Mountain Snail

Stuff Ballard Wrote

Author: Durwood (page 1 of 24)

Loving our country

News-Record & Sentinel, September 30, 2020

This column won’t be an instant replay of Donald Trump lies.  Those volumes are kept by professionals.  No, this is more of a prophecy – about where Trump’s lies can take us.

I’ve just read a little book, “On Tyranny,” by Tim Snyder, a Yale guy who lived most of his working life in Europe, studying how 20th-Century dictators got power.  It’s a guidebook for people living in free countries whose democracies are at risk.  Like the United States of America in the year 2020. 

One chapter, titled “Believe in truth,” jumps off the page at us.  A tyrant, Snyder says, begins with “open hostility to what can be verified,” presenting his own fabrications as truth.  His charisma draws followers, and his words, mostly untrue, become words with power, like words of an ancient oracle.  His followers are now believers.  The road to tyranny is not a slippery slope; it’s a leap of faith.  Yes, faith.

The world sees Donald Trump simply as a compulsive liar.  And well, it’s hard to argue with them when we see him in Michigan saying, “We built you a lot of car plants, Michigan,” when in fact not one plant has been built during his administration.  That’s compulsive.  Auto workers know what’s built and not built.

From the beginning of his political ambition, if not all his life, Trump has given no value to truth over untruth.  In 2016, nonpartisan PolitiFact found that 60 percent of Trump’s claims in the campaign  were either “False” or “Pants on Fire.”  If they included “Mostly False” claims in the data, it hit 78 percent.  Last month he squeezed four lies into one sentence on Twitter.   

But his words, remember, are held by some as the words of an oracle.  Snyder calls it “abandonment of reason.”  When that happens, he says, “evidence is irrelevant.”   

There’s magical thinking at play here.  In the 2016 campaign, Trump promised a magnificent border wall that Mexico would pay for.  It didn’t happen, of course.  Oops, misstatement.  But he didn’t learn.  This past August in New Hampshire, he said: “We’ve already built 300 miles of border wall, and we’re heading for 10 new miles every single week, and the wall will soon be completed.”

It’s a lie of course, a silly, unprotected lie.  Last December, the acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection stated (Wikipedia) that “by May 2020, only 16 miles out of 194 miles of wall constructed under the Trump administration was new fencing; the remainder was replacement for outdated or dilapidated sections.”

That’s worse than the Michigan auto plants. 

Last October, Trump claimed that China would be buying billions in American farm products.  He said, “I suggest farmers…immediately buy more land” to meet demand.  I hope nobody did. 

And you’d think time would expire on the “terrific” healthcare plan he would roll out “very soon.”

When his followers believe these obvious lies – or don’t care if his claims are truth or nonsense – then they have already submitted to his tyranny.  They’re there.  Political power to make it real is just a formality. 

Will it happen?  Yes…if.  

Here’s my prophecy:  If Donald Trump is reelected, America will be a democracy in name only. 

I’m not saying it might happen.  I’m not saying Trump will try to become a dictator.  I’m saying he will in fact have total power.

He’s filled the government with amateurs who do his will.  The mechanism of the GOP is his.  He has shown no reluctance to use federal troops.  Have no doubt:  he’s poised to really do it.

The courts?  Paper tiger.

Protests?  Yeah, I’ll protest.  They protested in Turkey, too.

The military?  Will they or won’t they…do what?

Us?  What can we do?  Non-reelect him.  After that, at least, his shenanigans will be illegal.  And how we respond will be just.

Buy a lie, get ugly change

Asheville Daily Planet, October 1, 2020

This column won’t be an instant replay of Donald Trump lies.  Those volumes are kept by professionals.  No, this is more of a prophecy – about where Trump’s lies can take us.

I’ve just read a little book, “On Tyranny,” by Tim Snyder, a Yale guy who lived most of his working life in Europe, studying how 20th-Century dictators got power.  It’s a guidebook for people living in free countries whose democracies are at risk.  Like the United States of America in the year 2020. 

