Thursday, November 26, 2015

Who Are We?

During World War II, the United States forcibly relocated and incarcerated between 110,000 and 220,000 people of Japanese ancestry.  More than 60% of those forced into so-called internment camps were U.S. citizens.  Wikipedia (edit mine):

Such incarceration was applied unequally… ...more than 110,000 Japanese Americans, nearly all who lived on the West Coast, were forced into interior camps, but in Hawaii, where the 150,000-plus Japanese Americans comprised over one-third of the population, only 1,200 to 1,800 were interned. The forced relocation and incarceration has been determined to have resulted more from racism and discrimination among white people on the West Coast, rather than any military danger posed by the Japanese Americans.

The internment of Japanese Americans was an embarrassing chapter in U.S. history, and an affront to our national values.  We do not judge people by their race, religion or ethnicity.  This is not who we are, we want to say, and actually did say (again, WIkipedia, edit mine):

In 1980… ...President Jimmy Carter opened an investigation to determine whether the decision to put Japanese Americans into internment camps had been justified by the government. He appointed the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) to investigate the camps. The Commission's report, titled Personal Justice Denied, found little evidence of Japanese disloyalty at the time and, concluding the incarceration had been the product of racism, recommended that the government pay reparations to the survivors. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act, which apologized for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government and authorized a payment of $20,000 to each individual camp survivor. The legislation admitted that government actions were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership." The U.S. government eventually disbursed more than $1.6 billion in reparations to 82,219 Japanese Americans who had been interned and their heirs.

“Race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”  Sounds familiar?  It should, if you’ve listened to Donald Trump lately.


Shockingly, Trump told Yahoo News that he would consider requiring Muslim-Americans to register with a government database, or worse, mandating that they carry special identification cards that note their faith.

Fear brings out the worst in all of us, and the worst among us harness that fear for their own benefit.  It’s not that hard to do; in fact, it’s the easy way out.  When bad things happen, the easy thing to do is to unfairly point a finger at ready-made targets.  The difficult thing to do is to defend those unfairly targeted.  Thanks to Islamic extremist terrorists, we live in fear.  But can that fear compare to the that felt by law-abiding American and European Muslims, who not only have terrorism to be afraid of, but also that many of their countrymen consider them treacherous just because of their religion?  

As is his wont, Aaron Sorkin nails it, this time through President Andrew Shepherd in “The American President,” referring to his opponent in the presidential election:

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.  And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it.  He is interested in two things, and two things only, making you afraid of it, and telling you who to blame for it.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.

Among many qualified applicants, Donald Trump gets the nod for closest current incarnation of Bob Rumson.  

Ohio Gov. and presidential candidate John Kasich released a campaign ad last week featuring Col. Tom Moe, a former Vietnam POW.  In the ad, Moe adapts a poem from the 1950s by the anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller into a commentary on Donald Trump.   Niemöller’s original poem:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

Moe’s adaptation:

You might not care if Donald Trump says Muslims must register with the government,
Because you’re not one.
And you might not care if Donald Trump says he’s going to round up all the Hispanic immigrants,
Because you’re not one.
And you might not care if Donald Trump says it’s OK to rough up black protesters,
Because you’re not one.
And you might not care if Donald Trump wants to suppress journalists,
Because you’re not one.
But think about this: If he keeps going, and he actually becomes president,
he might just get around to you.
And you better hope that there’s someone left to help you.

Yet as I write this, Donald Trump easily leads the field of Republican presidential candidates in the polls, with an average of 27.5% of the vote, and would narrowly lose a hypothetical general election against Hillary Clinton, garnering 43.2% of the vote.  His racist, sexist, bigoted, exclusionary message has somehow resonated with many Americans.

Is this who we are?

“Race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”  All over again.