By Adam Cohen
The high road is littered with potholes and pitfalls, hairpin turns and sheer cliffs.
But I am struggling to stay upon it.
Every day we are assaulted by voices from our political discourse which broadside our sensibilities and threaten to send us careening over the edge of the chasm. Shakily, we try to maintain equilibrium and forge ahead on the course of liberty.
But these days, let me tell you, it ain’t easy.
The voices screech: The caravan is invading our country, bringing disease, criminals and Middle Easterners!, hardly attempting to hide their completely unfounded and preposterous conspiracy theory that women and children essentially walking from Honduras to the United States and asking for asylum; human beings hoping to escape destitution, rape and almost certain death; mothers who are simply desperate to find a safe home in which to raise their children; and impoverished migrants engaged in an arduous, several thousand mile journey; are all not only somehow clandestinely harboring terrorists, but are also looking to invade America, attack us, infect us, and destroy our way of life.
But the voices don’t stop there.
Soros and the Democrats are funding the caravan! Globalists are looking to bring America to its knees! they shriek, using the same type of well-worn and baseless anti-Semitic tropes that were employed to falsely accuse the Jewish Rothschild family of similar nefarious activity for centuries. It seems that not only are the Jews to blame for these alleged ills, but they are simultaneously funding the very terrorists who would likely kill them above all others merely because they are Jewish. It is truly baffling that people truly think that George Soros, a man who gives millions of dollars to human rights groups, is responsible for funding terrorism. But then, he is a “globalist” (interpretation: Jewish). And I suppose it’s a lot easier to create a boogeyman for people to fear rather than to solve immigration issues by enacting policies that eliminate destitution and the violence which surrounds it.
The Democrats are evil! Lock them up! It’s the fault of the press, the REAL enemy of the people! the voices cry, echoing the president while ignoring the fact that the media simply reports what Trump says.
He, and he alone, is responsible for his words. So when he makes wild, unsupported claims and then admits there is no proof to back them, it is not the fault of the media, but him. When he chooses to applaud violence, as he did during a Montana rally when he praised a sitting congressman for assaulting a reporter, that is not the fault of the media, but him. When he vilifies the opposing party, that is not the fault of the media, but him. And when he calls the press the enemy of the people, as he did even while one of his supporters was sending pipe bombs to news networks, that is not the fault of the media, but him.
Indeed, if he is supposed to be the coach of Team America, and he tells his players that it’s okay to hurt people, he can’t feign innocence when his Team follows his instructions.
The same message applies to his constant undercurrent of antisemitism and racism. Those voices told us that Hey, Jared and Ivanka are Jewish, so OF COURSE Trump would be a great friend of Jews! And hey, African-Americans have NOTHING to lose! It is true that he moved the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and this has been very popular among many Jews. But it is also true that this gesture has not had any discernible positive effect on the peace process or improved Israeli-Arab relations, and it does not address the meteoric increase of anti-Semitism in America. Nor has lower unemployment among people of color helped preserve their right to vote or generated a higher percentage of income for them, relative to white employees in similar jobs. Plus, since Trump began his political career he has retweeted white supremacists, praised neo-nazis as “fine people”, attacked George Soros with those same ignorant, anti-Semitic conspiracies (even while Soros was ALSO being targeted with pipe bombs), constantly used the term “globalist”, called himself a “nationalist” (you can fill in the preceding word “white”) and spoke of s***hole countries in Africa. If, by the way, you don’t believe my argument that such statements are anti-Semitic and racist, feel free to research the views of the Anti-Defamation League, who blames Trump’s words for setting the scene for the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Or you can ask David Duke of the Klu Klux Klan, who is unsurprisingly ecstatic about Trump’s verbiage.
Of course, members of Congress have predictably hopped right onto the Trump racist bandwagon. After the Kavanaugh hearings, Senator Chuck Grassley repeated the lie that protesters were being paid by George Soros. This week House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a derogatory tweet about Soros and other Jews trying to buy the midterm elections. Arizona Senate candidate Martha McSally even said she’d rather talk about the caravan than healthcare; tell me, which do YOU think would have a greater impact on her constituents? And a Connecticut GOP ad featured a Jewish Democratic candidate clutching money while grinning widely. Combine these sentiments with the purely false allegations that Soros is funding the caravan! which is threatening the sanctity of our borders! We must send the troops! and you have the toxic combination which lit the fuse that led a maniac to slaughter 11 Jewish people. While in their synagogue. Praying.
A cynic would say that their thoughts and prayers unfortunately could not protect them. Perhaps a Congress not beholden to the NRA or cowed by Trump–one that actually took action to stem gun violence and dangerous, inflammatory rhetoric–might have.
Not to be outdone, in the Florida gubernatorial race, we have Trump disciple Ron DeSantis. After having already likened his African American opponent Andrew Gillum to a monkey, benefitted from racist robocalls made by nazis, and run a commercial where he teaches his infant son to “build the wall”, he revels in Trump’s racially charged lies about Gillum’s record. Is it then any coincidence that a DIFFERENT maniac tried to shoot African-American people? While in their church? Praying? And that when prevented from doing so, he fulfilled his heinous destiny by murdering two African-Americans at a local supermarket instead?
I wonder if those victims and their families felt like they had nothing to lose?
Between the attacks on Muslims, Central and South Americans, African-Americans and Jews, it sometimes feels like we have ripped the plaque with the famous Emma Lazarus poem right off the Statue of Liberty.
