Don’t Send Her Back
Last Wednesday night at the Trump rally in Greenville, North Carolina, it became clear. The defining chant of Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign is almost certainly going to be “Send her Back.” Realizing this, I found myself sinking to an even lower level of gloom. Not that it surprised me that Donald Trump could descend deeper into the inferno of his incendiary remarks. The one thing that has been consistent in the otherwise epically inconsistent Trump Administration is Donald Trump’s unfailing ability to say or do something worse than he said or did the week before.
This new low, however, especially depressed me.
Whereas the “Lock her up” chant was directed solely at Hilary Clinton and could not easily be applied to anyone else, the “Send her Back” variant, initially directed at Rep. Omar (and three Congresswomen who are American-born), can be applied to multitudes. From the outspoken Congresswoman from Minnesota, it will be an easy slide into targeting any refugee or immigrant, anyone who looks or sounds like they might be from somewhere else, or, sadly, any person of color.
And the targeting has already begun. A day after the Trump rally, a gas station attendant in Naperville, IL was fired for telling Hispanic customers “to go back to their country.” It will get worse. Much worse. A lot of people are feeling enabled.
Already at the dawn of the American experiment, the seed of discontent was sown. From the very first immigrants to reach our shores, there was fear and distrust of those who came after. Read Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Maypole of Merry Mount about the tensions between the first English immigrants, the Puritans, and the English who followed them a few years later. The Puritans were not happy with the new arrivals. They were not as God-fearing as the Puritans felt they should be. They seemed to believe in enjoying life. They danced around maypoles.
Then came the Germans who the English didn’t like. Then the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Eastern Europeans and the Eastern European Jews. All these groups, it was grimly predicted at the time of their arrival, with their lack of education, their Catholicism, their Jewishness, their swarthiness, their otherness, would bring down the Anglo-Saxon nation. Yet, they didn’t bring it down, did they? They built it up: its railroads, bridges, roads, and skyscrapers, its diversity and cultural capital. Tragically, descendants of some of these very same vilified immigrant groups stand today at Trump rallies, shouting for the next wave of desperate people to go back or go home.
The dark underbelly of American immigration. There have been presidents who fed it before, but no president who feeds it as shamelessly as Donald Trump.
Yet let it be known for my readers outside the United States, in Canada and Germany, in Russia, France, Switzerland, Great Britain, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia, that there is another tradition in America, the one people grow dewy-eyed over and of which many tales are told. This is the tradition of welcoming new arrivals, of lending them a hand and helping where you can. This tradition has always existed side-by-side with the epithets thrown at the nearly-arrived. It has always been spontaneous and heart-felt. It has always been strong and it remains strong today.
On the Monday before Trump’s rally in North Carolina, the day he started the “Send her Back” fire storm with his morning tweet, I attended a different sort of meeting. It wasn’t raucous. It wasn’t seething with resentment and anger. Nobody was looking for anyone to blame.
About twenty-five people sat around a table in a church hall. A fan oscillated back-and-forth in a corner, not entirely successful in keeping us cool. The door to the main street of the town was open and you could hear the evening’s traffic on the road outside. The group in the church hall was sponsoring a refugee family from Afghanistan. They would arrive a week that Wednesday.
At the meeting, no one talked about the Trump tweet of the morning. We had better things to do. We were busy going around the table, each person or persons reporting on what they were responsible for organizing. The people who were going to the airport to meet the family discussed when they should leave. The team who would teach them English reported that everything in their new apartment was labeled in English and Farsi. The apartment team confirmed that the apartment was ready, furnished with donated items as well as furniture bought with monetary donations. An appointment at DSS had been made so the family could get their Social Security cards. Medical appointments were on the calendar for physicals and inoculations. Clothing had been bought and a set of new clothes set aside for each boy for the upcoming holiday of Eid.
The family the group had sponsored before this one, a Kurdish immigrant family from Syria, would cook the new family dinner on the night of their arrival. Interpreters had been arranged. One of the young boys would be turning nine five days after the family arrived. We were all asked to send cards and a birthday party had been scheduled.
Looking around the table, I did not see Republicans or Democrats. I did not see discontent or blame. I saw a group of volunteers, mostly older, mostly white, calm and determined, focused on a common purpose. I saw patriots, if I may be so bold, the quiet ones, the ones who never make the evening news.
This, too, is America, I would like to reassure my readers from abroad, and those Americans starting to despair. It’s quiet. It’s not shouting. It’s welcoming the people who have had a hard time of it and are making the leap of faith to start again in another land.
At the beginning and end of each meeting, someone usually reads something. It can be religious or not. It is supposed to be inspirational.
“You’re probably all familiar with this,” the woman who read last Monday night murmured.
“Give me your
tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
I have no doubt Donald Trump will go on tweeting and the storm over whatever he tweets will rage. I have no doubt there will be more rallies, more people shouting “Send her Back,” and more incidents when angry citizens will vent and possibly even hurt new arrivals. But I also know that this Wednesday morning, two cars will set out from Connecticut to drive down to Kennedy to meet the morning flight from Istanbul. They will bear banners of welcome in a language the drivers of these cars do not speak and cannot understand. In one of the cars there will be an interpreter who will explain to the family who the greeters are and where the family will be going. Everyone will be nervous and their hearts will be full of emotions they may not fully understand. The greeters will be wondering if they are greeting the family in the right way, if they are putting them at ease. The family will be exhausted, but also hopeful that the traumas of war and refugee camps are now behind them.
Everyone will smile. No one will shout. The arrival will not be televised.