Lang Waters: America is an idea, not a race
February 2, 2018
The poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty, "New Colossus," ends with the famous lines:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
To believe in blood and soil as the basis for patriotism is to fundamentally misunderstand the United States.
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Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
Last week we were forced to consider the president's words in light of the celebrated American creed of respect for diversity and human dignity. We had to ask ourselves … the tired, poor, wretched masses from … Norway? Norway is consistently ranked as having one of the highest standards of living in the world, No. 1, according to a 2016 report by Business Insider.
Norwegians are not beating down our door to move here. Most relevant, of course, it is bone white: 86 percent (14 percent Hispanic).
Which begs the question (again) — is the president a racist? We know that the president has a closed discussion with senators to discuss DACA, we know that shortly after that meeting Senator Durbin (D) accuses the president of calling African countries "shitholes," and we know that the president does not deny these remarks for the entire day. That same day, Senator Lindsay Graham (R) offers strongly worded statements that certainly align with the idea that the president said something egregious, but two other senators present, hard line immigration opponents, issue vague statements that they "don't recall … specifically" that word being used. The president didn't deny the use of this language all day Thursday.
At 7 a.m. on Friday, Fox & Friends' Brian Kilmeade said Trump "made a mistake" with the "shithole" comment and should "walk it back." Fox and Friends is reportedly the president's favorite show. At 7:30 a.m., Trump tweeted that was "not the language used." On Sunday, the "I don't recall" Senators suddenly recalled with crystal clarity on the talk shows that the President never said "shithole." Meanwhile Erick Erickson, former editor-in-chief and CEO of the conservative political blog RedState, and conservative pundit, on Sunday sends this tweet: "It's weird that people in the room don't remember Trump using that word when Trump himself was calling friends to brag about it afterwards. I spoke to one of those friends. The president thought it would play well with the base."
It insults one's intelligence to think that the president did not use this language. One cannot be a Republican right now and in good conscience deny that there is a compelling argument to be made that the president is racist, even if one does not personally believe that he is one. Evidence: lawsuits against his properties for discrimination, numerous comments about the disproportionate crime rate of immigrants, calling Mexicans rapists, saying that Latino judges are unfit to sit in judgment upon him due to their bias, equating neo-nazis in Charlottesville to the counter protesters there, and now this.
The issue is not merit based vs. chain immigration for the president. The fact is that immigrants from African nations have a higher rate of education than most immigrants, and are employed in the workforce at higher than average rates. They are, in many respects, ideal immigrants. The president, as he has done before, speaks to the "blood and soil" patriot. Many of them, in Charlottesville for example, are "very fine people".
To believe in blood and soil as the basis for patriotism is to fundamentally misunderstand the United States. The Founders rejected the blood of the European monarchies as superior to their own. They did so upon new soil. Senator Graham's statement was simple and eloquent on this point: "I've always believed that America is an idea, not defined by its people but by its ideals." Graham went on to say, "The American ideal is embraced by people all over the globe. It was best said a long time ago, E Pluribus Unum — Out of Many, One. Diversity has always been our strength, not our weakness. In reforming immigration we cannot lose these American ideals."
The power of the idea that all men are created equal is still, 250 years later, working out historical consequences as the idea is followed to its logical conclusion, i.e. to include not just white land owners but also the landless, people of color and women. Our immigration policies must not be shaped by a President who is unable to do anything but divide people along their differences.
Lang Waters lives in Nevada City.