Since I started writing this column a few years back, there have been some complaints that end up in the comment section more frequently than others. One is this bizarre notion, shared by others on- and off-line, that I don’t like anything, that I’m sort of a black hole devoid of empathy and joy that seeks only to destroy everything happy and nice and wonderful. That’s simply not true. Mostly, though, there’s a repeated request: Once, just once, could I write a column that is positive or nice or whatever.
Of course, this mostly happens around holidays, those blessed times of the year when Americans are supposed to forget our differences and come together as one big, happy, homogenous, group-thinking family. Two years ago, I went ahead and wrote one of those terrible and boring “truth about Thanksgiving” pieces, and it went about as well as you would expect. Since then, I’ve learned a few things — and not just about Thanksgiving, but about the mind-set of people who simply cannot or will not accept uncomfortable truths about world history.
But before I go any further, let me take a moment to say this: Despite all the rational evidence that I shouldn’t be, I’m very thankful that things worked out and that I am me and I am in a country where I’m allowed the freedom to have ideas. Moreover, I’m doubly blessed to have a proper forum in which to share these ideas, no matter how poorly those ideas are interpreted. That’s life though, and sometimes we have to move on from the bad experiences.
Which is precisely what French President François Hollande said just days after the worst violence since World War II struck his nation. Saying his country must “carry on,” Hollande announced that France would continue accepting refugees from Syria, people who are fleeing from a civil war in a nation already struggling under the rule of someone who is quite comfortable gassing at least 1,400 of his citizens to death, Bashar al-Assad. Of course, it’s very likely that Hollande knows what most Americans either don’t know or continue to deny: That the Paris attacks were carried out by French and Belgian nationals, not recent emigres from war-torn Syria.
That fact, coupled with the fact that Islamic terrorism is only a small percentage of the terrorism carried out worldwide each year, completely escapes the American right-wing mind for some reason. In the immediate aftermath of the attack in France, several state governors — some of whom had already been beating the anti-refugee rhetoric to death — said they’d do whatever they could to block the placement of refugees in their state. Our own Gov. Nikki Haley, who at first seemed like she might continue charting the semi-reasonable course that she’s taken since the Emanuel AME murders, eventually caved in to the hysteria, saying refugees shouldn’t be allowed into South Carolina.
Simply put, the data about these people specifically and terrorism in general doesn’t support the righteous indignation that some Americans have about them coming here, or about the Muslims already here. In fact, it hardly makes sense at all as to why there’s such a furor over a relatively small number of people entering the U.S. But there is a way to make sense of it.
Deep down, I think, the largely white population of the United States finally understands that they are in danger of becoming — gasp — a minority, and in America, no less, the supposed “melting pot” of the world. It’s this fear of losing the nostalgic, American hegemony they grew up with that informs the current push against Syria’s refugees, as well as immigrants from Mexico or frankly anywhere else in the world that isn’t, well, white or Christian enough.
Just as the earliest Europeans brought very real diseases to a population that had absolutely no immune system to protect them from these new threats, Americans today fear that all of these “foreign influences” will somehow dilute or destroy our great country. This speaks volumes about how little some people believe in their country, even as they claim they want to make America great again or “take it back,” none of which were the values of their political forebears.
Whatever the faults of the founders of the American political system were, it’s plain they wanted a society that would grow and adapt to meet each and every new challenge. Wanting to shrink from those challenges isn’t an American ideal, and it’s hardly something to give thanks for.