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  • November 1st, 2018


By Joel M. Vance

Donald Trump describes himself as a nationalist and as if to underscore that he understands the historic meaning of that self-description, he says “we’re not supposed to use that word” and added “you know I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Use that word.”  The most notable nationalist leaders in modern history to identify themselves as nationalists were Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, the dictators respectively of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

Heidi Beirich, a spokesperson for the  Southern Poverty Law Center said this about Trump’s use of the word nationalist: “When you see the rise of nationalist movements— in Europe, America and other places—it can signal bad times ahead for minorities. Historically, it’s taking a stance against newcomers and those who are different.”


Does this description resemble the Trump attitude toward the migration of Honduran refugees headed toward the United States, still some 900 miles short of the border between the United States and Mexico? Donald Trump refers to this caravan as “an invasion”, as if it were some sort of incipient blitzkrieg marching toward our southern border. So afraid, apparently, of these people seeking asylum because they are fleeing from death and destruction in their native country, Trump has sent several thousand troops to defend our border against women, children and desperate fathers.  He threatens to send up to 15,000 regular Army troops, more than are currently deployed in Afghanistan.


Every time I hear the right wing denouncing the asylum-seekers as invaders or as a Democrat funded rabble or a mob of “very bad people” I am immediately reminded of the words inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty, our very symbol of what the United States stands for. “Give me your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”


Stephen Miller, a senior advisor to Trump, and somewhere to the right of the farthest right of the Republicans, said this about the inscription on Miss Liberty: “I don’t want to get into a whole thing about history here. The poem that you’re referring to was added later. It’s not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.”


Actually, Miller was correct in that the inscription was not part of the original statue— it was a poem written by Emma Lazarus to raise money for building the pedestal on which Ms. Liberty stands. Sadly, Ms. Lazarus died of cancer a year after the Statue of Liberty was dedicated and it was another two decades before the words were inscribed on a plaque fixed to the inner wall of the statue’s pedestal.


Ms. Lazarus was Jewish, which should have no bearing on the words she wrote or their meaning except that the country right now is mourning the massacre of nine Jewish worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.  Anti-Semitism has a long and ugly history in the United States, along with other unforgivable prejudices like those against African-Americans, Native Americans—or, for that matter, against my Irish forebears.


Trump’s answer to the Pittsburgh massacre was to suggest that if the worshipers in the synagogue had been armed the killer could not have survived a shoot out. This echoes his earlier suggestion that teachers should be armed and ready to start shooting. His parents must have supplied him with too many Gene Autry cap guns and too many hours of watching John Wayne westerns on television when he was a kid.  Or maybe his daddy wouldn’t let him go to a Ku Klux Klan rally and it pissed little Donnie off.


Trump flew to Pittsburgh with his daughter Ivanka, and her husband Jared Kushner, both of whom practice Judaism (Jared is Jewish, Ivanka a convert), but before even the first of the victims was laid to rest and against the wishes of city leaders and grieving members of the synagogue. Some of the Jewish community were upset feeling that Trump put more blame on the synagogue for not being weaponized than he did on the crazed killer whose only aim was to kill more Jews.


In an especially ugly historic anti-Semitic incident a boatload of 900 Jewish refugees seeking asylum in the United States after fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 was turned away from our border and forced back to Europe where an estimated 28 percent of those refugees were sent to concentration camps and died, among the six million Jews killed by the Nazis. The boat they were on was named the St. Louis.  As a proud Show Me state resident, that factoid gives me a cold chill.


The synagogue shootings happened amid a spate of multiple gunfire murders this year, along with the mailing of a series of pipe bombs to prominent Democrats, including two past presidents, by a deranged and self proclaimed Donald J Trump supporter. His bombs did not detonate; but the guns of the various shooters did.


Anyone who suggests the necessity for sensible gun laws automatically earns the wrath of the National Rifle Association and from far too many legitimate gun owners— it seems to me that the biggest enemy responsible gun owners face too often is gun owners themselves. I own a dozen guns, hunt with them, have target shot with them and see no justification for gun confiscation or other restrictions that other countries have imposed.  But there are proposed regulations on gun ownership that are no threat to me or any other responsible gun owner. Why not work toward limiting access of guns that could be used to kill people?


On the heels of the horrific shooting in Pittsburgh, Trump assaulted the Constitution of the United States by saying that he would issue an executive order denying automatic citizenship to babies born within the borders of the United States— a right guaranteed by the 14th amendment. Even Paul Ryan, usually his fawning acolyte, said that proposal could not legally fly. But Trump continues his nonstop tirade against this imagined invasion by the Honduran refugees.


Trump tweeted “I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught—and if unable to do so I will call up the US military and close our southern border!”  Trump, and his toadies and right wing talk show mouths claim that the caravan is being financed by the Democrats to influence Tuesday’s election results and the primary culprit, according to them and without even a shred of credible evidence, is wealthy George Soros who just happens to be Jewish.


The onslaught, as he terms it, or, variously, “the invasion” is not being financed either by the Democrats or by George Soros. It is self financed and desperately poor. Often, towns along the way have furnished the migrants with food, water and shelter— things that Trump would deny them if and when they reach our border. Trump claims the caravan is infiltrated by criminals and, as he terms it, people from the Middle East— a euphemism for Muslims. As is true of almost every Trump statement on anything, that is a damn lie. There is absolutely no evidence of any infiltration by anyone who could be considered a threat to this country.


To hear the right wing tell it, the Honduran migrants are coming to the United States to take our jobs, vote Democrat and commit crimes. Among other valid reasons, they are fleeing crime—Honduras and El Salvador are among the top five deadliest countries in the world. Their homeland is rife with corruption and there is little opportunity for employment for young adults. It probably wouldn’t be much if any better in the United States, but it couldn’t be worse.  It is overlooked by the frightened right that these are asylum-seekers looking for safe refuge, not a ravening Mongol horde bent on rape and pillage.


The right-wingers claim that the refugee caravan carries deadly diseases that will overwhelm the United States with pestilence. Does anyone remember when our forebears traveled up the Missouri River and deliberately furnished Native Americans with smallpox contaminated blankets?  That was genocidal reality but today it’s political scare tactics just it as is the claim that the caravan is a murderous mob when in reality the mob is our own brutal right wingers wishing they had Trump’s 20 foot tall wall to hide behind.


On a sultry summer evening some years back a group of us gathered in the street at Sedalia and watched as a dark green cloud loomed over the city and someone said, “I’ve never seen a tornado but that sure looks like one building up. And if it isn’t I’d be surprised— not to mention, scared to death.” We opted to go down a flight of stairs into a basement which just happened to be a bar, and we rode out the storm and indeed, there was a tornado just south of town.  We had averted disaster, helped along by the cooling and soothing application of beer. I don’t advocate taking a sixpack to the polling place, but you might consider having one on hand at home after you finish voting.


That dark green cloud springs to mind immediately when I consider that on November 6 an ominous green cloud known as election day will loom over us. It has the potential, I think, either to devastate the country or to wash away many of the nation’s political ills with a healing rain and no whirlwind of destruction.


I’ve said and I firmly believe that this is the most important election I’ve ever voted in since the first where I was eligible in 1956. Never have we faced so many threats to our democracy and only a record and overwhelming turnout of voters will decide whether the country will continue as we have known and cherished it for more than 240 years. We can’t erase the transgressions of the past but we can amend the transgressions of the present.







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