When did America become such a mean country? The white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Klansmen who ignited the conflagration in Charlottesville focused the nation’s attention on this question. This is particularly pertinent when the president of the United States intones that some Nazis are fine people. Trump is setting a very low bar for the category of “fine people.”
Many of our families fought the Nazis, and other fascists, in World War II and none of us expected to see them, zombie-like, reappear in America—the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. It was not bravery that amateur neo-Nazi James Fields was demonstrating when he allegedly drove his car into a crowd and murdered a Madison County woman and injured 30 others. Nor was it very brave for the torch-bearing crowd that moved onto the University of Virginia campus, without a permit, to threaten the statue of Thomas Jefferson, and struck a counter-protester who later suffered a stroke and remains in critical condition.
Are civility, hope and charity just a thin veneer which can be torn away so easily, revealing virulent hate and barbarism underneath? How are we to justify behavior which imitates the German Nazi movement from the raised-arm salute to threats against people of the Jewish faith? America took in more than 600,000 displaced persons and refugees after World War II. The recent calls for a sanitized immigration and refugee policy are out of sync with American history. No one who came to America as a refugee was required to learn English beforehand, or had to pass the sorts of requirements like those put to African-Americans before they could vote under Jim Crow. Can you imagine what such policies would have meant for the Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon? Or, the Cubans escaping Castro?
Few immigrants that came to the United States spoke English or were familiar with American customs. That’s why we have immigrant communities known as “Little Italy,” “Chinatown,” “Little Mogadishu” and the like across the country. Washington, D.C. is home to the largest Ethiopian community outside of Africa. The second and third generations of these communities embrace American culture thoroughly and try to achieve the hopes and dreams of the first generation. This propels them to endeavor to succeed.
Even so, many communities, old and new, retain their traditions. The Amish preserve the old ways, the Sikhs wear turbans, Jews their yarmulkes. We will see lederhosen worn at the Culpeper HoptoberFest. Is there a uniform standard for assimilation? Greeks go to Greek Orthodox churches. Russians go to Russian Orthodox churches, Jews go to temple. The Wat Lao Buddhavong temple is less than 30 miles away near Catlett on Route 28. Members of Culpeper’s Islamic community are going to finally achieve their dream of having their own mosque. Our conservative neighbors argue that if people go to the mosque they are not assimilating. What nonsense. Where is it written that coming to America requires giving up one’s religion?
In fact, the opposite is the case. Most colonists in New England were fleeing religious persecution. The same was true for the Catholics that founded the Maryland colony. Pennsylvania was settled by Quakers, Ulster Scots and Germans seeking religious freedom.
President Kennedy spoke about a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved. In contrast, this past week in Phoenix, Trump descended to a new low in sowing lies, hate and divisiveness. What standard of decency and public service is he displaying by railing against fellow Republicans and the media and threatening to shut down the government if he doesn’t receive funding for his wall? He can’t do this, of course, because Congress, according to our Constitution, has the sole “power of the purse,” concerning whether the government is funded to operate.
What happened to his promise that Mexico would pay for it? And, our Congressman, Dave Brat is right up there calling for the American taxpayer to foot the bill. Brat distinguished himself again this past Tuesday for refusing to meet with his constituents at a citizen-initiated town hall in Glen Allen.
It is time for all of us—from the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers, to Generation X, the Millennials and today’s youngsters—to embrace our freedoms and the rule of law embodied in our Constitution. It is time to reject those that demonize religions and persecute peoples of different ethnicities.
America is no place for xenophobia. We are a land of immigrants—38 million of us came here between 1820 and 1930. If you want to march against something, march against the demagoguery, hate and propaganda represented by the white supremacists and by the Trump administration. If you want to march for something, march for the freedom and progress that Ben Hixon and Tristan Shields are calling for in their campaigns for delegate in the 30th and 18th Districts, respectively. And, more than anything else, march to the ballot box this November and make your voice heard.
Editors note: This has been reposted with the author’s permission, and originally appeared here.