The pharmacist in the burka who filled out my prescriptions this week comes from a Middle Eastern Arab country. So does my cardiologist. The physician who looks after my prostate is Vietnamese-American, and the two people who have assisted him have roots in the Philippines and Africa.
Do you notice a pattern here?
The man who checks me out at my grocery store comes from India, though the cashiering is strictly a sideline. He designs computer programs. The woman who does my wife’s nails (for the past 25 years) is Russian. When we went to a pizza joint the other evening, the crew doing the cooking and serving looked like the entire cast of the United Nations Security Council, minus any political bickering.
These are not the immigrants that President Donald Trump wants us to picture. He invokes a darker, meaner, more sinister vision, and wants us to imagine them undermining America. He started saying this with the first breath of his 2016 campaign, and as he now kicks off his 2020 campaign he invokes the same kind of poison.
One latest bit of agitprop is the tweet Trump sent out June 17, threatening mass deportations of “millions” of undocumented immigrants. He said this could happen as soon as next week.
“Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States,” Trump tweeted. “They will be removed as fast as they come in.”
Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in. Mexico, using their strong immigration laws, is doing a very good job of stopping people…….— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2019
He said this just hours before officially announcing his reelection campaign. Does anyone imagine this is just coincidence?
Such talk should send a chill though all kinds of people – not only illegal aliens who are directly threatened, but legal aliens and those seeking asylum, and all who are descended from aliens.
Meaning, every one of us in America. We should all feel threatened, psychologically if not physically, since we are all descended from people who came here from somewhere else. And it means we’ll all be living through another long season of vitriol and divisiveness from a man who should be attempting to bind the country’s divisions.
From the first moment of his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump was the man who not only made immigration a campaign issue but turned it into an ethnic call to arms. He appealed to the underside of the American psyche: To racism, to xenophobia, to every reachable ethnic division that has haunted the country across decades.
Do we have an immigration issue in this country? Of course. For millions around the globe, America is the Promised Land. Those of us lucky enough to be here already understand this, and find it flattering. It’s a validation of all the good stuff we like to think about our country.
But many also find immigration threatening. From the start, the president’s implicit message has been not to trust The Other, the outsider, the ones with different beliefs, different languages, different skin tones.
It started with his claim of “Mexican rapists” at our borders. But that was just the opening salvo in a steady campaign barrage.
He’s the president who wanted a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the U.S.
He’s the one insisting we spend a fortune for a wall to keep desperate people from entering America’s southern border.
He’s the one who’s turned America’s proud history of immigrants enriching this country into something mean-spirited and dangerous — in fact, dangerous enough to unconscionably separate babies from parents.
There is a distinction to be made here.
There are some things that are true, even if Trump says they are. And he’s right when he says we can’t allow unlimited entrance into this country.
But he’s wrong — destructively, willfully wrong — to back his argument by issuing the barrage of racist remarks that have veiled his words from the very first campaign breath he took four years ago, right up to this very week.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, most recently “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age” (Johns Hopkins University Press).