Link and Comments: Paul Krugman on Know-Nothings

Today’s NYT: Know-Nothings for the 21st Century

Krugman has a few themes he repeats over and over again in his twice-weekly columns, not because he has nothing else to say, but because there is so much new evidence to support those favorite themes. In the Trump administration, and in Republican/conservative behavior generally.

Here, he evokes the “Know Nothing party of the 1850s, a bigoted, xenophobic, anti-immigrant group that at its peak included more than a hundred members of Congress and eight governors”, with the reminder that the targets then were the Irish and Germans. (My own Kelly family ancestors immigrated to the US from, not Ireland directly, but from the Isle of Man, in the 1860s; Genealogical Post: My Family Trees.)

After all, Ireland and Germany, the main sources of that era’s immigration wave, were the shithole countries of the day. Half of Ireland’s population emigrated in the face of famine, while Germans were fleeing both economic and political turmoil. Immigrants from both countries, but the Irish in particular, were portrayed as drunken criminals if not subhuman. They were also seen as subversives: Catholics whose first loyalty was to the pope. A few decades later, the next great immigration wave — of Italians, Jews and many other peoples — inspired similar prejudice.

Conservatives, racists, and xenophobes exhibit similar behaviors in all eras.

Krugman goes on about lower-case “know-nothings”, and why there are not many conservatives in leading universities.

The range of issues on which conservatives insist that the facts have a well-known liberal bias just keeps widening.

One result of this embrace of ignorance is a remarkable estrangement between modern conservatives and highly educated Americans, especially but not only college faculty. The right insists that the scarcity of self-identified conservatives in the academy is evidence of discrimination against their views, of political correctness run wild.

Yet conservative professors are rare even in hard sciences like physics and biology, and it’s not difficult to see why. When the more or less official position of your party is that climate change is a hoax and evolution never happened, you won’t get much support from people who take evidence seriously.


But conservatives don’t see the rejection of their orthodoxies by people who know what they’re talking about as a sign that they might need to rethink. Instead, they’ve soured on scholarship and education in general. Remarkably, a clear majority of Republicans now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on America.

This rejection of education and knowledge is reflected in the Christian home-schooling movement, and, at an extreme, the West African Boko Haram movement, whose name means, the NYT reminds us this morning, “Western education is forbidden.”

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