One chapter, titled “Believe in truth,” jumps off the page at us.  A tyrant, Snyder says, begins with “open hostility to what can be verified,” presenting his own fabrications as truth.  His charisma draws followers, and his words, mostly untrue, become words with power, like words of an ancient oracle.  His followers are now believers.  The road to tyranny is not a slippery slope; it’s a leap of faith.  Yes, faith.

The world sees Donald Trump simply as a compulsive liar.  And well, it’s hard to argue with them when we see him in Michigan saying, “We built you a lot of car plants, Michigan,” when in fact not one plant has been built during his administration.  That’s compulsive.  Auto workers know what’s built and not built.

From the beginning of his political ambition, if not all his life, Trump has given no value to truth over untruth.  In 2016, nonpartisan PolitiFact found that 60 percent of Trump’s claims in the campaign  were either “False” or “Pants on Fire.”  If they included “Mostly False” claims in the data, it hit 78 percent.  Last month he squeezed four lies into one sentence on Twitter.   

But his words, remember, are held by some as the words of an oracle.  Snyder calls it “abandonment of reason.”  When that happens, he says, “evidence is irrelevant.”   

There’s magical thinking at play here.  In the 2016 campaign, Trump promised a magnificent border wall that Mexico would pay for.  It didn’t happen, of course.  Oops, misstatement.  But he didn’t learn.  This past August in New Hampshire, he said: “We’ve already built 300 miles of border wall, and we’re heading for 10 new miles every single week, and the wall will soon be completed.”

It’s a lie of course, a silly, unprotected lie.  Last December, the acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection stated (Wikipedia) that “by May 2020, only 16 miles out of 194 miles of wall constructed under the Trump administration was new fencing; the remainder was replacement for outdated or dilapidated sections.”

That’s worse than the Michigan auto plants. 

Last October, Trump claimed that China would be buying billions in American farm products.  He said, “I suggest farmers…immediately buy more land” to meet demand.  I hope nobody did. 

And you’d think time would expire on the “terrific” healthcare plan he would roll out “very soon.”

When his followers believe these obvious lies – or don’t care if his claims are truth or nonsense – then they have already submitted to his tyranny.  They’re there.  Political power to make it real is just a formality. 

Will it happen?  Yes…if.  

Here’s my prophecy:  If Donald Trump is reelected, America will be a democracy in name only. 

I’m not saying it might happen.  I’m not saying Trump will try to become a dictator.  I’m saying he will in fact have total power.

He’s filled the government with amateurs who do his will.  The mechanism of the GOP is his.  He has shown no reluctance to use federal troops.  Have no doubt:  he’s poised to really do it.

The courts?  Paper tiger.

Protests?  Yeah, I’ll protest.  They protested in Turkey, too.

The military?  Will they or won’t they…do what?

Us?  What can we do?  Non-reelect him.  After that, at least, his shenanigans will be illegal.  And how we respond will be just.

No four-corners, Joe

Citizen-Times letter, September 2020

To the editor:

I was a big Georgetown basketball fan through the ‘80s and ‘90s.  John Thompson was a great coach, but he drove me crazy when he’d take the team to four-corners when they had a lead toward the end.  They’d turn the ball over, and all too often, lose.

What makes me think of that?  The 2020 Democratic presidential campaign.  Biden thinks to go to Kenosha “if he can do it safely.”  What?  Safely?  Thousands gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, and hundreds protest.  Run and gun, Joe.  Daily VP briefings with, “A-B-C, this is what we stand for!”  Over and over.  Calling his lies, lies and his ignorance, ignorance.  Do Swiftboat-style commercials with generals and former insiders, using the awful truth with power. 

Now is the time.  Don’t let them get momentum.  Exploit every mistake.  Press, press, press.   

If they win, everybody loses.  Everybody.  Even Trump supporters.

Amen, Alan Jones

News-Record & Sentinel, September 2020

Ray Rapp was almost nonpartisan in the way he represented us in Raleigh.  He served.  Then in 2012, he was ambushed with slick, misleading mailbox flyers just before the election, and we got ideological Michelle Presnell for eight years.

Now her time’s up.  She’s stepping down, and Madison County has a chance to reset.

