Kenney: Trump’s GOP Is the New Know-Nothing Party
Philadelphians know Mayor Jim Kenney as a man who is passionately pro-immigration. As a Councilman, he told anti-immigration protesters, “You can’t go through life hating.” On his first day as mayor, he signed an executive order making Philadelphia a sanctuary city again. And for years, Kenney has drawn parallels behind the way his Irish ancestors were treated in the 1800s to the way Mexican immigrants are treated today.
Kenney could have chosen to show the nation any number of sides of himself during his speech on Monday at the Democratic National Convention, the most high-profile address of his life so far. He could have talked up his pro-union or feminist bonafides. But with only three minutes to speak, and with the dystopian, dark anti-immigration speeches at last week’s Republican National Convention fresh in his mind, Kenney opted to focus on immigration.
He started his speech by recalling a shameful episode in Philadelphia’s and America’s history: the anti-Catholic riots in the 19th century. Irish Catholics were flooding the city; their numbers ballooned from 35,000 in 1830 to 170,000 in 1850. Nativists opposed the immigrants’ new way of living and worshiping — and they rioted.
“In 1844, an early version of the Know-Nothing Political Party held a rally here to protest the threat that Irish Catholic immigrants posed to the American way of life,” Kenney said. “They claimed these immigrants — people like my family — were more likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens. Does that sound familiar?
“The rhetoric led to riots,” Kenney continued. “St. Michael and St. Augustine churches were burned to the ground. Some 20 people died.”
Kenney’s metaphor was obvious: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “criminals”; he has said an Indiana-born judge shouldn’t oversee a lawsuit against Trump University because of his Mexican heritage; he has proposed banning all foreign Muslims from the country; and on and on.
“The Know Nothings have returned,” Kenney said, “and last week in Cleveland, they vowed to ‘take their country back’ this November. But they’ve got it wrong. It was never their country in the first place! Whether our families came to this country in 1776 or 1976 or 2016, this country belongs to all of us!”
As Bernie Sanders supporters protested outside the DNC, chanting “Hillary cheated!” and “We won’t vote for Hillary,” Kenney called for unity among Americans. “When we come together, the Know-Nothings who overran Philadelphia in 1844 will finally be defeated with the election of Hillary Clinton as President of the United States in 2016,” he said.
Somewhat amazingly, Kenney also managed to squeeze into his speech a reference to Philadelphia’s soda tax, which he pushed through City Council last month in order to fund expanded pre-K and other initiatives.
“Recently, I was speaking to an immigrant restaurant owner,” said Kenney, “who told me that he supported the tax, even though he sells soda, because it was going to help the neighborhood children. He said, ‘We didn’t just come here to get rich, we came here to make a better life.'”
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t note that Kenney walked out to “Philadelphia Freedom” and opened his speech with, “Yo, Pennsylvania!”
Philadelphia Congressmen Bob Brady and Brendan Boyle also delivered short speeches Monday evening at the DNC. They both highlighted that Philadelphia is the birthplace of American democracy. “Independence and liberty have never been given,” said Brady, recalling the founding fathers’ struggle for freedom. “We have to fight for them.”
Boyle, a former state representative who is seen as a rising star in Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party, highlighted his working-class roots during his speech. Boyle’s father is a janitor at SEPTA; his mother worked as a school crossing guard. “As Democrats, our mission is to make stories like mine more common, not less so,” he said.
Boyle also took a whack at Trump, noting that he says the American Dream is dead. “Why does he want to lead America if he doesn’t believe in it?”
Read Kenney’s full prepared remarks below:
On behalf of the great people of this city, welcome to Philadelphia! Philadelphia is the city that makes history.
And, we’re ready to do it again, when this convention nominates the first woman President of the United States!
Today, I want to share a Philadelphia story you probably don’t know.
In 1844, an early version of the Know Nothing Political Party held a rally here to protest the threat that Irish Catholic immigrants posed to the American way of life.
They claimed these immigrants—people like my family—were more likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens. Sound familiar?
The rhetoric led to riots. St. Michael and St. Augustine churches were burned to the ground. Some 20 people died.
I’m telling this story for one reason: it’s happening again.
The Know Nothings have returned, and, last week in Cleveland, they vowed to “take their country back” this November.
But they’ve got it wrong.
Whether our families came to this country in 1776 or 1976 or 2016, this country belongs to all of us.
Many of us thought we had defeated the Know Nothings eight years ago, when we elected our first black President, Barack Obama.
But the fact is that meaningful change never happens all at once.
You have to fight for it.
A few weeks ago, after two previous attempts, Philadelphia became the first major city to pass a soda tax that will fund pre-K, community schools and parks, rec centers and library renovations
Recently, I was talking to an immigrant restaurant owner, who told me that he supported the tax, even though he sells soda, because it was going to help the neighborhood children.
He said, “We didn’t just come here to get rich, we came here to make a better life.”
I can’t tell you how angry I am that he and all our immigrant brothers and sisters had to hear the ugly things said in Cleveland.
But we can’t let anger overwhelm us. That’s what Know-Nothings do.
Instead, we have to come together.
Because when this country comes together, families who used to have to choose between groceries or healthcare are no longer hungry or sick.
When we come together, children whose destiny was once determined by their zip code get the start in pre-k they deserve.
And when we come together, the Know-Nothings who overran Philadelphia in 1844 will finally be defeated with the election of Hillary Clinton as President of the United States in 2016!
Follow @HollyOtterbein on Twitter.