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The press shows historical illiteracy in one attack on Trump
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Donald Trump came under new political and journalistic attack on Aug. 15 after he proposed limiting admission to the United States to “those who share our values and respect our people.” He spoke of excluding not only terrorist sympathizers but believers in Sharia law who “support bigotry and hatred” and do not support the U.S. Constitution.
The horror! Joe Biden of course pounced: “Trump has no clue what it takes to lead this great country.” The Washington Post called Trump’s remarks “false and facile.” Other publications attacked Trump’s purported extremism. But millions of Americans are here because their ancestors signed “declarations of intention” similar to what Trump is suggesting.
For example, here’s what Albert Einstein swore to in 1936 on his way to becoming a U.S. citizen: “I will, before being admitted to citizenship, renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty; … I am not an anarchist; I am not a polygamist nor a believer in the practice of polygamy.” My immigrant grandfather signed a similar declaration in 1914.
“Anarchist” a century ago was the equivalent of “terrorist” now, since some anarchists planted bombs and one had assassinated President William McKinley. Since Sharia law allows and even proposes polygamy as an act of justice—see Sura 4, verse 3 in the Quran—U.S. law excluded Sharia-embracing Muslims. The renouncing of other allegiances was also important: No divided loyalties.
Declarations of intention were not new: They originated with the Naturalization Act of 1795. Undoubtedly, some newcomers in 1914 or 1936 lied, but the declaration ended with SO HELP ME GOD in capital letters, and that would stifle the impulse among some. It’s also important to note that these declarations pertained to those becoming citizens, not to all new arrivals: Taking in refugees is also part of the American tradition, and U.S. exclusion of escapees from a Hitler-threatened Europe is a dark historical episode.
Pundits now can reasonably debate whether Trump’s proposals for entry are too tough, but to reject them out of hand displays historical illiteracy. The 1924 immigration law wrongly discriminated against some refugees on racial and ethnic grounds, but why is it illegitimate to take values and beliefs into account when deciding immigration policy? “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Emma Lazarus wrote in her poem featured at the Statue of Liberty: We wanted such yearners, and we didn’t want embracers of enslavement.
At this point we should not be shocked by knee-jerk journalistic reactions to anything Trump says, but I’m still waiting for knights of the keyboard in New York and Washington to save everyone’s time by stating at the beginning of each political article, “Donald Trump is evil. His supporters are idiots. We’re not going to think through his proposals, and you should not either.”
The Huffington Post now appends to each story about him this editor’s note: “Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims—1.6 billion members of an entire religion—from entering the U.S.” The New York Times should clearly display its bias as well, but best of all would be an honest depiction of the other candidate: “Hillary Clinton regularly incites class warfare and is a constant liar, rigid ideologue, abortion expander, radical feminist, and screecher who has greedily put the interests of her Clinton Foundation above the human rights of millions of people.”
Times columnist Nicholas Kristof on Aug. 6 at least recognized the problems both candidates have with the truth, but wrote that “if deception were a sport, Trump would be the Olympic gold medalist; Clinton would be an honorable mention at her local Y.” Several paragraphs later, Kristof liked his sports imagery so much that he came up with this darling: Clinton’s lies are “junior varsity mendacity. In contrast, Trump is the champ of prevarication.”
After making those comparisons, Kristof compared Trump and Clinton once more, said the Republican is a worse liar, and closed his column, “Honestly, there is no comparison.” Obviously, there is, and I’d compare Trump’s off-the-cuff fact-slaughters with Clinton’s premeditated murdering of truth. Odd: In some elections the candidates’ positions are not all that different, so character is king. In this Reckless vs. Ruthless election, with both candidates deficient, we need to scrutinize their proposals and advisers, and that’s where reporters are also letting us down.
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