Much as it pains me to type these words, and as much as I’m still holding out for Bernie Sanders to have a huge upset at this year’s DNC, Trump and Clinton are looking to be the frontrunners for the general election this November. Nearly everyone I know claims they are going to flee to Canada if the opposing candidate–or indeed, either candidate–is elected president.
Now, yes, I realize these statements are made partially, if not fully, in jest. Yet, at least half the people making these jokes were opposed to offering shelter to Syrian refugees last year. Incidentally, most of those people also claimed to be Christians. Make of that what you will.
It’s not the first time the US refused desperate people a safe haven. During the German rise to power that preceded the second world war, the US had strict anti-immigration policies that blocked European Jews from finding a home on US soil, famously resulting in some of them dying in the Holocaust. We have a short memory when it comes to retaining our historical lessons.
Anti-Islamic sentiment runs ever higher in this country–Trump even threatens to evict current Muslim Americans in the name of safety. We have hate to spare, though. Mexicans and Mexican Americans are often accused of stealing jobs, never mind that it was American economic policy that destabilized the Mexican economy and sent Mexican citizens over the border in desperation, seeking work and a way to provide for themselves.
The (white) American ideal is nothing new. Of all the ethnic groups that have been demoralized and loathed throughout our history, the Irish had the easiest time assimilating, due in no small part to our white skin and shared cultural norms with the dominant groups. As much as people may claim that we are a melting pot, our culture shows little real love for diversity.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Our current political atmosphere is tinged with a longing to return to a simpler time. Trump is the most overt, with his “Make America Great Again” rhetoric. Let me be clear: America, that is, the United States, has never been great. Never for women, people of color, poor people, queer people, for the huddled masses we purportedly welcome via the Statue of Liberty. We have been nothing but a better option, a whiff of hope, a brighter future over the darkness of the past. We are a reserve of untapped potential, one that will never come to fruition if we don’t let go of our old prejudices.