Alan Jones is the name to remember – now as we talk to friends and when we vote.  His working life has been spent supporting working people and their families.  While Presnell operated without regard for boards of county commissioners, school boards and chambers of commerce, Alan Jones will pitch in locally on everything to do with employment and education.  While Presnell spoke and wrote how she’s “packin’” a sidearm, Alan Jones quietly supports Second Amendment rights.  It’s doubtful Presnell ever held a town hall in Madison County; Alan Jones will be fully accessible. 

Presnell joined a really bad crowd in Raleigh, and yes, she really joined.  She’s been a cog in the grimy wheel of the Republican General Assembly that made N.C. “ground zero for voter suppression.”  And favoring the rich over schools.  And much more.

The GOP took power in 2011, and their first act was to make sure they would stay in power for a decade.  They drew political district boundaries such that election outcomes are foregone conclusions.  One court that slapped them down wrote: “The effect of these carefully crafted partisan maps is that…the Republican Party will control a majority of both chambers of the General Assembly.” 

This is a census year, so next year the General Assembly redraws district boundaries.  Republicans must not be in power to rig elections for another decade.

The Democratic Party is committed to redistricting by a nonpartisan commission.  If N.C. is to have fair elections, Democrats must control at least one chamber of the General Assembly.

For that to happen, we must unseat six Republicans in the state House, an uphill climb.  If we can beat the Republican’s weak candidate in our District 118, that will be huge, huge, huge.   

Alan Jones will be spectacular in Raleigh, beginning with redistricting.

“We should be drawing our political district lines in a fair, impartial, and nonpartisan manner,” he wrote.  “That is how our democracy is supposed to work. Gerrymandering districts keeps voters from holding their representatives accountable….That’s why I support a nonpartisan redistricting committee.”

Amen, Alan Jones.

‘You just got a lot richer’

Asheville daily planet, September 2020

When the history of the Donald Trump era is written – beginning this Thanksgiving, we hope – I think his tweets will be yawn material.  They will be seen as each day’s noise. 

The Trump saying that will best summarize his presidency happened on Christmas Eve, 2017, at his Mar-a-Lago complex.  With rich friends around him, he touted the newly passed tax overhaul.

“You all just got a lot richer,” he said

He wasn’t lying.  Indeed, the bill played favorites toward wealthy individuals and corporations.  It could only have been designed by lobbyists and tax lawyers.

Six days after the 2016 election, Republican speechwriter David Frum made two predictions.  He wrote: “Unlike his analogues in Poland/Hungary/Turkey, I don’t imagine that Donald Trump will immediately set out to build an authoritarian state.  I expect his first priority will be to use the presidency massively to enrich himself.”

Bingo.  The president said that tax cuts for corporations would result in jobs.  Press secretary Sarah Sanders said at the time, “More than 70 percent of this [tax cut] will be returned to workers.”  The Republican Congress named the bill, “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”

They were all lying.  Workers were a cynical smokescreen.     

A year after the tax bill took effect, NBC News looked back: ”Companies have instead used the extra cash to spend billions of dollars buying back their own stock, boosting the value of shares held by investors….Over the past year, S&P 500 companies have given their shareholders a record $1 trillion in the form of buybacks and dividends.”

“Some companies did use part of the tax cut to give their employees a one-time cash bonus,” NBC continued, “allowing [the companies] to benefit workers without raising the company’s fixed costs. However, employees pay a higher tax on bonuses as supplemental income.”

“Jobs Act?”  In name only.

But what about us?  Snopes.com fact-checked Trump’s middle-class claim: “Eighty-seven million households with incomes under $200,000 a year will see their tax burdens increase by 2027.”

And last month, Newsweek Magazine reported:  “The Trump administration’s deficit-bloating package of tax cuts passed by Congress in 2017 led the following year to the 400 wealthiest families in America—all of them with a net worth in the billions of dollars—paying a lower tax rate than the bottom 50 percent of households.”

Ya gotta love these guys.  Right out in the open.  But then, self-interest is part of Trump’s persona that we take for granted. 

But hear me, folks.  If Trump is reelected, we ain’t seen nutin’ yet.

