The Next Great American Moment


Credit New York Daily News, 2017.


In the wake of Donald Trump’s executive order banning Muslim immigrants and refugees from seven countries on Friday, we’ve heard plenty of talk about how the action flies in the face of what America stands for.

In reality, that’s right. In practice? It’s less clear.

In 1939, the U.S. turned away a ship carrying 935 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. Earlier that year, when asked by Gallup if the country should take in some 10,000 Jewish children from Germany, 61% of Americans said no.

We carry that history with us. We carry the history of banning Chinese immigration and of Japanese internment camps.

What we have now, then, is an opportunity to avenge that history. When we say Never Again, this is what we mean. Here, in the depths of one of our darkest and most uncertain moments, we have the chance to do better.

The facts are these: No citizen from any of the seven countries Trump included in his ban has ever killed an American on U.S. soil. You have a better chance of being killed by a train – or, say, a gun – than you have of being killed by a refugee or immigrant.

This ban has nothing to do with the safety of Americans like Donald Trump, and, well, everyone else who didn’t arrive here on a slave ship and just happened to be lucky enough to be second, or third, or fourth generation immigrants instead of first.

This is a measure so logically absurd that it cites the September 11th attacks – and then fails to exclude the citizens of any countries associated with those attacks, namely Saudi Arabia. You likely don’t need two guesses as to why.

This is just cruelty for cruelty’s sake. Chaos for chaos’ sake. Disruption for no other reason than because he and his team can. It’s dystopian, and it’s insidious, but, by any measure, it’s not unprecedented.

We’ve been down this road before. Other countries have too, and in the case of a Venezuela, in very recent times. Donald Trump is a hurricane unto himself, but he’s not writing new history.

This – however you define this – can happen here. It has happened here, and it’s happening here right now. We know the effects of closing our doors on people in need. We also know the effects of opening those doors.

Giving new life to oppressed people – families – is the single best thing we do as a country. Since the nightmare of World War II, we’ve done it quite well. Half the world’s resettled refugees are Americans, and those people make us better.

Anyone who has spent time with immigrant families understands this.

Several years ago, I tutored a sixth grader who had just arrived in the country from Iraq. He was a great kid – big toothy smile, all kinds of energy – and he spoke of America with a reverence that amazed me.

The love that the immigrant families I’ve encountered have for the United States is remarkable. They don’t love parts of the country, they don’t love it for what it once was, they, in my experience, tend to love it unconditionally.

Reconcile that, with this: Donald Trump, when asked by ABC’s David Muir about his decision to partially ban Muslim immigration, said, “The world is a mess. The world is as angry as it gets. What, you think this is going to cause a little more anger? The world is an angry place.”

You be the judge.

You think this is going to cause a little more anger? Or, more poignantly, pain? The first two refugees barred from the country under this executive action were Iraqis who helped U.S. soldiers survive the Iraq War.

Forget refugees fleeing terrorists and death for a moment, we now have people with green cards – permanent legal residents – who can’t get back into the country after traveling abroad.

Or, sure, if you want to talk about anger: Why should any country in the Middle East, or, for that matter, any person of Muslim faith, continue work with us? Consider that, and then consider too that the conflicts ravaging the countries targeted by Trump can be traced, in part, back to our very own War on Terror.

But do you really think the world is an angry place? Last night, crowds of ordinary citizens all over the country congregated at airports to wildly cheer the arrivals of immigrants and refugees.

Amongst the crowd at Dulles was an Iraq War veteran with four Purple Hearts, who, when asked why he’d driven two hours with his son to be at the airport, replied, “Not what I fought for.”

Later on, when a man’s Iraqi wife made it through customs after being detained for hours, he gave them one of those Purple Hearts.

If the world is an angry place, explain the lawyers who flooded to those same airports to try to come to the aid of those being held. Explain the taxi drivers in New York City who struck in support of the protests.

Angry place? Airbnb announced it would be providing free housing to refugees and anyone now banned from the U.S. While Uber was trying to capitalize on the taxi strike at JFK, Lyft was donating $1 million to the ACLU.

The worst of this administration is yet to come. We’re still at the very beginning of a Presidency that will test our country, our people, and the world in ways that are still nearly impossible to imagine.

It’s an ironclad fact that not everyone will survive this flirtation with fascism. But those of us who are not directly in the line of fire right now have the chance to stand up and be counted.

It’s a rare opportunity. So write. Read. March. Donate. Share. Spread the love. It’s time to stand up. To be counted. Vigilance is fine, but in this case, it will lead directly to despair. This is a fight. It demands action.

Refugees and immigrants are welcome here. I say so. You do too. A man who is afraid of stairs and his jello mold of a Vice President say no. The next great American moment is here.

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