COMMENTARY - What happened to tolerance, decency and civilized discourse?
Throughout our history immigrants have been labeled: "German socialist," "Russian anarchist," "Polish vagabond," "Italian brigand," "English convict," "Irish pauper." Vermont's own Calvin Coolidge warned in the 1920s that the country was becoming "a dumping ground" and that "America must remain American."
The taunt "go back to where you came from" has long been understood as a rhetorical palimpsest for "immigrants not welcome." In short, it means, "we" hate "you." Given that history, it is easy for any lazy, bullying demagogue to rally his supporters by inciting latent anti-egalitarian hatreds. Trump's strategy is straight out of the playbook of Hitler, Stalin, and Joseph McCarthy.
"Go back" signage from every era attests to the racist sentiment coursing through our collective history: "Irish need not apply;" "We don't serve Mexicans;" "Japs keep moving." More recently, in 2017, former Senator Pennsylvania Rick Santorum joined in a standing ovation for Baptist minister Dennis Terry, who had said that those who don't believe that America "was founded as a Christian nation" ought to "get out! We don't worship Buddha, we don't worship Mohammad, we don't worship Allah!"
Following the President's recent tweets, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham doubled down by calling the four Congresswomen "communists." A few days later the president's spokeswoman, Kellyanne Conway, affirmed the president's position. "What the president is doing is, we are tired - sick and tired - of many people in this country," she said. "Forget these four. They represent a dark underbelly of people in this country…" The women to whom Conway refers represent fully reasonable and mainstream positions of tens of millions of Americans. Again, is impossible to understate the grotesqueness and danger of our nation's leaders trafficking in such corrosive discourse.
But it gets worse. The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi, white nationalist website, are celebrating Trump's turn toward outright racist xenophobia. "This is the WHITE NATIONALISM we elected him for," wrote Andrew Anglin, Daily Stormer founder. On GoyTalk, a right-wing podcast, the hosts celebrated the comments as a return to form on the part of Trump. "Trump's racist again! He won me over," one of the hosts said. To which a co-host said, "He'll win me over when he actually strangles her [Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez] on stage."
So, it's come to this: neo-Nazis get warm and fuzzy feelings when the President of the United States slanders non-white U.S. Congresswomen in blatantly racist language, tells them to get out, while his cheerleaders urge him to outright violence or chant "send her back!"
The dark truth is that the opinions expressed in this letter could get me branded an enemy of the people or "un-American" by the President of our country, simply because I disagree with him. Persons of color, Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ citizens, "communists," "socialists," "liberals," "radicals," the press, and now even members of congress - all of these groups are under direct attack by the President of the United States. Every American of every political persuasion should stand arm-in-arm against such attacks.
Our nation is brilliantly diverse- particularly with respect to race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, and ethnic or national background. It should go without saying but still must be said: Any president and his or her administration should always seek to honorably and respectfully represent all Americans, no matter which "side." In the meantime, we should be mindful of the words of James Baldwin: "I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."
May we find our way back to the place where dissent is embraced and tolerance, decency, and civilized discourse reign.