I was living in the Philippines during the Ferdinand Marcos era.  His two elected terms were OK.  But just before his second term expired, he declared martial law.  And In his 14 years as dictator, he stashed untold billions all over the world.

Here’s an anecdote from The Guardian newspaper: “This [activity after martial law] was no longer just about kickbacks. Marcos started to steal whole companies, using the crude tactics of a gangster.  He wanted the nation’s electricity company, Meralco, owned b Eugenio Lopez, patriarch of one of the families who had run the country for centuries. He had Lopez’s son charged with plotting to assassinate him, which carried the death penalty. The old oligarch handed over his company for $220 (it was worth $400M).”

The United States has an election scheduled for November.  All things being equal, Trump is likely to lose.  But all things are not equal. 

Trump said last March, “I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about.” 

Whether he has these powers or not, he thinks he does, or wants them.  And that can be enough.  If he prevails, he could make Marcos look like a rookie.

It’s up to us, folks.  Trump has to be beaten in November so bad there will be no doubt that the American people want honesty and love in the White House, not greed.

Vote him out.  And again I say, vote!

America is America! (Ofswich)

News-Record & Sentinel, August 2020

Professor Ofswich is a campus curiosity.  Students call him “Doctor Offsides” for his (very funny) letters to the college newspaper mocking collegiate sports.  He lives alone with his mutt dog, Gruesome.  He has no friends, wants none and recognizes no professional colleagues.

Ofswich is a world-renowned authority on John Locke, particularly how his ideas of government by the people often lose out to dictators.  But for all his expertise in government theory, he hates politics, which he calls “freedom’s fatal flaw.”  He does steal Ronald Reagan jokes, though, especially the one about the three-legged chicken.

In 2016, Ofswiche happened upon Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the GOP convention.  Trump was saying, “When I take the oath of office, next year, I will restore law and order to our country. Believe me!”  Ofswich snorted, “Law enforcement in America is local, you idiot!”  But then a thought made him smile: What if Trump really is ignorant?  What if he actually thinks he can do unconstitutional stuff as president?”      

The prospect delighted him.  Ofswich, you see, has always been more academic than patriotic.  When Trump won, he sent two 8×10 photographs to Trump Tower.  On one he wrote: “Benito Mussolini speaking to adoring crowds.”  The other was the iconic shot of Mussolini hanging upside down from a gas station, a hostile mob nearby.  Ofswich wrote on this one: “Mussolini with a different crowd.”  The return address was his.  He set his table for coffee with the FBI.

Since then, he’s watched Trump with interest – first, for entertainment but then, to his surprise, as an American.  After Trump’s acquittal in the Senate, Ofswich mused to his dog: “We both know the man’s a child and a coward – not the stuff of successful dictators.  But there he is, running a Washington puppet show.”     

Last month, he saw federal troops in city streets and the U.S. Postal Service crippled to muddle the election and set up a ‘national emergency.’  Ofswich stroked his beard.

“Gruesome,” he said, “Trump wants to be Putin, but he doesn’t have Putin’s discipline and intellect.  He’s the executive who can’t execute.  It’s all coming down to this:  Trump is Trump.  But America is America.”

Gruesome seemed surprised at his patriotism.  He wagged his tail. 

“It’s Thomas Paine time, old boy,” he said, “and I’m in.  After Trump, we’ll fix the Founding Fathers’ excessive trust in human nature.”  He was visibly excited.

Beware the red invasion!

Asheville Daily Planet, August 15 2020

I was half-listening to local TV news when Rex Hodge came on:  “Fire ants are making their mark in the Great Smokies, in national forests…anywhere the soil is disturbed and there’s sun.”

My hands trembled.  My breathing changed.  I was in a PTSD flashback.

The scene was my side yard in Dallas many years ago.  I was looking down benignly on a brand-new ant mound.  I’d always appreciated ants.  They’re solid citizens.  And I enjoyed watching the bumbling stragglers walk the length of pencils on my desk. 

Hodge was gone, but my fists still clenched as I remembered.  My indulgence let that beady-eyed horde gain a foothold – no, a beachhead – outside my house.  Soon I counted 13 mounds.  And then they came inside.  Their elites, it seems, live on protein – which includes, for example, the protein found in dirty clothes.  Peace with ants outside, ok; getting stung in my bathroom closet, no sir..

