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Monday Witness: The Day Lady Liberty Hid her Face in Shame

Monday Witness

The following views are mine alone, and should not be read to reflect the expressed views of my firm or any other partner

Courtesy Derek Jensen and Wikimedia CommonsLast Friday, America gave notice that it will reject many of the refugees most in need of its protection. At the same time, it turned its back on its founding principles and denied the reality of its own history.

When the Trump administration, by Executive Order, shut the door on travel from seven predominantly Islamic countries – some of them our allies – it also put political expediency before actual danger. At most, it fulfilled a campaign promise that was spurious on its face, because refugee vetting procedures already in place are more than adequate to address security concerns.

Never mind the fact that records show that not a single Islamic refugee has ever murdered anyone in the United States. Or that green card and visa-bearing individuals were prevented at airports from rejoining their families in the U.S. Or that the policy was put in place so abruptly that people were turned back who were already in transit. Or even that the international consequences may be dire, including undercutting our efforts to strengthen a weak Iraq, and curtailing the ability of American companies to create new jobs by exporting to Iran.

As unfortunate as these results may be, they pale in comparison to the damage wrought by surrendering principles that form the very foundation of our republic. On Friday, America betrayed itself, stoking baseless xenophobia for political gain. The response of Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, was as compassionate as it was stinging: if you are rejected by the United States, he promised, Canada will welcome you. Here, you can still breath free.

If we continue on such a course, the United States will no longer be able to claim to lead by example. When it seeks to admonish other nations for their failure to respect human rights, it should expect those assertions to be met with derision rather than shame.

This is not, of course, the first time that the United States has fallen short of its ideals. Americans of Japanese descent were interned, and Jews desperate to escape Hitler were turned away, during World War II. During the Cold War, the House Unamerican Activities Committee ruined the careers of many for their political beliefs, while the rest of Congress stood by, taking no action to rein the popular Senator McCarthy in due to fear of possible political consequences. But in each such case, the error of our ways was eventually realized, and today we recognize these lapses as episodes when we failed not only those directly affected, but ourselves as well.

Who we are is demonstrated not by what we say, but by what we do, and by what we allow others to do in our names. If we stand by and do nothing, we are complicit in the actions taken by our elected officials, regardless of whether we individually voted for them.

We are only one week into the Trump administration. How we react now will in large measure serve to rein in, or give free rein to, what it does next. How should you react? While engaging in Tweeting and other forms of social media may be cathartic, it tends to only amplify the vibrations in whatever like-minded echo chamber we have chosen to live in rather than bring about needed change. It will be far more effective now, and for so long as it continues to be necessary, to let your representatives in the House and Senate know whether you support or condemn the actions that have, and will be taken in your name.

Each one of us individually has only a minute ability to shape the future of our nation. But collectively we have the power to determine whether that future will be bright, or dark. If you, too, feel that Friday’s actions took America one step closer to a darker tomorrow, I urge you to contact your elected representatives and tell them you expect them to reset our nation on the foundations which, until now, we could justifiably take pride. 

You can the email address of your representatives in the House here, and in the Senate here. If you wish, you can use the message below as a starting point (brevity is usually a good idea; this is a head-counting exercise rather than an effort to persuade through eloquence).

Dear    :

I write to express my deep concern over the actions taken by the Trump administration last Friday to abruptly bar travel from seven selectively chosen countries with predominantly Muslim populations. This action betrays our principles as a nation, and can only serve to damage our nation abroad while bringing unnecessary suffering on those directly affected. 

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