery. It’s like bringing in a wet newspaper the morning after a night’s rain.

  25. Theresa,

    I don’t listen to any pundits at this point. I’m concerned that so many people depend on any newscaster to interpret current events.

  26. I will say that I personally find Rachael’s delivery quite credible compared to news readers.

    Of course the point here is that insiders don’t like outsiders. Those entitled by whatever, fear loss of those entitlements by those wanting in.

    Today because we have become so successful at life the feelings of entitlement are pervasive. So the feelings of those entitlements being at risk are passionate.

    But facts tell us the our entitlements are not sustainable. They will end under our control or under nature’s control. It takes superb adult supervision to deliver that message.

    There is some question in my mind at how effectively Hillary can do that. There is no question though that Trumpence can’t.

  27. Pete,
    “But facts tell us the our entitlements are not sustainable.”

    When we revise our thinking about revenue, the income tax system will provide funds such as the obscene funding of “off budget” items and we will be able to sustain the critically under-funded “safety net”.
    Let’s stifle poor-mouthing.

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