Lost in Relocation

syrian bombing boy

At some point, it should be much harder to forget American History.  Especially when that history becomes sensationalized in cinematic masterpieces that American audiences have thoroughly enjoyed for decades.  Let’s take Brian De Palma’s 1983 Crime Thriller, Scarface.  The movie, is about a Cuban refugee named Tony Montana, who becomes one of the most powerful drug kingpins in the country.  The basis for the main character’s background was based on the true events of the “Muriel Boatlift” in 1980, which saw thousands of Cuban refugees leave Cuba to seek asylum in the United States.  Among these refugees were numerous persons released from correctional and mental health facilities in Cuba, one of which was the fictionalized Tony Montana.

1983’s Scarface is actually a remake of the 1932 film of the same name, which used an Italian immigrant instead(who was actually based on the Brooklyn-born Al Capone) who came to the United States during the wave of “New Immigration” of Italian and Jewish immigrants from eastern and southern Europe dating back to the 1880’s.  A film about an immigrant coming to the United States victimizing unsuspecting Americans via a life of crime.  This is a running theme, not just in cinematic history, but also in actual American history.  Griselda Blanco and the Cocaine Cowboys from the 1980’s and 1990’s.  Lucky Luciano and La Cosa Nostra in New York before that.  Immigrants coming to the United States, bringing their native country ills and using them to live the American Dream.  Sensationalized or not, these stories are familiar to the American public.  Which gives plenty of ammunition to a typically duplicitous and ethically challenged politician to use to their advantage.  Only now, this politician just happens to be the 2016 Republican Nominee for President, Donald Trump.

When Donald Trump kicked off his campaign for this nation’s highest office, it would only be a matter of minutes before he began to stir such fears of criminal immigrant populations to ravage our American society.  He said that not only is the Mexican government sending immigrants to the United States, but they’re also sending the worst that they have to offer.  Very much like Scarface‘s Muriel Boatlift of 1980, but unlike the actual Marielitos, who were for the most part blue collar workers trying to escape a communist dictator, Trump practically slandered ALL immigrants crossing the Mexican border as real life Tony Montanas.

Donald Trump’s fictional understanding of immigration would not end there.  Within a few months, he would learn about the Syrian Civil War and the ensuing refugee crisis resulting from it.  After blaming the crisis on our invading of Iraq(which definitely isn’t the cause, by the way), he said that the refugees aren’t mostly women or children(which they are), but actually mostly men(no) who are strong men of a fighting age(wrong again).  He went on to suggest that Syrian refugees could possibly be a “Trojan Horse” for the Islamic State to invade America, something he’s continued to repeat even this week.

His main argument, which was augmented by attacks in San Bernadino and Orlando(by Americans born in America, by the way) is based on the assumption that we are not and cannot properly or fully vet refugees coming to America.  For this reason, Donald Trump has proposed what he described as “extreme (extreme(extreme)) vetting” to include values based vetting of applicants seeking asylum.  Which is odd considering he suggest vetting to see if refugees’ values on gay rights, gender equality and religious freedom match our own when the bulk of his supporters would fail such ideological vetting themselves.  Now, while he offered very few details outside of that, it truly sound as if Donald Trump has no understanding of how our immigration system actually works.  It seems as if he thinks immigrating to the United States is much like it was in the 1800’s on Ellis Island, a paper application, an eyeball skimming by customs and a stamping of a passport.  While typical immigration to the United States is no parts simple or easy(which is partly why we have the problem now), the process with which we handle refugees and Syrian refugees is even much different from that.  Refugees who are seeking asylum in this country are screened by a half dozen federal and international agencies and organizations over the course of about two years, much of it outside of our borders, which is also done on a continuous basis, effectively having refugees prove they are no threat to this nation.  This is the reason why the number of Syrian refugees in the United States is roughly the size of a city neighborhood.  Which is also why the overwhelming majority are indeed women and children.  So despite, what Donald Trump believes(or leading others to believe), we can and are fully vetting these refugees.  And quite frankly, we have far more home-grown problems to handle than the fictional problems these refugees are not causing.

