As the 12th Republican to enter the 2016 presidential race, Donald Trump used his kickoff speech to tell the world that the American Dream is dead and to single out immigrants as the enemy of American exceptionalism, specifically Latino immigrants. He seems to see no irony in the fact that immigrants come to America to fulfill and renew this dream.
Singling out Mexican immigrants in particular, he actually asked, “When do we beat Mexico at the border?” Trump then explained his virtual declaration of war. “They are not our friend, believe me…The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems…When Mexico sends its people, they are not sending their best. They are not sending you. They are sending people that have lots of problems, and they are bringing those problems to us. They are bringing drugs and they are bringing crime, and they’re rapists.”
Apparently immigrants aren’t simply coming to the U.S. out of a desire for a better life; they are being sent by some ominous force to rape us, drug us and turn us into a third-world nation run by Democrats. Sadly, the person making these radical claims is running for President of the United States.
Trump is taking lines right out of Ann Coulter’s latest diatribe, !Adios America! – The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole. His, hers and others’ blanket categorization of millions of us because of the wrongs of a few belies either ignorance or hate. No American should praise or reward either of these qualities in presidential candidates or best selling writer/commentators.
People like Trump and Coulter not only get away with saying the unthinkable; they make money at it. Public shaming, scapegoating and xenophobia sell. Trump’s anti-Mexican vitriol dominated the news media for a cycle and Coulter’s book is already near the top of several non-fiction best-seller lists.
You would think a mega-builder like Trump would recognize a solid foundation, the mighty immigrant underpinnings of this country -- that such a successful businessman could generate an original constructive thought about the nation’s future. The truth is that Trump could not be building much of anything without the collective effort of the hundreds, even thousands, of immigrants working on his namesake projects at any given time around the world.
America needs immigrants for much more than cooking, harvesting, nannying, gardening and construction. Given the opportunity and the right documents, we are architects, doctors, artists, teachers, entrepreneurs, innovators – we are America’s Doers.
And yet, the Trump/Coulter solution is to build a “great wall” on the U.S. border with Mexico. Although he does concede that: “Some, I assume are good people.” Thank you for that, Mr. Trump. In the next breath, he returns to his canned harangue, “But I speak to border guards and they tell us what we are getting. They are not sending us the right people…We don’t know what is happening and it has got to stop and it has to stop fast.”
If the Trump vitriol had been directed at any other millions-strong constituency -- African Americans, Asians, Jews, Catholics -- there would have been a national outcry followed by an apology tour. Clearly voting rights trump decency and dignity and the exceptionally unique American idea that all men are created equal.
But this unrepresented constituency of the 11 million Undocumented, most of whom have fled either lack of opportunity, violence or abject poverty to come to the U.S. and who contribute mightily to the nation's productivity and prosperity, regardless of our esteem or appreciation, seems to be a group that can be defined and dismissed by insulting, fear-mongering characterizations.
Who denounces Trump's ravings? Not his party, nor any of the GOP candidates. What the media focuses on is his audience, many right out of central casting, and the seemingly all-important question: Will Trump exit “The Apprentice” while campaigning? How will the “master” now perform as an apprentice on the national stage of American politics? What is he willing to do to win?
Democratic presidential candidates have repudiated what Trump said and the Democrats in the 26-member Congressional Hispanic Caucus have demanded an apology. Caucus President Linda Sanchez called Trump’s comments not only wrong, but a troublesome perpetuation of abominable stereotypes.
When 11 million people belonging to a myriad of ethnic groups are subjected to such vilifying language, the melting pot of America becomes a bubbling caldron of hate stirred by a powerful man with presidential ambitions.
What seems to have been forgotten is the most obvious. Except for Native Americans, all U.S. citizens are descended from immigrants -- including Donald Trump and Ann Coulter. Our Declaration and Constitution were not written for a few generations. They were written for the ages. Today’s immigrants’ country of origin, skin color and culture may have changed, but the underlying principles of our democracy should remain the same. It is our mutual responsibility as citizens and immigrants to make it work…not go away.
I still believe the American Dream is alive, not because it is being nurtured in Congress, protected by the courts or advanced by the titans of our economy, but because of the relentless persistence of the millions who daily earn their right to be treated with dignity and to be considered worthy of fulfilling that dream.
The day the American Dream dies for immigrants is the day it is dead for us all.