Comment: Troubled Times – Nothing New

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Photos of immigrants at Ellis Island, New York. For many people immigrating into America in the 1800s and 1900s, Ellis Island was their first stop on U.S. soil.(Photo: Ludovic Bertron (flickr))
Photos of immigrants at Ellis Island, New York. For many people immigrating into America in the 1800s and 1900s, Ellis Island was their first stop on U.S. soil.(Photo: Ludovic Bertron (flickr))

These are troubling times. For much of the last decade we have been waging a long struggle in many distant parts of the world against enemies whose very elusiveness makes them all that much more dangerous.

While all of that has been going on, the United States has been suffering through the worst economic downturn since the Depression of the 1930s. The Great Recession and the problems that gave it rise are with us still and will take extraordinary patience, intelligence and good will to resolve.

As the political debate in our country becomes a little louder as we approach the Presidential year of 2012, the arguments on both the Left and the Right become more strident. And the Center, well, it would be well if the Center holds.

And the Center will probably do just that.

There is nothing new here. America is a country that has always been full of people from many different places, many of whom – at least originally – did not like each other all that much.

From our earliest history we have always had some trepidation about people who were “not like us.” The English distrusted – and sometimes fought – the French, the Spanish and the Dutch, not to mention any nearby Native Americans.

Coming out the American Revolution – where British rebels and loyalists fought each other, the new country began to build a new future – with much its success based on the forced labor of African slaves.

But then in the 1850s new fears gripped the public as thousands of new immigrants, especially from Ireland and Germany, flooded the country. The result was a combination political party and secret society called the American Party. Asked if they were members, American Party adherents were told to respond “I know nothing.” Their enemies soon claimed that the phrase was apt.

A new wave of immigration in the late 1800s brought millions of new people, largely from eastern and southern Europe, to our shores. And as one might expect, not everyone was happy about this. The result was an extraordinary resurgence of an unlikely organization, the Ku Klux Klan.

Founded as a terrorist organization to strike fear into the Reconstruction South of post-Civil War America, the Klan emerged in a new form in the 1920s. Hundreds of thousands of people in places like Indiana, Ohio and Illinois joined a group that was avowedly Anti-Black, Anti-Catholic, Anti-Semitic and Anti-Immigrant but was also “100 percent American.” Just how one managed to be all of those things has never been adequately explained.

In our own time, we have seen increasing concern about immigration once again as new people from Africa, from Asia and from Latin America come to our shores. As in the past, many of these people arrive quite legally. Many do not. And as in the past, in times of economic hardship and foreign concern, some among us begin to blame the newest of our people for the problems all of us face.

How all of this will turn out in the short run is anyone’s guess. We are certainly not out of the woods economically or politically. And it is likely as least some of our newest citizens will see even more disdain heaped upon them.

But if our history is any guide – and I think it is – these problems will be resolved. The economy will recover. We will prevail against our enemies, “foreign and domestic.” The newest of us will become part of the ever evolving American fabric.

And the people of Columbus will once again turn their attention to the more important things in life – family, friends and the pleasures of autumn days.

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