What’s truly lost in Donald Trump’s sort of ignorance isn’t the effects upon American society that isn’t seen, but it’s the effects on war torn societies, which produces refugees, that are often ignored.  Last week, in the Rebel-held territory of Aleppo, Syria, an airstrike hit the family home of Omran Daqneesh.  Though he, his brother and sister were pulled from the smoldering ashes of the dwelling alive, the world saw, in graphic detail a vivid reminder of what the crisis in Syria is all about.  Omran, who was caked in dust and blood, wore a look of Hell that has shocked those across the world who have seen his visual.  Last year, the world was equally shocked by the death a boy, no older than Omran, who washed up on the shores of Turkey attempting to leave the Syrian country being devastated by war.

Meanwhile, here in America, we will forget about what happened to Omran in Aleppo.  Just like we forgot about what happened in Turkey last year.  We forget facts like overall since 2001, most refugees that come to the United States are from Iraq, which is where the Islamic State was started and is currently based.  Yet we’ve resettled over 100,000 Iraqi refugees alone.  None have been charged in a single case of domestic terrorism.  Actually none of the 750,000 refugees since the 2001 terrorist attacks have been charged with terrorism.  Now, without having to knock on wood there are specific reasons why that hasn’t happened.  It’s because of our complicated history of immigration and issues resulting that we’ve completely restricted the screening and entry process.  But it’s the fact that we are uniquely a nation of immigrants, for immigrants and by immigrants that despite this, we WILL continue to allow those suffering and living through hardships residency.  Of course we have to be smart and stay as vigilant as we have been, but to go against this and to renege on the promise of what makes us America is simply unAmerican.  Yes, there are undesirables that can and will slip through the cracks.  But for every Lucky Luciano, Griselda Blanco or Charles Ponzi, there will also be a Andrew Carnegie, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and Barack Obama.

The New Colossus, the poem written on the Statue of Liberty, which was often seen as the gateway to the United States and our very symbol of American freedom, it says “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.  Yearning to breathe free.  The wretched refuse of your teaming shore.  Send these, the homeless, temptest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”  There is no equivocation there.  You are not expected to speak a particular language, worship a particular faith or live a particular life to come to America.  It is the acceptance of these lives as they are that has already made America great and why we will continue to be even greater.  And that’s something we can never lose sight of.


Party Like A Reality Star

trump eats gop

The Presidential Election of 1964 was a turning point in American history.  Lyndon Johnson, who had lost the Democratic Nomination in the last election to the eventual President, joined the administration and was set once again to run for the presidency that year.  Despite being an early favorite, he had opposition from the left wing of the Democratic Party at the Convention and a brewing scandal involving an attack on American interest overseas that threatened the legitimacy of his candidacy.  Sound a little familiar?

On the Republican side, however, their primary contest was a fight over the future direction of the conservative movement.  The “Eastern Establishment” wing of the Republican Party, which had dominated the GOP for decades, was receiving a challenge from Arizona Senator, Barry Goldwater.  Goldwater whose opposition to “New Deal” liberalism and unionism and a heavy-handed foreign policy ushered in a new brand of staunch conservatism.  Winning primaries in the South and the West, Goldwater entered the 1964 Republican Convention a surprising favorite over establishment Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller, George Romney and William Scranton.  They, along with many other Republicans including former President Dwight Eisenhower, believed that Goldwater’s brand of conservatism was too extreme for America.  This would inspire Goldwater to echo the rather famous line during his acceptance speech, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice… moderation in the in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”  Senator Goldwater and the GOP embraced extremism and began the general election by turning away from the moderate voices within their party.  That said, during the general election, the prominent Establishment Republicans refused to endorse or campaign for him.  And while other Republicans like Dwight Eisenhower and his Vice President, Richard Nixon, eventually backed his candidacy, they also had to distance themselves at times and call for repudiation of certain parts of Goldwater’s platform.

This too should sound familiar.

Well, the sides were set.  Lyndon Johnson vs Barry Goldwater.  And in one of the more lopsided elections in history, Lyndon Johnson beat the brakes off of Barry Goldwater, 486 Electoral Votes to 52.  A 61-39% margin.  The “Eastern Establishment” also known as the “Rockefeller Republicans” were right about their fears of Barry Goldwater’s strict and hardline conservatism.  They knew the country would reject it and that is exactly what the country did.  Resoundingly.  Eventually Barry Goldwater would go back to the Senate and continued to be the standard bearer for conservatism.  Until of course his lukewarm acceptance of choice on abortion rights in the 1970s and deeply critical stance on the emerging “Religious Right” in the 1980s put him out of the mainstream of where his party was.  In 1986, Goldwater decided not to run for his sixth term and was replaced in the Senate by three-term Congressman and war hero John McCain.

