I’ve been obsessed lately with politics, and most particularly the reaction here in the States to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Europe is absolutely deluged with refugees from the Syrian civil war and from the continued brutality in Libya. Our allies in Europe are all trying to decide how many refugees they can accept into their countries. The US has been asked to take only 10,000 refugees, that’s all, and President Obama has agreed. France, victims of the recent attacks, has agreed to take many more. Our 10,000 constitutes only the tiniest fraction of the total number of suffering, homeless, impoverished people seeking shelter. And the American Right has become unified in its opposition to providing shelter for desperate people. It’s becoming the defining issue of this campaign; conservative cowardly intransigence.
They claim to be protecting America. From the potential for terrorism. Which is preposterous; the refugees in question are fleeing terrorism and violence, not committing it. And before they arrive on our shores, they’ll have undergone a rigorous screening process. Or irrelevant side issues get raised; ‘why can’t we help our 50,000 homeless veterans first?’ Homelessness is an entirely different issue than refugee relief (refugees don’t tend to require mental health treatment, for one thing), plus Republicans in Congress keep voting down aid for American veterans. So ignore that one.
Meanwhile, in addition to the humanitarian and Christian imperatives that would seem to require that we welcome these refugees, there are any number of strategic considerations. Large numbers of refugees, sitting in squalid, over-heated camps, are prime candidates for recruitment by groups like ISIS/Daesh. If we are indeed in a hearts-and-minds war with Daesh, an ideological war for the future of Islam v. The West, why not show exactly what our values are, why not demonstrate the essential kindness and compassion of which the American people are, at times, capable? The Daesh propaganda line is that Westerners are Islamophobic and godless hypocrites. It’s a message Daesh is very good at communicating via social media. Why not show the world clearly and unmistakably how wrong they all are?
Is there such a thing as national character? The American people can, at times, demonstrate a tremendous capacity for charity. But we’re people, like anyone else, equally susceptible to appeals based on fear and paranoia. We’re capable of great courage; also great cowardice. We’re a Christian nation when it suits us to be one, but our Christianity does not, apparently, extend to applying Matthew 25: 34-45 to public acts. Meanwhile, the Republican candidates for President have given voice to the most despicable expressions of fear-mongering Islamophobia, appealing to our worst natures. Sadly, that’s working too. When you hear politicians citing the Japanese internment camps as a positive example from our history, something well worth emulating, the only real response is to call for the lads with the butterfly nets.
It doesn’t help that I’m convalescing, with leisure time to watch TV and surf the ‘net, and read. And that distorts perspective, does it not? I’m becoming obsessed with this one issue, the issue of Syrian refugees. Obsessed with the images of children in the arms of their parents, walking, dragging all their possessions in carts and wagons, or floating to shore on boats, desperate for some safe harbor. And the concerns about terrorism expressed by our conservative friends strike me as completely preposterous.
In short, I’m losing my sense of humor.
And that gives me pause.
I’m losing my sense of humor. In a political season dominated by Donald Trump and Ben Carson, I’m losing my sense of humor? Not seeing the funny; does that even sound like me? I’m so furious, I can’t see how ridiculous politics have become. I’m losing my sense of the absurd. And Donald Trump is running for President.
Donald Trump, with the fly-away hair and the trophy wife and the ridiculous self-importance. A guy who bases his entire campaign on bluster and braggadocio. A guy who seems to invent utterly preposterous policy prescriptions out of thin air, and then defend them ferociously, only to see his poll numbers trend. . . upward? He’s not a political candidate, he’s a cartoon caricature of one, but the joke’s getting old. Of course, it would be fantastically dangerous for our country (and the world!) if he were to actually be elected President, but that seems unlikely. He might win the Republican nomination, though that seems equally unlikely–the nominee will probably be Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. Both of whom are scary enough. But then, funny is funnier when the stakes are high. And our politics have become terrifyingly hilarious.
Ridiculous, but dangerous. Preposterous, but potentially lethal. In America’s past, the Know-Nothing party was built on pure xenophobia, but the Know-Nothings never actually won an election, though they were a malignant cancer on our politics for many years. In our past, we’ve seen political movements based on hatred before; the anti-Masons, the anti-Irish, the anti-Chinese. Jim Crow. Our current politics isn’t that vicious; our capacity for actual violence has, blessedly, diminished. Instead, all we have are silly people saying nonsensical things. Jeb Bush suggesting we only accept Syrian Christians, for example, or Ted Cruz calling the President out for insulting him by quoting him accurately, or Dr. Ben and his pyramid grain silos. And Trump calling for a national registry of Muslims. These aren’t serious candidates for high office. And that’s a bit disconcerting, of course. But come on. It’s also pretty funny. Right?
Not so funny, of course, to see American Christians playing the role of innkeeper in an international Nativity. It’s funny to see a whole generation of politicians lose their minds; not so funny to turn away widows and orphans. Thank heavens, on this issue, there’s one grown-up in Washington. And his name is Barack Hussein Obama. Sorry, conservative friends, but in your heart you know it’s so.