Point Austin: Welcome the Stranger, Protect the Refugee
Vote in memory of those who gave their lives for others
I had in mind a fairly workaday, reportorial column for this week, but the combination of onrushing deadlines and our rapidly deteriorating national discourse pushed that plan aside for another day. There is also the somber necessity of acknowledging in some way the vile slaughter of innocent worshippers in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue last weekend. It happened a long way from our normally circumscribed Chronicle beats, but such an event calls for national mourning and outrage. First mourning, for the 11 people murdered in cold blood (and more wounded), by a heavily armed coward who objected to their heritage, their religion, and explicitly to their willingness to help the less fortunate.
Outrage is needed as well, against the complicity of our current political rulers, whose barely veiled attacks on prominent Jews (especially activist/philanthropist George Soros) have increasingly contributed to the conflation of anti-Semitism and racism now thoroughly polluting our politics and public culture. The murderer explicitly denounced the work of Jewish organizations (e.g., HIAS and the Jewish Family and Community Services of Pittsburgh) for their work in assisting refugees, whom he called "invaders ... that kill our people." It is no coincidence that Donald Trump was and is simultaneously ramping up vicious attacks on Central American refugees fleeing violence and poverty, blatantly lying about their motives and about the actual threat represented by poor, hungry, desperate people.
Trump's latest nonsense includes dispatching thousands of troops to the Mexican border, where they will almost certainly outnumber any refugees who finally, weeks from now, complete the 1,100-mile trek from Honduras. He followed that up by declaring he could overturn the 14th Amendment (which guarantees U.S. citizenship by birthright) by "executive order." The futility (and illegality) of these moves is beside the point – there's an election next week, and the White House and Republican leaders have decided that anti-immigrant fanaticism is the strongest motivator for their voting base. True or not, one GOP strategist told The Washington Post, "This is the play."
Racist Clarion Calls
It hardly matters that this sort of malevolent political "play" has real-world consequences, not the least of which was the slaughter in Pittsburgh. Just before that happened, a reporter at The Intercept listed a catalog of assaults and murders at least partly inspired by Trump's racial rhetoric, dating back to his campaign kickoff denouncing alleged Mexican immigrants as "rapists and murderers" (Mehdi Hasan, "...a list of far-right attackers Trump inspired," Oct. 27). Trump campaigned as a white nationalist, he has governed as a white nationalist, and he recently made his "nationalism" explicit against "globalists" (the historically anti-Semitic subtext is inaudible only to the willfully deaf).
These anti-Semitic and racist clarion calls have been explicitly connected in the claims (daily amplified by Fox and other right-wing media) that Soros or others are paying destitute refugees to walk thousands of miles northward to "invade" the U.S. (i.e., legally apply for asylum). The unconstitutional birthright threats are of the same ilk – it doesn't matter whether it can actually be done; what matters is whether the promise of one more blow against immigrants will encourage Trump's virulent supporters to go to the polls. In Texas, Ted Cruz and Ken Paxton, both nervous about their Democratic challengers, leapt cravenly to endorse Trump's threat, these alleged attorneys claiming they'd have to do more "research" before they determine the threat's constitutionality.
Defy the Liars
In short, our national politics have become a dismal clown show, or a Halloween nightmare in which the return of the unkillable racist slasher is now a weekly revival, with real blood spilled along the way. The actual issues animating most voters – health care, climate change, economic uncertainty, growing inequality – are overwhelmed by headlines treating Trump's incoherent declarations as debatable "policy issues," or by the related horse-race coverage that treats every candidate as equally qualified, every absurd pronouncement as just one more opinion in the public square.
Many Chronicle readers have likely already voted; I hope that many more will take the opportunity in the final early-voting days, or certainly by Nov. 6. The onslaught of vicious political lies too often motivates well-intentioned people to throw up their hands and say they want no part of politics or voting. A better course is to understand that one goal of vicious political lies is to embolden those who choose to believe the lies. But another is to persuade good people to wash their hands of the political process, thereby leaving the field entirely to the liars. Skepticism about politics is only rational; cynicism is an abdication of responsibility to the possibility of community.
The souls who died at Tree of Life took seriously their responsibilities to community, to (in the motto of HIAS) "protect the stranger, welcome the refugee." The least the rest of us can do is vote, this year, in their memory.