President Trump was not speaking for America’s true conservatives when he made his repulsive, potty-mouthed comment about immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti and certain African nations. He certainly was not speaking for me.
The understanding that “all men are created equal” is not only a core tenet of conservatism, but a conviction that is foundational to the America we love. It is not the country of one’s origin, the color of one’s skin, or the material resources of one’s family that determine one’s value as a person, or one’s potential for contributing to society in tangible or intangible ways. Rather, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. instructed us, it is the “content of one’s character” that counts.
Real conservatives are committed to this conviction. We believe that every human life is precious and carries incredible potential. We reject the notion that someone born in Haiti is less deserving of the opportunity to become an American than someone born in Norway for the same reason we reject the notion that students of certain races require “affirmative action” programs in order to compete with other students for college admission.
The strength of character that drives educational and economic achievement, refines talents and fuels ingenuity is not a trait tied to a few particular races, nationalities or ethnicities. It is a human trait that has emerged around the globe, since the dawn of time, and is often born out of the very soil of struggle, hardship and persecution President Trump seems to consider a disqualification for success.
In the moving Emma Lazarus sonnet displayed on the Statue of Liberty, Lazarus imagines the statue, a “Mother of Exiles,” proclaiming, “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” She challenges all nations to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” To “send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me …”
Lady Liberty understands something President Trump apparently does not: that the lamp of freedom and opportunity sheds a transformative light upon every human spirit that is unspoiled by the yoke of government dependence. She understands that no matter one’s national origin or economic background, every person who immigrates to America with a thirst for freedom and a willingness to work for his own success is like unrefined gold that enriches our nation. Indeed, such is the stuff that stacked up to become the most powerful country in the world.
Sometime in 2016, I noticed a particular yard sign popping up around my town. It consisted of three color blocks, with the same message printed in English, Spanish, and Arabic: “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.”
While I know that for many who displayed it during the presidential campaign season, the sign was meant to communicate a political message more complex and nuanced than what the simple words expressed, the spirit it conveys is one that real conservatives embrace just as wholeheartedly as liberals. It’s a message of kindness, hospitality and the willingness to bridge cultural divides. It’s about the understanding that every person who ever walked the earth has the potential to contribute in unique, meaningful ways to our community, our state, and our nation.
I cringe, now, to consider how Trump’s statement is seen to validate the perception that the right is “anti-immigrant”; at how many Americans have mistaken Trump’s statement to be the position of conservatives. And so I repeat: He wasn’t speaking for me.
As Trump continues to exacerbate the strident divisiveness that plagues our beloved nation today, I believe the way forward is to renew our collective commitment to “E Pluribus Unum,” or “out of many, one.”
This doesn’t mean that immigrants should be expected to shed their cultural heritage at the border or abandon the traditions and languages that link them to that heritage. What it means is that the immigrant and native-born American alike, the rich and the poor, must choose to embrace the values of America: Equality before God. Individual liberty. Limited government. The rule of law. Disciplined self-governance. The opportunity to raise one’s place in society through industry and hard work.
These are the civic values that make America tick. Those of us privileged to be Americans already – and especially our president – need to take a step back and make sure WE are consistently embracing these values in our attitudes, words and actions.