I believe in America.
I believe that the defining characteristic of this nation was its unerring sense of moral conviction- that all we did was in the advancement of some great work set into motion by ages past. That every undertaking stemmed from the deepest confidence in the simple rightness of our cause.
This faith led us, countless times, to commit terrible acts that damn the conscious of the nation. Slavery and Wounded Knee. Manzanar and Kandahar. McDonald’s and McCarthy. It’s led to the popular image abroad of Americans as fundamentally arrogant; loudly voicing their opinions without being asked, demanding where they have no right, interfering where they have no business.
And it was this same faith that has pulled this nation back every time. Yosemite and Normandy. Harlem and Harper’s Ferry. John Muir and Eugene Debs. The faith that sent millions to these shores from every corner of the world and the same unabashed confidence that sent American music, art, film, and literature back.
In spite of our divisions and our failings- and they are neither minor nor few- we are united by the common belief that our cause is not merely just but justice itself, and that its triumph needs only ingenuity, passion, and will to be secured.
For good or ill, it is this value that made America.
But on the 19th of November, Congress departed from this great commission with the passing of HR 4038- the so-called “SAFE Act”, essentially calling for a halt to the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the United States. Signed by scores of representatives from both sides of the aisle, the proposed law follows a refusal by over half the governors of the US to host refugees in their states.
As if obtaining refugee status wasn’t a hellish endeavor already.
Of course, this is not the first time that this country has betrayed its conscience- especially in the name of security. The wake of 9/11 saw plenty of cheap trades in value for security, but even those were painted as simply temporary necessities for the fight. Those were provisions supposedly made for the war on terror not concessions of our surrender to it.
That this nation would turn down an opportunity to be the hero is inconceivable, but it seems hundreds in congress and the senate are preparing to do just that.
And I want to be angry.
I want to unleash the full force of a thousand fire-and-brimstone preachers against the cowardly, subhuman scum who’d consign countless men, women, and children to tyranny, rape, slavery, torture, and death. I wan to curse soulless, self-righteous Pharisees like Ben Carson who taut their religious devotion as these- the least of their brothers- suffer unimaginable torment. I want to rip apart the Roanoke mayor who was so blindly selfish, stupid, and moronic to suggest the reinstatement of internment camps. I want to describe the special place in hell reserved for these hypocrites.
But more than outrage, I feel exhausted.
And I think other people feel it to0.
The past few years seem to have seen a strange sense of defeat in this country. A kind of disheartened apathy. We’re questioning, perhaps for the first time in this country’s history, why America should have to “lead” the world. As bloody conflict and natural disasters continue to spiral across the globe, many are demanding to know- fairly or unfairly- where the rest of the world is. Whatever the cause, whatever the manifestation, we do seem to be teetering on the edge of a kind of surrender. Faced with the most unambiguously ethical and blindingly clear moral choice to make, we’re actually considering shirking the mantle, and I don’t think there’s going to be any coming back from it. We’re going to slouch, quietly and inevitably, into a decay that will gnaw away at the essence of our values and culture.
Readers, I care about the refugees of Syria. For nearly 17 years these people were my neighbors and my friends. Thinking about the suffering they’ve endured over the past half-decade breaks my heart. The knowledge this ancient and beautiful country is being torn apart fills me with absolute anger. I doubt I’d ever adequately be able to put into words the rage and disgust I’ve felt. But for all of that, I think there’s more to be done here than simply save thousands of refugees. Rejecting paranoia and fear, rejecting bigotry and xenophobia, will save not only countless lives but us as well. Settling these refugees in the United States- all the states- will affirm once again that our actions are done out of a sense of morality, not expediency; liberty, not security; and conviction, not convenience.
All flowery words.
Now you might laugh at me- of all people- suddenly waxing poetic about flag and country. I’m the last person to be thought of as some kind of nationalist or star-spangled patriot. And that’s true.
I don’t believe much in borders. Don’t care about fireworks. Never saw the point in national pride and I doubt I ever will. What I do care about, however, is values. I think culture is, at the end of the day, rooted in the principles and qualities we hold most sacred and if there’s anything worth uniting over as human beings, it’s those. The passionate sense of moral conviction that I believe is unique to American culture is one of the few things in this culture I believe is worth fighting for. Whether we fight for the rescue of these refugees will determine if other folks believe the same.
I believe in America.
I’d like to keep believing.
I’ve been struggling to express this too. I want America to be the dream I thought it was- which has always been about space for the “other”.
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