Trump the Know-Nothing

The Know-Nothings are my absolute favorite historical American political party.  Among other things, as a Catholic, I’ve always taken a perverse enjoyment in their rabid anti-Catholicism.  I love surprising my students every semester by explaining that a political party was remarkably successful in the 1850’s while being amazingly, overtly xenophobic.  Anyway, as John Cassidy makes the (obvious) Trump comparison, I could not resist sharing the best parts (and the nice Know Nothing history for those of you who know nothing– or little– about Know-Nothings).

The Know-Nothings originated as secret societies of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants angered by an influx of immigrants, particularly Irish Roman Catholics who were crossing the Atlantic to flee poverty and find work in the rapidly industrializing U.S. economy. The Know-Nothings got their name because, when asked about their clandestine activities, they often said, “I know nothing.” Fearful of popery, liquor, and big-city political machines that harvested the votes of new arrivals, they called for restrictions on immigration, the closure of saloons, and a ban on foreign-born people holding public office. “Americans must rule America,” they said. [emphases mine]

Prefiguring Trump’s remarks about Mexicans, the Know-Nothings also portrayed many immigrants as criminals…

In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a like-minded publication said that crime had reached epidemic proportions, and that the perpetrators “are FOREIGNERS in nine cases out of ten.” In Cleveland, the Express identified one of the sources of the crime wave as the Roman Catholic confessional box, whose users “know no matter what the deed, they will be forgiven.”

In early 1854, Know-Nothing candidates won citywide offices in Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Coming together as a formal political organization for the first time, they adopted the name the American Party and swept statewide offices in Massachusetts, Maryland, and other states. In the run-up to the 1856 Presidential election, the Know-Nothings put together a Trumpian platform that demanded the repeal of naturalization laws, the banning of the foreign-born from public office, and the deportation of foreign-born paupers, including children.

As with the Trump phenomenon, economic concerns reinforced the Know-Nothing movement’s ethnic, religious, and cultural underpinnings. In Massachusetts, for instance, Know-Nothing politicians did best in industrial areas, where native workers were competing with Irish immigrants. With the rise of the Republican Party and the onset of the Civil War, the Know-Nothings entered a precipitous decline, but the prejudices and anxieties that motivated them never fully went away…

Over the years, of course, other Republican politicians, such as Pete Wilson, Pat Buchanan, and Tom Tancredo, have sought to exploit nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment. But none had the celebrity or media savvy of Trump. And each of them, unlike him, had to bear the heavy burden of being perceived as a career politician. Trump, with his money and name recognition, is largely liberated from the normal conventions of party politics. And, with his background in entertainment and television, he knows how to exploit a chaotic nomination process that has been transformed, over recent election cycles, into a daily reality show that runs for more than a year…

Trump, for reasons that historians have rightly emphasized, shouldn’t be compared to a Goebbels or a Mussolini on this front. But, in the six months since he launched his campaign, he has revived the Know-Nothing movement, plumbed new depths of divisive rhetoric, and established himself as a shameless demagogue. With five weeks left until the first vote is cast in Iowa, that is more than enough to be getting along with.

Anyway, great stuff.  Not much for me to add.

The non-indictment

Two best things I’ve read on the non-indictment in the Tamir Rice case are both in Slate.  First Leon Neyfakh with a look at complex legal issues surrounding “officer-created jeopardy”

McGinty’s office made the case for the non-indictment during an extended press conference this afternoon. But the central concept in the case—the one that it is crucial to understanding the grand jury’s reasoning—was never mentioned. That concept is known in law enforcement circles as “officer-created jeopardy”: situations in which police officers are responsible for needlessly putting themselves in danger, committing an unforced tactical error that makes them vulnerable—and then using deadly force to protect themselves.

Here’s how “officer-created jeopardy” relates to the death of Tamir Rice. As security footage of the shooting shows, Loehmann and Garmback’s car didn’t come to a stop until it was right next to Rice. In fact, the video indicates that the car was still moving when Loehmann opened the passenger side door and jumped out. Faced with a suspect they believed to be armed, in other words, Loehmann and Garmback decided to drive right up to him—thereby exposing themselves to the possibility that Rice could open fire on them with almost no warning.

The question the grand jurors had to answer, then, was whether to take that decision into account when determining the legality of the officers’ actions. Did it matter that no one forced Loehmann and Garmback to approach their suspect so aggressively? Did it matter that, by approaching him the way they did, they were the ones who had created the situation in which it then became necessary, in Loehmann’s view at least, to use deadly force?

There is no legal consensus on this…

And then a nice discussion of the complex legal issues and interpretations.  It does seem to me, though, that even if officer-created jeopardy” is not in legal play in should be in administrative play and no way does an officer who acted so foolishly to create a situation where he felt (supposedly reasonably) that he had to shoot somebody just get off completely.  There’s just no way that police officers who behave in this manner should continue to be police officers.  It would be nice if we could at least agree on that.

Meanwhile, a terrific post (I think this is going into the next Criminal Justice Policy syllabus) from Jamelle Bouie on how we look at the role of police officers and their safety.  In truth, part of being a police officer is to face greater danger so that ordinary community members face less.  When police officer safety– rather than public safety– becomes the number one priority, though, that leads to some perverse consequences:

Strip away the rhetoric, and McGinty [Cuyahoga County prosecutor] has made a clear statement about police conduct: If police perceive a threat to their lives then they’ve de facto justified their actions regardless of context, even if it ends with taking the life of a child. That includes situations like the Rice shooting, where police chose to create a confrontation, rather than manage an encounter.

More broadly, police are empowered to take control of all situations by any means necessary, even those that aren’t criminal. They have no obligation to survey a situation to seek the least violent resolution. Taken together, these prerogatives—established time and again, by departments across the country—encourage police to use lethal force as the first resort…

What we see with Tamir Rice—and what we’ve seen in shootings across the country—is what happens when the officer’s safety supercedes the obligation to accept risk. If “going home” is what matters—and risk is unacceptable—then the instant use of lethal force makes sense. It’s the only thing that guarantees complete safety from harm.

It’s also antithetical to the call to “serve and protect.” But it’s the new norm. And worse for any accountability, it sits flush with our broad sympathy with police in the courts of law and public opinion.[emphasis mine] So that, when police kill someone in this relentless drive to reduce risk, it’s almost impossible to hold officers accountable, barring incredible circumstances. The public just accepts that this is what police had to do…

Given this status quo, Tamir Rice—his shooting and the officers’ acquittal—is inevitable. Indeed, it’s almost certain to happen again, since the system isn’t equipped to push back on these new norms of policing and the extraordinary benefit of the doubt that police receive…

Unaccountable lethal force defines contemporary law enforcement, at least for black Americans and other minorities, and barring a sea change in attitudes among the majority of Americans, there’s little reason to think that will change.

Yes, yes, yes!  Hopefully some good will come from this, but really, if we really want change in police shootings and police accountability it is long past time to re-think our conceptualization of police and public safety.

Photo of the day

Another from the NYT’s year in pictures:


A firefighter was silhouetted by his headlamp as he battled the Rocky Fire, a wildfire that spread over three counties and burned over 60,000 acres.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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