Photograph by Laurie Schaull at Creative Commons
I am white, male, and affluent by world standards. Still, I know at least a small stab of the knife that Ilhan Omar must feel, and a goodly share of the rage.
In 1972, the Nixon campaign strategy to neutralize a growing anti-Vietnam War sentiment included wielding the slogan, “America, love it or leave it.” “If you don’t like it here, go to Russia,” was a common snarl when raising moral objections to a particularly immoral war – and at a time when it still seemed possible to get a majority of Americans to care about the morality of a war.
“Love it or leave it” is of course a false choice, but it stops any conversation. It blunts whatever inconvenient truths would normally persuade sentiment and reason.
Here is what it means in 2019. By any standard of the of the past 75 years, Ms. Omar represents the great American ambition: all the things we stood for and believed about ourselves. Omar was brought here with family fleeing Somalia’s civil war. Eventually settling in Minneapolis, she learned to speak English in just three months. She took the oath of citizenship at 17 and went to college. After college she served the state legislature and government, and at 37 was elected to Congress. That is an amazing success story, not just for Omar but for the United States.
“Send her back” is a rejection and condemnation of what has been the American ideal – what we like to believe defines us. The occupant of the Oval Office waffles about encouraging the chant but it has been his campaign since day one.
“Juden Raus!” was such a popular rallying cry in mid-1930s Germany that it became a successful board game by the same name: “Jews Out!” Revoking the citizenship of Jews made everything else possible, and if we think there is an impenetrable distance between anti-immigrant and racist sentiments voiced in the United States now and the horrors of what is almost universally condemned then, we are in denial.
I know and love people who are all over the map, literally, when it comes to Trump and our national, state, and local politics. Some of those people and I hold values and faith that can grow and live together like peas in a pod, hardly any separation. I can’t claim to understand how we can be so far apart about Trump, but it is something I accept about them and, I presume, they accept about me. That is the way friendships and community are meant to work.
That said, now is when I also need to point out that we are way past the moment it was possible to say, “I like his trade and tax policies but wish he would stop the twitter and inflammatory stuff.” I pledge to those who have supported Trump, that I will drop my support of any candidate who funds his or her campaign with racial, ethnic, or class rhetoric meant to reinforce bigotry and hatred. There is real danger in the current climate and all policy and political elements are moot – beside the point. Please, friends, draw the line at this latest infamy.