Since then, John McCain has served rather admirably in the senate.  There have been a few bumps in the road, but with his penchant for speaking plainly and, like his predecessor, willingness to stand up to the Religious Right, McCain is easily one of the most well liked and respected men in American politics.  However, that reputation is in serious jeopardy.  Senator McCain has his toughest re-election campaign in his career and his opponent’s greatest weapon is the Republican Nominee for president, Donald Trump.

This election year, Republican candidates nationwide will face the same fight over the direction of their party as they did in 1964.  For the last few years, the Republican Party has had a bit of an identity crisis.  While being lead by elected leaders like Senators McCain, Mitch McConnell, House Speakers like Paul Ryan and John Boehner and of course President George W. Bush, the base, or electoral foundation of conservative voters, have rebelled against that leadership for what they saw as a lack of adherence to their conservative principles.  Although this rebellion did not happen when President Bush was spending hundreds of billions of dollars in wars we could not afford while cutting taxes making them even more unaffordable(they inexplicable waited until Barack Obama came into office), the conservative base launched movements like the Tea Party in response to government overspending.  Coupled with social conservatism, the absolute backlash to the nation’s first African American President and a utter rejection of compromise, the conservative movement has been moving in two divergent paths once again.  And this time, those following the more extreme path has a Presidential nominee on the ballot in November.  Because it worked out so well for them last time they did back in 1964.

Now, Donald Trump can deny the realities of how elections work.  He has after all given thousands of dollars to Hillary Clinton throughout her political career.  But the reality is he’s on the top of the Republican ticket.  Every other conservative will have to run with his name and reputation attached.  And anyone running against these Republicans will do everything they can to tie Donald Trump and his extremist rhetoric and behavior to their opponents.  Which is exactly what’s happening to John McCain. Nationally speaking, McCain’s home state of Arizona, which has voted for a Democrat for president ONCE in nearly 70 years is a polling toss up.  Georgia, which has been equally paltry for Democratic candidates has been polling in favor of Hillary Clinton in recent polls. Similar trends have been shown in other states and with other candidates.

I do have to admit, I write this with the full knowledge that many Republicans, and possibly most Republicans disagree with Trump’s candidacy.  I know many cannot identify with his extremism.  But they will be identified as being culpable and responsible for him, no matter how they may feel.  Succinctly speaking, his actions speak louder than their words.  On the other side of the conservative coin, I get it.  I really do.  The conservative base feel frustrated and ignored by the “Establishment ” that has taken them for granted at best and at worst used them.  Now they want revenge by throwing a wrench into the Establishment machine to turn things upside-down or to bring balance back to the GOP.  But while the GOP wrestles with the direction of their party, they have rather lost sight of the bigger picture or do not care.  The Republican Party is currently losing this election.  While most polls have Clinton up anywhere from 4 to 9 percent, one polls actually has her up by 15%.  The largest lead in any poll President Obama had in 2012 was 13% and no time in the age of polling has a candidate with any lead as large would go on to lose the general election.

Back in 1964, eventual Governor and President ronald reagan spoke in defense of Senator Barry Goldwater.  In talking about the role of government he spoke the famous line “So we have come to a time for choosing.”  And while at the time reagan was referencing the role of government in relation to the Democrat Lyndon Johnson vs the Republican Barry Goldwater, this year I suggest there is a new time for choosing. Again as reagan suggested, not left vs right, but they can choose to stand up for limited government and hoping for the best in humanity, principles even I know that the GOP is about.  Or choose to have you and your party represented by a glorified slum lord turned reality TV star emboldened by a vein of extremism and nationalism that history has clearly shown to be unacceptable even when we’re at our most divided. An argument can be made that in 1964, Goldwater and the Republican Party could not have foreseen the electoral cataclysm they were headed for when they decided to embrace the more extreme side of their ideology.  But as Shakespeare wrote, “what’s past is prologue.”  Barry Goldwater’s perceived extremism defined his election.  And while it may ultimately also doom his senatorial replacement, John McCain, it definitely is a road map that the GOP is also headed down, full bore, in 2016.  Will you be the party of principles that picks it’s love for their country more than their hate for Hillary?  Or will you be the party that ignores history and embrace extremism?  It is not worth the price, especially when what you’re buying is damages you in the process.

Be that as it may, the choice is yours.  Choose wisely.