By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders
After one year of the Trump presidency, the divide in America is wider and angrier. In truth, there have always been two Americas. One inhabited by mostly Caucasian persons who were born here with parents who were born here. And then there are those whose skin is not white, or newly arrived who speak with an accent, or who are poor and unwashed but ready to work to improve their lives or for their children’s better future.
The two segments of America were often separated by law or circumstances. There was always an underlying tension between the haves and the aspiring.
The American ethos can be found on the inscription of the Statute of Liberty. The promise of America is written into our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and the policies articulated by every president interested in making this nation more inclusive and more pluralistic. A place where refugees would be protected and immigrants were welcomed and given an opportunity to succeed no matter their race, religion, national or cultural background. Those principles are what made America
exceptional in the history of nations.
But we have been far from perfect. America allowed barbaric slavery well into the 19th century. The racist and anti-Semitic Klu Klux Klan spread hatred and violence throughout the south and was enabled by complicit local public officials. The Know Nothing Party of the late 1800’s was rooted in a virulent anti-immigration philosophy and at its height of influence claimed millions of followers. And even through much of the 20th-century, legal segregation and restrictions of the races and religions was present separating Americans from each other.
During World War II, citizens of this country were systematically rounded up and placed in special custody because they were of Japanese descent. And Jews desperate to emigrate from Europe to escape the Nazi terror were turned away by the boatload.
Some thought that we as a nation had learned from those episodes and moved to a higher plane of greater moral clarity.
The office of the president never gave open comfort to those who appealed to xenophobia and racism, at least not in recent years. Donald Trump changed all that. By word and deed, he has signaled that he sides with those who wish to discriminate, exclude and even deport.
His manufactured threat to expel children of illegal immigrants known as Dreamers, his recent vile references to African countries and Haitians, his scathing attacks on Mexico and Latinos, his remarks in Charlottesville during a Neo-Nazi march all reveal a man who stokes the worst instincts of those who feel that the American promise is reserved only for natural born white Americans.
Last weekend’s federal government shutdown was all about Trump showing his conservative backers that he is tough on immigration and holding out for billions of dollars to build a wall. After one year in office President Trump has not advanced the ideal of America nor has he made this nation greater but rather he has made us smaller and more divided than ever.
The shame of this administration is in dragging the nation down to their level of insults and smear, and emboldening the haters and those who want to wall off America to immigrants as well as millions of nonconforming or non-traditional Americans. And this from the party of Lincoln. How long will we just look the other way?