I went to a garden supply store, where I was assured that poison bait was best.  Worker ants, they said, would take the poison to the queen.  He was flippant, like the queen’s personal taster was on the payroll.

He left out a few details.  The granules must fall so softly that the workers just happen upon them: “Hark!  What’s this marvelous new food so near?  We must take it to the queen!” 

The truth is this: While the ordinary ant is said to have an unmeasurable IQ, the fire ant – which practices absolute post-invasion genocide on other ants – is more cunning still.  For one thing, they link their nests with tunnels, so when they become irritated by such as poison bait littering about, the workers pick up the queen and her brood and move them.  Then next morning, the guerillas have opened a new base.  I must have poisoned 30 hills, and I don’t think the body count even reached one queen.  And oh yes, most nests have multiple queens.

Another truth:  You can’t win.  The fire ant, you see, has an amazing sex life.  They mate 10 months out of the year, whereas ordinary ants mate only 1-2 months a year.  And they mate in the air, so the female can pick her next home anywhere, even in areas previously declared as safe. 

Fire ants can move up to 30 miles a year on their own and farther when aided by loads of nursery stock.  They’ve hopped to California that way.

A University of Florida insect pathologist said: “The thing people in this country have to learn is that they’re going to have to learn to live with the fire ant….We couldn’t eradicate this thing with an atomic bomb.”

My flashback replayed the day I abandoned civilized warfare.  I was kneeling in a flower bed when dozens of ants struck at once.  My dark side suggested gasoline, and millions of them went up in flames (no exaggeration since as many as 250,00 live in each hill).  But I knew I wasn’t fighting to win.  I knew by now it was an eye for an eye.

The fire ant is no ordinary adversary.  There are just too many of them, and they are organized and tireless and smart.

And fearless.  Their unchanging assignment is aggression.  Every day is D-Day.  And they aren’t sneaky about it, either.  Insects are supposed to hide out by day and do their mischief by night.  They’re suppose to cower on the underside of leaves, eat floors from below and scurry about in dark kitchens.  Insects aren’t supposed to attack a barefoot boy on his lawn in broad daylight.

They grip the skin in their jaws, and unlike other ants, they thrust their stingers deep and inject their painful venom for up to 25 seconds.  This unusual poison prevents white blood cells from reaching the sting, leading to local infection and burning pustules. 

Ultimately, I adopted a simple tactic:  keep them moving.  Don’t let them settle in and start new colonies.  I drove sticks into the openings, the ants were annoyed and moved on. 

Moved on where?  Well, to my neighbor’s yard, I suppose.

‘Socialism’ is just a word

News-Record & Sentinel, 8/2020

Back in April, one of the signs at an anti-lockdown protest read:  “Social Distancing Is Communism.” 

To get what the sign means, it helps to understand how words are used as weapons.

This Opinion page carried a letter recently that used the word “Socialist” eight times; for example: “Where is the voice crying in the wilderness to lead us from evil-doing Socialists?”  All eight warn of bad things happening today, and Socialism gets some blame.

Here I want to introduce a man who died in 1862, a Presbyterian preacher named James Henry Thornwell – a powerful advocate for slavery and the Confederacy.  He wrote:

“The parties in the [Civil War] are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders.  They are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, Jacobins on the one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other.…The world is the battleground – Christianity and Atheism the combatants; and the progress of humanity at stake.”

Both our letter-writer and Thornwell used “Socialists” to denounce their enemies.  In Thornwell’s time, Socialism was a social change movement, in favor of working men.  They were radical (similar to Red Republicans and Jacobins in France).  And Socialism did have an atheistic twist.  But Thornwell’s enemy, the United States, was neither radical nor atheist.   Socialism was for him just a handy weapon.    

Today, many people still think of Socialism as the Marxist atheism of the Cold War.  But in fact, Socialism has evolved so that almost all western countries have Socialist governments or active Socialist political parties.  Socialism now is more like “government involved in capitalism.” 

It seems remarkable that Thornwell and our letter-writer, 160 years apart, both used the same attack word – until, that is, you examine what the two men have in common.

