George Pyle: Utah’s anti-minority efforts look even more frightening when seen from Berlin

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Trevor Lee, R-Layton, speaks with members of the public outside the House Chamber Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.

Berlin • This is how it begins.

A member of the Utah Legislature proposes, then withdraws, then says he might propose again later, an amendment to the state Constitution that would ban from public schools children whose parents are not citizens or legal residents of the United States.

State Rep. Trevor Lee says such kids don’t belong in the state’s schools.

“They don’t even speak English,” he grumbles.

Which might be a really good reason to make sure those children are in school.

Do it right and, by the time many of these children are in middle school, they will be speaking English at least as well as Trevor Lee. And likely be better acquainted than he is with American history and principles.

You know. All that stuff in the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address about all of us being equal. The core belief that makes America America.

Lee’s proposal disgusted me, of course. But it hit even harder than it otherwise would have because two days before I read about it, just by coincidence, I took a stroll through the Jewish Museum Berlin.

One of the many memorable exhibits is a series of ceiling-height banners that list, year by year, from 1933 to 1945, hundreds of anti-Jewish laws, proclamations and bureaucratic decrees, national and local, that, just about every week, excluded Jews from more and more of German society.

The display is aptly called Catastrophe.

Jews can’t enroll in public schools. Jews can’t teach in public schools. Jewish doctors and dentists can only treat Jewish patients. Jews can’t serve in the army.

Jews can’t change the names of their businesses to hide the fact that they have Jewish owners. Jews whose first names don’t sound Jewish enough to authorities have to add “Israel” or “Sara” to their official names.

Jews have to turn all their jewelry and precious metals over to the government.

Jews can’t buy lottery tickets.

A drip, drip, drip of dehumanization that was well underway before the cattle cars, the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the crematoria.

But that’s how it starts. Dehumanizing immigrants, minorities, disfavored religions, and their innocent children, as some kind of “other” that doesn’t deserve equal treatment in law and public services.

To those Americans who don’t want their children taught the full story of our history, about slavery and the real reason for the Civil War, on the grounds that it might make them feel bad, I say, like John F. Kennedy, “Let them come to Berlin.”

The Jewish Museum Berlin, which tells the story of what happened before, during and after the Holocaust, is a foundation created by the German federal government. There are also public memorials to the victims of the Holocaust and a preserved concentration camp — the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum — you can visit.

This official and ubiquitous recognition of Germany’s past — imperial, fascist, communist and democratic — has not made Germans a weak or woeful people. Their democracy is strong and their economy among the healthiest in the world.

In the United States, we have Lincoln’s nation that was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Drawn directly from Jefferson’s, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” We have a Constitution that promises rights, not to “citizens” or “white people” but to “persons.”

Yet here we are, with a motion to remove the equality-of-opportunity standard from state education rules narrowly defeated by a vote of the Utah State Board of Education.

And Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and members of the Legislature’s Republican supermajority proposing laws to monkey around with the diversity, equity and inclusion offices at the state’s public universities.

DEI is a philosophy that, like many ideas, may have reached the silly stage in some places, debating how many transgender men can dance on the head of a pin. Like anything else, oversight is needed, improvements always possible and reasonable people can disagree on the best ways to reach the goal.

But having people whose job it is to look America’s 400 years of institutionalized racism in the face and help individuals of all backgrounds get the most out of our universities is not divisive. Or it wasn’t, until too many politicians started telling us it was.

Cox and others are wrong if they think that supporting that core American value is a mere “political” position, something that people should not have to pledge allegiance to to get hired at, say, a state university.

It’s not like a person’s views on taxes or Social Security or farm subsidies or whether the Navy needs more aircraft carriers.

It is what America is. Not blood and soil. Not a common language or religion. A belief.

A belief you don’t have to share to live in the U.S. But that you damn well better support to be in public office or on the public payroll.

George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, sometimes thinks America looks better from a distance. Reach out to him at gpyle@sltrib.com, and follow him at georgepyle.substack.com.

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