Monday, December 7, 2015

A plea to Donald Trump's supporters

In case you somehow missed it, Donald Trump called for keeping Muslims from entering the U.S. He wouldn't make an exception for anybody, including U.S. citizens.

To Trump supporters everywhere: I'm asking you — no, I'm begging you — to stop for a moment.

I'm not asking you to put yourself in the shoes of a Muslim, because you might not have any idea what that's like. I certainly don't.

I'm asking you to put yourself in the shoes of your grandparents. Or your great-grandparents. Or your friend's father or mother.

You don't have to be Japanese to see that what we did to Japanese-American civilians (and to a lesser extent, to German-American and Italian-American civilians) at the outset of World War II was a cruel and unjustified punishment of innocent people.

You don't have to be Irish or Italian or Chinese to appreciate how badly these groups were treated at various times in our nation's history.

You don't have to be Catholic or Jewish to see how irrational bigotry harmed innocent adherents to these religions.

I guarantee you that if you aren't a first- or second-generation American yourself, your ancestors who were experienced bigotry and calumny at the hands of suspicious "already-heres" who didn't take kindly to the new people arriving on these shores.

The vast majority of Muslims live peaceful lives in the U.S. They're as horrified by terrorist attacks as the rest of us are.

"But they espouse hate!" Some of them do. But then, so do some Christians. There are Christian leaders who call for killing gays. The latter aren't just fringe figures, either: they're politically significant enough that three Republican presidential candidates paid them a visit.

Should we vent our frustration and anger at these hateful people by visiting vengeance on all Christians?

I'm asking you, supporters of Donald Trump, to take a few moments to calm down. Think what tarring whole ethnic and religious groups with a broad brush has done in the past, very likely to one or more of your own ancestors.

This country is a marvelous experiment in getting people of a thousand different cultures to live in relative harmony. It has been a rocky road at times. We bump against one another and piss one another off on a regular basis, it seems. But we share a commitment to making it work. Really. We do. One of the more eloquent testaments to the strength of that commitment is the example of the 442nd Infantry Regiment from World War II: even after the racist and vindictive treatment of their parents, these American-born men of Japanese ethnic ancestry believed enough in American ideals to lay their lives on the line for them.

But ours is a fragile experiment. The threat isn't from ISIS or Russia or China or anybody else. It's from a strain of thought that seeks to atomize us, to divide us, to pit us one against another on the basis of race, religion, or some other factor. ISIS can't destroy us — but we can.

And Donald Trump's rhetoric points the way.

So again, I'm asking you supporters of Donald Trump to pause, and put yourself in the shoes of The Other. Your ancestors were The Other at some point.

Trump isn't going to listen to me. He might listen to you, though.

Tell him he's playing right into ISIS' hands. Tell him we need to win the war of ideas as well as the shooting war. Tell him that "shutting down" entry by Muslims would confirm the worst suspicions of people around the world about Americans. It would be a betrayal of our principles from which it would take us generations to recover.

Please. Tell him.

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