Deja Vu

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_87171044_composite976_afpAmericans had our comeuppance when we ridiculed the Brits for their foolish vote on Brexit. After the UK decided to break from the European Union, many Britons had  “voter’s remorse.” Many didn’t really understand what they were voting for. It seemed a travesty – until November 8, 2016. On that day, many of us had to eat crow when we realized our nation had just elected an unstable, egotistical game show host as President of the United States.

Now the French are having their turn in the spotlight with a presidential election, and it feels to me like a bad case of deja vu. There are so many parallels between the 2016 American election and the upcoming contest in France.

As in America, there is no incumbent running for president. The two likely contenders are Marine Le Pen of the far right National Front party and Emmanuel Macron, a centrist “insider,” while in the wings there is a Bernie Sanders-like figure in Jean-Luc Melenchon, a leftist with rabid followers who likely will refuse to vote for the more centrist Macron, leaving Le Pen’s unlikely candidacy to imitate that of Donald Trump, the xenophobic outsider who wants to make their country great again.

The nationalist, anti-immigrant stance of Le Pen is similar to that of Trump’s. Like Trump, Le Pen is capitalizing on the sentiment that immigrants (mostly Muslim) are taking resources from hard-working Frenchmen, causing violence, and creating a clash of cultures. Her refusal to cover her head in a meeting with Lebanon’s highest religious leader solidified her support with the far right. She has also denied France’s complicity in sending thousands of Jews to their deaths during World War II.

Also as in the U.S. election, Russia is meddling with the French election. For example, Russian website Sputnik spread rumors that Le Pen’s likely opponent, Macron, is gay.  Le Pen, for her part, paints Macron as a part of “the system” and vilifies his opinion that globalization is actually a good thing.

The white nationalist movement is growing in Europe, due in part to the refugee crisis and in part to the economic uncertainty of a rapidly changing, interdependent world. Leaders like Trump and Le Pen appeal to a “me first” mentality that causes people to hark back to an imagined simpler time when they and their country were considered strong and great.

Unfortunately, the isolationist tendency to retreat from the European Union and from trade treaties, to crack down on minorities and immigrants, and to scapegoat those who don’t fit a sanitized cultural mold won’t make our countries safer. Rather, such nationalism will create greater polarization, inequality, and radicalization, all of which will serve to destabilize our great democracies.

I hope France does not succumb to the politics of division and hate. But I am not optimistic. After all, this is a country whose cultural hero used to be Jerry Lewis.

Republicans, Your Silence Is Deafening

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President Donald Trump’s executive order banning people in certain Muslim majority nations from entering our country should have been met with swift condemnation on the part of our political leaders. Indeed, that has largely been the case from the Democratic side. But Republicans, many of whom had denounced such a ban when Trump proposed it on the campaign trail, are now either approving of Trump’s xenophobic action or silent, thus giving the ban their tacit acceptance.

I am not going to get hysterical and suggest that the Trump Administration will be building gas chambers next. However, I am appalled that after so many horrible instances of ethnic cleansing and religious persecution in history, as well as our own shameful chapter of interning innocent Japanese citizens, an American president would take such an action.

Many people voted for Trump because he promised them jobs and a vague idea about “making America great again.” Because I know so many good people who voted for Trump, I have to assume they did not believe his campaign rhetoric when it came to calls for discrimination against a religious minority in our country. Frighteningly, Trump continues to prove to be exactly who he appeared to be during the campaign: a vain, narcissistic, authoritarian leader who is threatening our very democracy.

Yesterday, American citizens and green card holders of Middle Eastern descent were detained at airports across the United States. These people had already made it through the thorough and rigorous vetting process that is currently in place when it comes to allowing immigrants and refugees into our country. It is shameful and unacceptable what happened to them yesterday.

It appears that the American people themselves will need to step up and refuse to allow such a bigoted and heinous policy to take root in our country. Yesterday there were mass protests at major airports across the U.S. with people demanding that the detainees be freed. After a federal judge issued a temporary injunction barring the detainment, these people were freed. However, the policy has not been revoked.

I call upon U.S. authorities to refuse to obey such an unconstitutional abridgment of rights. I call upon our elected leaders to pass legislation barring such an executive action. I call upon all of our leaders to denounce Trump’s Muslim ban in no uncertain terms. I call upon every American citizen to stand up for the rights of Muslim Americans and those who seek asylum and safety from the war raging in Syria.

History has shown that terrible abuses occur when people of good will remain silent. We need to forcefully and loudly proclaim to President Trump and our elected leaders, “NEVER AGAIN!”

 

A Nation of Immigrants

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As the public debate rages on what to do about U.S. immigration policy, we would do well to remember the strength of a nation built by immigrants. Most of us have stories of our ancestors coming to America from Europe, Asia, the Middle East. Even the Daughters of the American Revolution had ancestors who came over on a boat – the Mayflower. And although Native Americans might claim to be the original inhabitants, they most likely have distant ancestors who originally hailed from the land mass now known as Asia.

Together these immigrants created the country in which we now live. Immigrants farmed the land, built railroads, populated factories, and brought new ideas, cuisine, and culture to America. Each successive wave of immigrants faced hardship and often discrimination. Americans felt threatened by their presence and their differences.

I have met many foreign-born Americans who are underemployed. They were doctors, professors, or engineers in their home country but are unable to practice these professions in America. I also know hard-working laborers from poor countries who moved thousands of miles from home for the chance to put food on the table for their families.

As the public debates immigration policy, they need to realize that immigrants are not a threat to their livelihoods or safety – at least not any more than many American-born citizens are.

My own children are first-generation Americans on their father’s side. Yes, my husband was processed through Ellis Island in the 1950s. By dint of hard work and sheer will, he and his family were able to rise up and become productive members of the middle class.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” – Emma Lazarus

These words should not just be a sentimental quote on the Statue of Liberty. They represent what is best in the American spirit and the human soul. May they inspire us to fashion an immigration policy that is sensible, yet humane.