“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.”
— Donald Trump, first campaign speech, June 16, 2015
Of all the damnable lies told by the former president before and during his administration, that was among the first, maybe the worst, and clearly one that still casts a horrid shadow over American life.
It is the progenitor of the disgraceful statement from Rep. Burgess Owens a couple of weeks ago, the one where he warned that evil immigrants from the south were on the march.
“They are coming to your neighborhoods, not knowing the language, not knowing the culture, and there is a cartel influence along the way,” the Utah Republican freshman said. “So be aware, don’t think this is a distance from you now, this is coming your way and it is done on purpose by a party who could care less about we, the people.”
To deal with the most obvious falsehood first: The idea that someone comes to the United States “not knowing the culture” is among the stupidest things any adult human being has ever said. Except for everything out of the mouth of Tucker Carlson.
Unless you kidnap some aborigines from darkest Peru, people who have never seen a movie or a TV show or listened to the radio, who are totally illiterate, it’s darn near impossible to import someone who isn’t steeped in American culture.
We rule everywhere. Radio stations all over the world play American pop songs, in English, even where all the announcers and commercials speak Czech or Spanish or Norwegian. You can’t escape our movies. American-style football doesn’t travel well, but they are mad for baseball in Central and South America, Japan and Korea, and the NBA is popular everywhere.
When immigrants look to us as a land of equal opportunity, freedom and the embrace of diversity, it’s clear they understand our culture better than a few members of Congress.
Congress, where some Republicans who had recently formed something called the America First Caucus had a falling out over the statement by some of their number who said the point of the group was to preserve “Anglo-Saxon political traditions.” That was too much even for some right-wing dog-whistlers such as Georgia’s Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and California’s Kevin McCarthy, who seemed to grasp that, in the words of The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer, “‘Anglo-Saxon’ is what you say when ‘whites only’ is simply too inclusive.”
In fact, Anglo-Saxons were a somewhat backwards people, even by 10th century standards, who ran what is now England before the arrival of William the Conquerer and his French Norman knights in 1066. All the stuff that English-speakers might be proud of — Magna Carta, Shakespeare, Parliament, Oxford, Cambridge, Monty Python — came after, during the centuries when England was ruled by a bunch of kings and queens whose heritage was largely French, Dutch and German.
Yes, every wave of immigration includes some undesirables. But the Darwinian truth of the matter is that folks who walk the length of two or three or four counties, through jungles and deserts and rivers, carrying small children with them, all in a vague hope of making a better life, are indeed the best that any nation has to offer.
They are the strongest, the boldest, the most ambitious, the least likely to take the freedoms and opportunities of our nation for granted, the most likely to lift and carry and plant and build and care and invent. Immigrants start businesses, take care of their families and win a large share of Nobel Prizes.
We would do well to offer immediate full citizenship to the whole extended families of appropriately aged migrants who agree to join the Marines. After the trek some of them have made, boot camp would be a picnic.
And when Americans reach out to help our new neighbors, we become the better for it. Witness the example of Salt Lake City’s First Unitarian Church, led by Minister Tom Goldsmith, who took in and sheltered Honduran refugee Vicky Chavez and her two young children for more than three years after Trump’s vicious administration had ordered her deported.
Chavez went through a lot to give her children a better life. More than most of us smug, privileged Americans will ever have to face.
She is proof that, sometimes, other nations are indeed sending us their best. And we’d be fools to turn down the gift.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, still admires Tom Goldsmith. Even if he did write his story for The New York Times instead of The Tribune.