But the awful irony is that while tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free are literally marching to our southern border, we are sending troops to stop them as if they were some sort of marauding horde. Indeed, we will have roughly the same amount of troops near Mexico as we currently have in Iraq–to keep us safe from the scourge of desolate, plaintive immigrants legally applying for asylum, I suppose.
Meanwhile, the president plays favorites with his immigrants: he has said he prefers people from countries like Norway and suggests he has the power to ignore the Constitution when it tells us that persons born here are automatically granted citizenship. Is it any wonder that racist crimes and actions have soared since he took office?
Perhaps our new message on the lady in the harbor will be: Welcome to Trump’s America. Nice to see “our kind of people”. Here’s your AR-15. Please select your grievance and act accordingly.
But what about the left! carry on those voices. They threaten violence! They’re mobs! Yes, Maxine Waters encouraged supporters to heckle Republicans in public spaces. Yes, Hillary Clinton said Democrats cannot be civil with the GOP, and Eric Holder suggested, rhetorically only, that we kick the Republicans when they’re down. These statements are not helpful, to be sure. But comparing them to Trump’s “I’d like to punch him in the face”, “take him out on a stretcher”, retweeting a video wherein he bodyslams a media outlet and all the many other examples of him actively promoting violence is outright ludicrous. First, the Democrats didn’t advocate actual violence.
Being uncivil isn’t the same as telling others it’s okay to hurt people. I can be rude to my neighbor without assaulting him.
Plus, their statements lack the power of the presidency. They don’t hold rallies in the White House encouraging people to chant disparagingly about their opponents and CNN. Their occasional utterances don’t have constant TV coverage where they repeat intemperate, focused rants against their supposed “enemies” virtually every day, thereby encouraging the radicalized to act. They also don’t call their opponents (much less the press) “enemies”. And they don’t blame the victims of violence for not having armed guards, or wearing the wrong clothing, or failing to keep a sharp lookout for gunmen while trying to speak to G-d, or whatever other murky, disjointed thoughts rattle around the president’s brain and manifest themselves on Twitter.
But how can you, a Jew, support Arabs who may very well hate Israel, and why don’t you support the President when he calls to ban them, and to ban Muslims! Ask the voices. Don’t you want to protect America!?!
My response is this: Protecting America is exactly what I AM doing. Because America isn’t about keeping people out of the country based on where they’re from, or who they like and hate, or what their skills are, or how they pray. It’s about people being created equally and endowed with the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It says so right there in the national instruction manual. Our country was founded on precepts like equality, freedom and escaping the yoke of oppression. That’s why the founding fathers started the revolution. That’s why we had a civil war. That’s why African-Americans fought so hard during the civil rights movement, and women for suffrage. That’s why I speak out, for groups that cannot in today’s world use their own voice, because Oh my G-d! they’re coming after us! So if I endorse policies which exclude people for those reasons, I am not only failing to protect America; I instead am actively working to destroy it.
We all know that our Constitution protects the freedom of religion and secures equal protection under the law. For over 200 years, people from all walks of life came to this country so they could live, and work, and pray, and have families, in safety and in peace. My ancestors were no different. Neither were yours. And there is no evidence that the current group of asylum seekers plan to harm the United States, whether they come from Honduras or Yemen. None. Despite what the president and Fox news might say. To this day, I believe, there has not been one single act of terrorism committed by an immigrant from any of the countries whose citizens the president has banned from emigrating here. If you want to debate the merits and problems with the immigration system, by all means, have at it. It definitely needs to be updated. But not based on unfounded fear and irrational xenophobia.
Fact is, the story of immigration IS the story of America. Every group that came here, hoping to take advantage of those same opportunities that the members of the Middle East countries and the caravan want, was vilified for seeking refuge here. The Irish. The Polish. The Chinese. The Jews. They are vermin looking to infest our beloved country! shouted the voices when those groups came, spewing the same type of shameful venom we hear many of our national leaders saying today. And by actually living in America, in the melting pot of a multicultural society, both natives and newcomers learned what other cultures and religions were really like, and were not only able to coexist together, but they even began to thrive, not in spite of but because of each other.
History has proven time and time again that the newest immigrants aren’t infiltrators. Instead, they become the vital new blood that every nation needs.
In this way we discover that Guatemalan refugees are no different than African-Americans, or Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Hindus, or anybody else: they just want to live in peace and watch their children thrive.
But another part of the reason I support them is that I know how this story ends. Today, it’s the caravan. Tomorrow, it’s back to the Muslims. The next day…well, perhaps they’ll go after the trade unionists.
So I struggle to stay on that moral straight and narrow path. I tune out the voices, and try to listen to the harmonies of my better angels, hoping to do the right thing for people of all origins and orientations. And I lie awake at night, worried about the future which befalls the country I hold so dear to my heart.
And that is why on November 6, I will exercise my right, as a United States citizen, granted to me at birth, to vote. To stop bigotry. To end hatred. To counter xenophobia. To drown out the naysayers and cacophonous disharmony that has spread like a pestilence across the United States.
It is time to hear voices that sing a new song. It is time to listen to a chorus which crafts new harmonies. It is time to create our own sounds to overcome those who wish to drown out honesty and compassion, freedom and equality.
It is time to vote blue.
Please, join our chorus, and let’s sing while walk the road.