A young man I know in another state has a very different political outlook from mine. Like many people, he re-posts memes on Facebook to support his positions. He’s a good person, but the sources he cites often exhibit poor taste and lack credibility. I checked out one source—a Twitter account. I was disturbed. Moreover, the attitude it represents is more widespread than you might think.
This particular Twitter account posts on Facebook very aggressive pro-Donald Trump, anti-Hillary Clinton material. Freedom of speech? Sure. Support Trump? Their right. But pay heed. The account’s primary theme is “Keep America American.” Its secondary theme: “Peace Through Superior Firepower.” Its graphics include a skull and skeleton hands holding a knife and a gun. I hear echoes of “Keep Germany German” and see the similar symbols of the Nazi Waffen-SS.
We often associate this thinking with rednecks, white supremacists and gun nuts—those people “out there.” But many small-town and rural people are wonderful and all-too-often falsely maligned. The fact is, prejudice exists everywhere.
In last Tuesday’s New York Times, Michael Luo, deputy Metro editor, wrote of a “minor confrontation” with a well-dressed woman on Manhattan’s expensive Upper East Side. Luo and his family were waiting outside a restaurant and apparently in the woman’s way. She passed by then from down the block yelled at them, “Go back to China.” Luo was born in Pittsburgh.
If some people think it’s critical to keep America for Americans, what does being an American mean? The Constitution states that anyone born in the United States—like me—is an American citizen. Our laws also enable people born elsewhere to become citizens if they fulfill residency requirements and pass a test. My grandparents became citizens 102 years ago and with them my father, who was 11. I have friends who became naturalized American citizens far more recently.
Yet some people scorn the Constitution they preach about upholding and place limitations on who they recognize as true Americans. White and Christian? You’re good. Black, brown, yellow or red? Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist? Forget the Constitution. Forget our laws. Some things, as Donald Trump reminds us, are only words. So should Mike Luo go back to Pittsburgh? Maybe—if Pennsylvania was never part of the United States. Or unless, as one of Luo’s readers responded, you’re blue-eyed and from Sweden like her.
The final weeks of the presidential campaign will be fascinating and disturbing. Neither candidate is sweeping Americans—recognized or not—off their feet. But one candidate retains an unwavering commitment that ethnicity and religion do not define who is or who isn’t an American. One doesn’t.
I’d like to believe that after the election, tempers will cool and we’ll all go back to normal. I can’t. We’re living with a new normal—an increasingly divided citizenry and, in some quarters, increasing racial hatred in what eight years ago was (falsely) termed a “post-racial” nation.
We’ll continue to hear “Keep America American.” New demagogues will shout about upholding the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for their own ethnic group and denying it to others. Doing so in the name of patriotism, they’ll mock the nation they claim to love and weaken the nation they seek to strengthen.
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