“I went to sleep, and Jim didn’t call me when it was my turn. He often done that. When I waked up just at daybreak he was sitting there with his head down betwixt his knees, moaning and mourning to himself. I didn’t take notice nor let on. I knowed what it was about. He was thinking about his wife and his children, away up yonder, and he was low and homesick; because he hadn’t ever been away from home before in his life; and I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n. It don’t seem natural, but I reckon it’s so.”
— Mark Twain, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” 1884
For a couple of years now, pundits and politicians writing in and about Utah have been pointing out that folks here were a little different. In a good way.
This reliably red state was having some issues with the direction in which the national Republican Party was headed. The man who kept winning primaries and caucuses in other states was uncouth, immoral and probably couldn’t spell “family values” if you spotted him six letters.
One key reason for the partial but significant disconnect has been that this president has led his party to a cruel and unusual stand on immigration — legal and illegal. It’s not just economic migrants he disdains, calls names, ascribes false and racist characteristics and traits. It’s also people fleeing from clearly violent and failed states who have the right to at least seek asylum in a country that was basically founded for such a purpose. And thrived.
Utahns, as it has been pointed out over and over, are largely members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That faith cares a lot about its history, and that history turns on a tale of victimhood, of having been pushed out of several locations in the United States in the early 19th century, and finally out of the U.S. altogether, coming to what was then part of Mexico in 1847.
So Utah does asylum. Refugees. Huddled masses.
In 2011, business, civic and religious leaders in this state signed the Utah Compact. It was a declaration that stuck to the true free market — meaning the free flow of labor as well as of capital and goods — and held the preservation of families as among the most important principles of society.
So now what do we see? Utah elected officials of the president’s own party who won’t challenge him on the abominable treatment of asylum-seeking families at our borders, separating children from parents, losing track of more than 1,000 young people who arrived at our door alone, forgetting our laws and practices for those fleeing violence and economic collapse, telling schools they should report suspected illegal aliens when Supreme Court rulings say exactly the opposite.
Worse, a political activist from Utah who has built a cottage industry calling for cruelty to immigrants, even those who came here as babes in arms, has been nominated for a key post at the State Department dealing with refugees. And the elected representatives of Utah Exceptionalism have nothing to say.
Not that it would matter that much if they did. Political and religious readers of one small state, no matter how principled and resolute, are not going to turn this ship. We need a nation of people who do not hear every day about the sufferings of their own immigrant, refugee ancestors to care anyway.
We need, as Huck realized about the escaped slave Jim on that raft on the Mississippi, 134 years ago, that even people who aren’t like you care for their people the way your people do for you. Even if we are governed by people who don’t think that is natural, it’s so.
George Pyle, The Tribune’s editorial page editor, started reading “Huckleberry Finn” about 15 times before finishing it a couple of years ago. firstname.lastname@example.org