THE NOSE ON YOUR FACE
Once again, we’ve allowed the politicians in D.C.to get away with murder.
After ginning up an entire humanitarian crisis, i.e., the flow of children into this country from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, Republican members of Congress apparently feel it sufficient to scare us rather than to do anything to try to solve the problem. This immigration wave is the fault of President Obama, they say. Let him deal with it. So he tries to. Only to be slapped about the head and ears by John Boehner and crew who don’t want to spend a nickel or a moment’s thought in trying to stem the northward tide.
There are a few Republicans with more sense of urgency and duty. They will be pilloried at the polls in the fall.
As for immigration reform itself, to identify its need (as have both Republicans and Democrats), satisfies Congress’ obligation to protect our borders. Politics is what matters, not human beings, not beleaguered children.
Let’s be more honest than that, however. The real reason immigration reform isn’t getting anywhere is that a goodly portion of the US population is afraid. Period.
What we mean is this: we have been told for several years now that soon (you can almost pick your sell-by date) white people will be in the minority in the country they built, vis a vis Latinos, as well as Afro-Americans, who cannot now, at least, any longer be called “immigrants.”
We have friends who work in the public sector. They have more patience than we could ever muster. They treat their customers (of ALL kinds) courteously, kindly, helpfully.
But listen to them as they watch the evening news. A face clarifies on their screen and that face is immediately identified as “them.” A different (from standard European) tint, a different shape to an eye, an inability to speak English clearly, an ethnic last name, brings forth excoriation and fear. “They” are taking over the country. “They” are taking our jobs, and our children’s opportunities. “They” are criminals and victims who receive state and federal aid. “They” are bankrupting the nation.
“They” win night after night on “Wheel of Fortune.” There’s no point in watching it anymore.
These people and their forbearers arrived on these shores with little or nothing, and worked hard to get what they have. Now “They” are taking it – not to mention the entire countryside – away. And these good people know that history does not run backwards.
Whether one’s family grew into Rockefellers, or simply expanded to be the Smiths next door doesn’t matter. All of these people would vote against any form of continuing and expanding immigration. Their entire lives and livelihoods are at stake. What they say may be unpleasant, but it is not incomprehensible.
Murrieta, California, has a population of 106,000 and a local unemployment rate of only 5.6 percent. What we saw on our television screens last week was a fraction of the city’s population, approximately 120 frightened citizens. Although small in numbers, the assembled protesters who shouted threats at 140 immigrant women and children and carried American flags and full loads of psychic panic unfortunately reminded us of the scenes more than fifty years ago witnessed in the American South with police, dogs, fire-hoses being employed against the same enemy: fear. Or scenes that shook our confidence in the US of A at the Democratic Convention of 1968. Or scenes of South Boston whites screaming and hating Afro-Americans who wanted only equal education under the law.
Granted what we saw in Murrieta was comparatively minor, in terms of size, volume, level of hatred. But its echoes for many of us were vivid and clear.
We fear the international impact of this outburst will likely be much larger: a club with which to beat the US over the head whenever we want to discuss human rights.
Whether one agrees with the sentiments of 120 Californians or not – “They’re right, you know” – “How appalling” – this tempest is not teapot sized. Even though its targets are terrified mothers carrying small children into a land they had hoped would instead welcome them, the personal trauma for these kids is huge, and the national trauma of having these sentiments exposed is, too.
Most Republicans are good people. Some understand that without a broadening of their base, without a trek into the interior of “otherness,” they stand to lose their ability to even muster enough votes to become a loyal opposition. Their party may die.
But the “base,” those people who this August will show up at “town hall meetings,” want nothing to do with immigration reform. They stand to lose their country and their fortunes, large or small. They want to postpone – because surely they understand the ballooning demographics – that ultimate day of becoming a minority. Build walls, search and seize, indict, deport, imprison.
The real unknown? Whether Republicans leaders want a more diverse country for the country’s health and welfare, or whether they want more diversity politically, without the change of heart this requires. Is immigration reform merely a road to being re-elected, or is it something that will build and strengthen the fabric of our country?
Very rich people worry about this less than very poor people. The people in the center have no idea which way to turn. Which is where true danger lies. In their panic and confusion, people make choices they might not otherwise make. And we get legislators we might not otherwise have. Which results may lead us down paths we should never even consider taking.
Having worked hard and played by the rules, looking forward now to a benign payoff called retirement, men and women around the country find they can no longer even dream of easing up a bit. The only way to stay ahead of “them” is to work harder, make more, spend less. And still the waves will not be stopped.
This is not polarization. This is fear, plain and simple, and genuine.
As one primary candidate was recently heard to say, “I was elected by the citizens of this country.” Could that be any plainer?
How can anyone, in or out of government, calm the population into greeting new ideas, new businesses, new neighbors – maybe even new friends? We have been a country of immigrants. We still are. And we are destined to remain so. We need the influx of unconventional brain power and willingness to take chances.
But will the people we need and want take chances on us?