The following is part of a thought-provoking op-ed by Frederic B. Hill in the Dallas Morning News:
It was first called the Order of United Americans. Then it was renamed the Order of the Star-Spangled Banner. Then it became the Native American Party. And that was shortened to the American Party.
Its popular name, derived from its origin as a secret society, was the Know Nothings. That stemmed from the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant obsession of the party, its habits of passwords and hand signs, and the commitment of its members, if asked their political allegiance, to say: "I know nothing."
For nearly 20 years, the Know Nothings were a major third party in the United States in the mid-19th century, and generally a mean, destructive force.
They faded as the 1860 election neared. Slavery overtook immigration as the primary issue of the day and a little-known but courageous Illinois lawyer by the name of Abraham Lincoln pulled the Republican Party together.
That was all long ago, in the 1840s and 1850s.
Guess what? The Know Nothings are making a comeback in the early 21st century, largely as a result of the phenomenon of Donald J. Trump and his hateful, nativist behavior. And with open warfare now declared in the Republican Party, between traditional conservatives and a right-wing faction that wants to isolate the United States in world affairs, throw up walls against all immigrants, exalt racism and turn back the clock on social matters, there is a clear risk that the party of Lincoln could be split apart by the 21st century version of the Know Nothings. . . .
Noting such cleavages in the GOP, a respected columnist recently concluded that the party of Lincoln is becoming the party of Trump. Maybe in the short term; it is more likely that the party is on its way to becoming the party of the Know Nothings. The evidence is clear.
One, Trump and his supporters mimic the hateful rhetoric and actions of the largely white, Protestant members of the 19th century Know Nothings who torched churches, instigated riots and even elected 100 members of Congress at one point in their blind opposition to immigration, then largely from Ireland and Germany.
Two, Trump and his supporters show the same disdain for science and the future by withdrawing from the climate change accord and dismantling entire institutions such as the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency designed to assure diplomatic engagement and promote public health. Despite overwhelming evidence that climate change stems in part from human activity, this president knows nothing. Climate change is a "Chinese hoax."
Three, on economic policy, Trump is pursuing "beautiful tax cut" legislation that benefits mainly corporations and the wealthiest 1 percent, increases middle-class taxes and will raise the national deficit by $1.5 trillion. In a new book, The Truth Matters, Republican economist Bruce Bartlett describes GOP glorification of tax cuts as "total mythology" and its "trickle down" approach as "complete nonsense."
Lastly, on foreign policy, Trump and his cohort, including his alter-ego, Steve Bannon, support isolationism, a disastrous policy of the 1930s GOP that emboldened Nazi Germany and Japan to initiate World War II. Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., describes Trump's foreign policy as "half-baked, spurious nationalism."
While the U.S. did not have an international standing at the time of the original Know Nothings, we do now. The U.S. has been a leader of the democratic free world — until Trump. Asked his view of Russian intervention in the 2016 election, confirmed by all American intelligence agencies, Trump has said: "I know nothing [about Russia.]"