I’m going to take a leap here and say that both men wrote in reaction to unwanted change.  In other words, they’re conservatives.  The Confederacy’s whole purpose was to keep the status quo.  And our letter-writer warns us about specific changes happening among us today. 

Southerners, Thornwell argues, are “friends of order.”  The North was chaotic with its immigrants, railroad-building and factories.  Conservatives like what’s always been.

To me, the one place where weaponizing Socialism actually does harm is “Socialized medicine.”  It keeps people from supporting universal healthcare.  Just like Social Security changed our lives for the better, Healthcare Security would do the same.  Stigmatizing it as Socialist is cruel.

Insider’s view of CSA monuments

Asheville Daily Planet, August 1, 2020

My hometown has a Confederate monument – a 76-footer right in the middle of downtown.  It’s got four generals around the base and generic Johnny Reb on the pinnacle.  It’s a prime target for the monument massacre going on these days, I’m sure.  Indeed, a petition to remove it is circulating as I write. 

But if they gave me the decision, I wouldn’t just say, “Confederate, gone.”  There are considerations.

The four generals were, predictably, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, plus two local-boy generals, Thomas R.R. Cobb and William H.T. Walker.

I’d trash Cobb immediately.  He was everything bad about the South.  He wrote the slavery portions of the Confederate Constitution.  In 1858, he wrote:

“This inquiry…seems to point [the negro] clearly, as peculiarly fitted for a laborious class. The physical frame is capable of great and long-continued exertion. Their mental capacity renders them incapable of successful self-development, and yet adapts them for the direction of the wiser race. Their moral character renders them happy, peaceful, contented and cheerful in a status that would break the spirit and destroy the energies of the Caucasian or the native American.

The three non-Cobb generals deserve more thought.  All owned slaves, but there’s nothing to say they joined the Confederacy to perpetuate slavery.  All three were professional soldiers, and when they had to decide, incredibly to us, they sided with their home state over the country they loved and had fought for. 

For sure, they failed to exercise due diligence in choosing the Confederacy. Dysfunction was absolutely predictable.  Eleven states with States’ Rights and little loyalty to a central government?  Georgia’s governor threatened to secede from the Confederacy over conscription.  Jefferson Davis, an old soldier himself, intended to personally manage the war.  Did my three generals really want to swap the United States for a shabby country run by plantation birdbrains?  My generals were pitiable figures, not villains.  

I’d spare statues of Confederates of good character as memorial of the man.  Cobb would go, and in a pleasantry, I’d replace him with Union Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, local boy who stayed with the Union and is credited by some as winning the war with his logistics.  And Johnny Reb stays on his perch.  These poor dupes were in no way culpable for the Confederacy.  They were literally cannon fodder. 

There’s another reason for keeping my hometown monument.  It was erected in 1877.  Coming as it did soon after the War, it’ was a true expression of grief.  And as such, it was almost unique.

Let me explain.  Wikipedia lists 91 Confederate monuments in North Carolina, and of those, I counted only four that were erected before 1890 – in Raleigh, Fayetteville, Wilmington and a battle site in Harnett County.  The rest came much later.

The much-later memorials were the result of an ideology called the “Lost Cause,” an intentional reshaping of Civil War history.  It gained momentum as the dwindling Civil War generation wanted future generations to know the “truth” about the Southern cause.  In that effort, they were totally successful. 

According to the Lost Cause narrative, the pre-war South glowed with benevolent, Christian light.  The war was necessary in the face of imminent Northern aggression, slavery “elevated” the savage Negro and the Confederate army’s skill and courage were overwhelmed by Yankee numbers and industry.  (My grandmother liked to say, “We were not defeated; we were outnumbered.”)  And threading through it all, white supremacy.

Sixty-seven of the 91 monuments I noted on Wikipedia came after 1900, exactly the time when the Lost Cause was fully realized.  That’s also when Jim Crow started.  They celebrated their fictitious white legacy with Confederate monuments – and black suppression.

We can’t tolerate Lost Cause monuments.  They didn’t rise out of grief, like the early monuments.  They deliberately celebrate a false history of benighted blacks and benevolent white masters – and enshrine white supremacy as a permanent way of life. 

