… I enjoyed Jeremy Irons’ reading of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, caught up on a little history of my old neighborhood, and raised a small flag in defense of humility.
Yesterday’s news story about the president’s comments regarding immigration reminded me that, about a hundred years ago, my own grandparents arrived in this country from Central Europe with little more than the clothes on their backs — none of them had received more than a grade-school education, if that; none were skilled; all of them decided to come to America in hopes of a better life for themselves and their children. And they worked: as coal miners, charwomen, electricians, and textile workers, they made their own small contributions to the culture and economy, this despite the prejudices against Central Europeans, especially Jews, that weren’t uncommon in the first years of the twentieth century. (When the Ellis Island clerk had to enter into his dossier the language that my Ukrainian grandfather spoke, he wrote “Yiddish” — my grandfather never spoke a word of that language, but I think this says something about the assumptions of the time.) The United States was not then too proud to accept these non-English-speaking, unskilled, barely literate refugees from a war-torn Europe; it appears to be now; and that says something, too, about how far we’ve strayed as a nation from the ideals that we once held in common.
But most of the attention that Trump’s comments have drawn have rightfully been drawn to the racism he expressed. Every American has an obligation to stand up and publicly condemn his racist, xenophobic attitude (an attitude all too obvious in the years before he was elected; it’s nothing new), and I do so here. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” Martin Luther King said in 1963. Obviously that dream is still far from being realized. But if our approval of that sentiment is to be more than mere lip service, we as individuals and American citizens have to publicly call out Trump’s crude rhetoric so our friends, family, and colleagues can see it — and it was crude whether he said “shithole countries” or not (this morning he issued an entirely unconvincing denial) — as the bigotry that it so clearly is. If we don’t, we should be ashamed of ourselves.
Anderson Cooper may have said it best yesterday at the beginning of his CNN program; you can hear him below. Until next week; see you at Blaue Gans (gotta pick up the girls in Tribeca today) this afternoon.