And yet again our president has outdone himself: the Grinch Who Stole A Country sank to a new low last week that should have been another deal-breaker for anyone interested in history but once again, apparently, was not.
The only thing that surprised me is why anyone was surprised. We know who this man is. We know who his supporters are. Why are all the pundits, from Main Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, aghast at what came out of the president’s potty mouth? Who is this horrible man? they all seem to be asking.
I think that’s the wrong question. The question should be, who are we?
There are reasons why a hateful, lazy, ignorant racist in early-stage dementia was elected; he was elected by representatives of the people of a country that has lost sight, somewhere, of its ideals.
Neil Sedaka (bet you haven’t heard that name in a while!) wrote a sadly prescient song in 1975 called The Immigrant. “There was a time,” he wrote,
“… when strangers were welcome here.
Music would play; they tell me the days were sweet and clear
It was a sweeter tune and there was so much room
That people could come from everywhere.”
There was a time when strangers were welcome here. No; I’m not saying that there were ever halcyon days of total acceptance and awesome bliss. I’m not saying that each new wave of migrants (from the Irish to Eastern Europeans to African-Americans moving north to Italians and Portuguese to Latin Americans) has been eagerly accepted with open arms. There seems to be in humanity an innate need to oppress others, and once anyone gets their foot one rung up, the first thing they do is claim ownership of their status and try to deny it to someone else.
But what we are seeing now is enough to make the Statue of Liberty weep. We’ve lost the understanding that for most of us, turning away immigrants at one time would have involved turning us away.
I moved to America from France when I was in my early twenties. I cannot compare my journey to that of today’s migrants: I came out of choice, not necessity. But even in that choice I felt fear, the uncertainty of acceptance, the strangeness of a different language and culture, the loneliness of being cut off from what I knew; and those feelings of alienation are obviously compounded hundreds of times over for those who come because they have no other choice. I cannot even imagine how they feel.
Appropriately enough, Sunday the Catholic Church celebrated World Day of Migrants and Refugees, and Pope Francis wrote, “Those who, for what may be political reasons, foment fear of migrants instead of building peace are sowing violence, racial discrimination and xenophobia, which are matters of great concern for all those concerned for the safety of every human being.”
It has to be clear to anyone that the country has lost any ideals about caring, sharing, and nurturing its people that it might once have had. It also is clear that there’s not much that any of us can do to right this seriously listing ship of state.
But what is it that builds the country? We can see it in any map: the country is a patchwork of states, each of them made up of a patchwork of communities.
Communities like Provincetown.
How we treat each other matters. As above, so below. It’s not enough to protest what we see as wrong: we need to constructively work together toward what is right. We need to show in our community that it can be done. Instead of lobbing metaphorical stones at the White House, let’s make change start here. Let’s get involved in town government, in committees and commissions and town boards. Let’s assert that Provincetown is a sanctuary community and that “strangers are welcome here.”
We might be a small example, but we can still be an example. A luminous, brilliant lighthouse showing how people can live if they choose.
Let’s choose it.