The arrival of coronavirus has many Americans on edge, and rightfully so. While most focus on what they can do to protect themselves and their loved ones from the virus, others are pointing accusing fingers at whomever they believe to be responsible for the virus’s outbreak and spread. On Fox News shows one can listen to various Trump-inspired conservatives accuse the Chinese, North Koreans, and even liberal Americans.
Yes, we need careful screening of international travelers and, at times, even temporary travel bans. But the truth is that no one knows for sure where or how the coronavirus began its invasion. We may never know for certain. At this point, all we can know for certain is that on a planet dramatically contracted by modern travel methods, viruses hitch rides and quickly attack even remote locations. Localized virus outbreaks are a thing of the past.
But that won’t stop modern-day lynch mobs from looking for someone to blame. And it’s always easier to blame the others, particularly recent arrivals who look different from the majority. “You brought this blight into our communities and our homes. Leave. Go back to your native lands!”
My father was born in Germany, and my grandparents on my mother’s side were born in Italy. My family’s American roots are Azalea-level shallow. Yet, despite my many criticisms of America’s foibles and often misguided policies, no one has ever told me to go back to my country. But I’m a light-skinned, blue-eyed Protestant with moderately conservative leanings. I cannot recall ever being portrayed as an other.
Last year, when our president told four dark-skinned, dark-eyed, liberal American women—all citizens, and three born here—that they should return to their countries of origin, I felt offended along with them. But to many, these four women represent the others. They can gratefully assimilate, or they must leave.
It’s cliché to say that America is a nation of immigrants and immigrant children, but a cliché that nonetheless bears repeating. It’s also cliché to say that our many differences make us stronger. But that truism also is worthy of reiteration. Other does not necessarily mean bad. Acceptance strengthens; xenophobia weakens.
In its purest, frankest form, carried to its extreme, the xenophobia openly espoused by America’s Racist-in-Chief and raucously celebrated by his loyal followers would lead to incest. After all, anyone outside one’s own biological family might be regarded as an other. And in the conservative populists’ whipped-up air of apprehensions and mistrust, all others must be regarded as potential threats. Ultimately, marrying one’s sibling is the only way to ensure genetic purity. However, if practiced on a grand scale, it’s also a certain method to hasten the demise of the human race.
Yes, our differences—philosophic as well as genetic—make us stronger. Granted, any time two or more people of different genetic and/or cultural backgrounds seek to live in close proximity the chances for disagreements or even violent altercations increase. But the alternative is isolation and/or inbreeding, and those are clearly not healthy options.
President Trump said the above-mentioned four young, dark-skinned, female members of Congress had no right to criticize the American way of life (the way of life he promotes), and that rather than criticize America they should return to their countries of origin. That’s xenophobia, plain and simple. When citizen Trump repeatedly criticized the America of the Obama years did anyone tell him to return to his country of origin? Mr. Trump’s mother was born in Scotland. Like his favorite foil, Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, Donald Trump is just one generation removed from new-arrival status. What’s the difference? Actually there are two major differences: ethnicity and philosophy.
Following the European conquest of the land’s dark-skinned natives, the light-skinned immigrants saw the conquered realm as their own. They’d won it by might and subdued it through hard work—theirs and that of the Africans they’d forcibly brought here to do the harshest labor. America had become the land of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. So when other wasp immigrants arrived, their assimilation was relatively trouble-free.
Despite the seminal statement in the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal,” some were more equal than others. If you look like “us,” we’re more likely to accept you. Sadly, that seems to be a natural human inclination—one that needs to be overcome, not celebrated. Donald Trump’s Scottish immigrant forebears looked like that wasp ideal. Ms. Cortez’s ancestors—and those of the other three congresswomen—don’t. That’s the first big difference. The next is worldview or philosophy.
We tend to gravitate toward those who share our views. That, too, is human nature. But human nature is imperfect. What is is not always right. Sometimes we imperfect humans need to work past our natural inclinations. Our understanding of our world and how we should interact with it and its inhabitants—particularly its human inhabitants—can, like our genes, be degraded. Those who confine themselves to a tiny thought pool run the risk of mental weakness, just as those who breed within a tiny gene pool risk producing physically compromised offspring.
Unless or until they begin aiming weapons at us, we should assume that those whose views differ from ours are not our enemies. Rather, they are fellow humans whose lives and ancestors’ lives taught them different lessons than our lives taught us. Different lessons—different understandings of our world—are not necessarily wrong. More often than not, we can learn more—gain a better understanding—about an issue by examining the “other” view than by summarily rejecting it.
But that’s not what President Trump and his loyal followers believe. To them, other is wrong. Other is dangerous. Other is a threat to their cherished way of life. Other is the enemy that wants to take their place. Others bring pestilence to our land. This land has no room for others. “Think like us; behave like us; and, ideally, look like us, and we will welcome you. Otherwise, go back to where you came from—even if your family’s roots are far deeper than ours—and take your germs with you. We will happily remain in our little genetic and philosophical pool.”
Trumpists have the right to those xenophobic views. But if they promote those views they need to understand that neither genetic nor philosophical inbreeding will make America great again, even in a world of rapidly spreading viruses.