As we look at Donald Trump’s latest hate speech (Mexicans = rapists, all Muslims = terrorists, refugees = terrorists) we should recognize the same pattern of demonization our own people suffered when they came to this country.
Back then we were apes and monkeys, our priests were crocodiles and our main activity was drunken debauchery. Trump would have fit right in as a “Know Nothing” leader back then.
That is not to say we didn't stereotype ourselves after we climbed the ladder.
Ironically, two of the greatest provocateurs in American history were Irish American.
If we are looking for predecessors of Donald Trump and his hateful rhetoric look no further than Joe McCarthy and Father Charles Coughlin.
Coughlin, the son of Irish immigrants, began as a friend of Roosevelt and the New Deal but became enraptured by Hitler and Nazism.
His weekly radio broadcasts in the 1930s were incredibly popular and incited an anti-intervention mood in the looming Second World War. At its height his show reached 30 million Americans a week and he received over 80,000 letters, mostly supportive, each week.
Coughlin became so popular that Woody Guthrie included him in a song. He was mentioned in a verse of the pro-interventionist composition "Lindbergh": "Yonder comes Father Coughlin, wearing' the silver chain, Gas on the stomach and Hitler on the brain.”
After hinting at attacks on Jewish bankers, Coughlin began to use his radio program to issue anti-Semitic commentary, and in the late 1930s to support some of the policies of Hitler and Mussolini.
After Kristallnacht Coughlin said Jews had only received what Christians had suffered over centuries. The broadcasts have been called "a variation of the Fascist agenda applied to American culture.”
Many American bishops as well as the Vatican wanted him silenced, but were slow to move because of his popularity. After the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939 it was the Roosevelt administration that finally forced the cancellation of Coughlin’s radio program and forbade the dissemination through the mail of his newspaper.
McCarthy was the son of a Tipperary woman and a Wisconsin farmer. He was an anonymous member of the Senate until a sensational speech in 1950 when he declared, “The State Department is infested with Communists. I have here in my hand a list of 205 -- a list of names that were made known to the secretary of state as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department."
In the anti-Communist atmosphere post-World War II, McCarthy's words struck home and soon a witch hunt began for Communists not just in government but in Hollywood, the armed services the media and other sources of power. McCarthy added gays to the hate mix later on.
There was a mass hysteria with many innocents caught up in the McCarthyism. “Reds Under the Bed” was one of the descriptions most commonly used and McCarthy, an alcoholic, was finally revealed as a charlatan by an enquiry, but not before he had done immense damage.
We should be aware of the history and the damage done by such men as we contemplate Trump and his agents of hate and harangue.
The key element is to portray the despised as subhuman, apes in the Irish sense, rapists in the Mexican sense.
Shame on us if we fall for that hate-mongering again.