Monuments are being moved away to appropriate places, like cemeteries.  Dallas sold the R.E. Lee statue from Lee Park (erected 1936) to a golf resort in South Texas for a million dollars.  The final resting place of Asheville and Buncombe County monuments is being discussed.

Footnote:  They say 35 Confederate monuments have been place in N.C. since 2000, like he 2011 one in Bakersville that lists the 79 Mitchell County Confederate dead.  These brand-new monuments may be kin to modern displays of the Confederate flag.

Essential to who we are?

Asheville Daily Planet, July 2020

Our Founding Fathers had names like Adams, Franklin, Washington, Madison, – English one and all.  The First Congress in 1789 had two Smiths, two Lees, two Carolls.   

They were aware they had started something the world wanted – a place where they could be free to worship and to start over, whatever that meant.  And the world was welcome.  Their basic values were clear:  They wanted immigration.

In that First Congress, the one with multiple Lees and Carrolls, the Speaker of the House of Representative, our first Speaker, was a second-generation German-American named Frederick Muhlenberg.   

The Founders didn’t worry about immigration.  The United States had open borders until 1875.  They worried about citizenship and, specifically, the assimilation of immigrants.  

Speaker Muhlenberg cast the deciding vote against translating U.S. laws into German, and he is said to have kept German from being an official national language.  

He put into words this hugely important guiding principle: “The faster the Germans become Americans, the better.”

George Washington wrote: “By an intermixture with our people, [immigrants], or their descendants, get assimilated to our customs, manners and laws: in a word, soon become one people.”

And that’s what happened.  Immigrants and their descendants stopped being what they used to be and became Americans.

Citizenship was another matter.  In the Naturalization Act of 1790, terms were very generous – to “free white persons of good character.”  Our early leaders were at ease with the Germans and other Protestants who had come in large numbers from the beginning.

James Madison gave the Foundering Fathers’ vision: “I should be exceedingly sorry, sir, that our rule of naturalization excluded a single person of good fame that really meant to incorporate himself into our society.”

The future of America, they believed, included foreigners, people “of good fame,” who “would be a real addition to the wealth or strength of the United States.”

But their vision didn’t see beyond the immigrants who had already come, people like them – white and Protestant.  When the flow turned Catholic, that was different.  To many Americans, Madison – who was still alive – was out of date.

Things got uneasy when newcomers were German Catholics and Irish.  These were not the immigrants our Founders had in mind for their country.  Protestant Scots-Irish immigrants had been welcomed, not these desperate newcomers.  Irish miners and railroad workers were considered disposable.

The American Party (Know-Nothings) gained support in the 1840s and 1850s with their anti-immigrant positions.  Their slogan was “Americans must rule America.”

Abraham Lincoln spoke out in those days: “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘All men are created equal.’  We now practically read it, ‘All men are created equal except Negroes.’  When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read, ‘All men are created equal, except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics.’”

While whites puzzled over the immigrant dilemma, the immigrants set about becoming American.  Ethnic units were common in the Union army in the Civil War, with officers giving commands in native languages.  And second-generation Irish entered the middle class.

America had to choose then – just as we have to choose today.  Are we a melting pot, where strangers come seeking a better life and, as Washington put it, “soon become one people”?  Or is America just for “us”?   

A Pew Research Center survey a year ago found that “a majority of Americans (62%) continue to say the country’s openness to people from around the world is ‘essential to who we are as a nation.’”

The immigrant himself might be suspect, but there’s no denying that the children of immigrants make us stronger and wealthier.  They speak flawless English and, in every way, really are American.  Most of the doctors on TV speaking on Covid-19 are immigrant descendants.  South Asians dominate spelling bees.  Kavanaugh is Caomhánach in Irish Gaelic.   

However, the Pew study I cited above continues with this: “But the share expressing this [favorable] view is 6 percentage points lower than it was in September [2018] – a result of a shift in opinion among Republicans.”

Donald Trump, thank you very much. 

Older posts

© 2020 Mountain Snail

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Follow
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By WPFruits.com