Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
I was not surprised when I read the words of President Trump’s Chief of Staff, John Kelly in an interview with NPR this week. Instead, I was reminded that the retired Marine Corps General has often expressed the views of the people that opposed the immigration and citizenship desires of his Irish and Italian ancestors. His Irish ancestors fled famine and British political persecution, while his Italian ancestors fled poverty and political instability.
For that matter we can say the same about his boss the President, whose German ancestors were discriminated against and persecuted from the time that the first major wave hit following the 1848 Revolution in Germany. The President’s Great Grandfather immigrated to the United States in 1885 fleeing poverty and obligatory military service to the Kingdom of Bavaria. He went to work as a barber in New York for a number of years and moved to Seattle when he opened a restaurant which also served as a hotel and base for prostitutes, something that he repeated during the Yukon Gold Rush. He became a U.S. citizen in 1892. He attempted to return to Bavaria in 1904 but was returned to the United States because the Bavarian government considered that he had immigrated to avoid military service. When the First World War came along he claimed to be Swedish and not German simply because of the stigma associated with being from a country that we were at war.
The fact is that the current policies and attitudes of the President, his Chief of Staff, and many of his followers in the Republican Party including White Supremacists, Klansmen, Neo-Nazis advocate for are not new and can be traced to the Know Nothing movement that began in the 1830s and reached its peak in the 1850s. While I do not believe that most of Trump’s Republicans are Neo-Nazis or White Supremacists, it does seem that almost all of the Neo-Nazis or White Supremacists are Trump supporters or Republicans, including the former head of the Illinois Nazis who is the GOP nominee for a House seat in Illinois, and the leading GOP candidate for Senate in California publicly proclaims his adoration of Adolf Hitler and support for a “Jew Free” United States. At least he was not endorsed by the California GOP who had the decency to expel him from their convention while he dragged the flag of Israel on the ground and spit on it. There are plenty of others, either current or past candidates or those who support identical policies to them without claiming their mantle, but I won’t for now. There are too many.
Conservative columnist and Trump opponent George Will discussed current and past immigration policies in the Washington Post. That article is well worth the read. Will quoted Peter H. Schuck, professor emeritus at Yale Law School who discussed how Congress in 1939 voted down a bill “to rescue 20,000 children from Nazi Germany despite American families’ eagerness to sponsor them — on the ground that the children would exceed Germany’s quota!”
The ancestors of both men fled poverty, famine, political persecution, and war to come to the United States. They made a life for themselves, and Kelly’s Italian ancestors did not speak English for decades after they arrived in the country. Italian immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were considered racially inferior by many Americans and were treated with distain and revulsion by many American “Anglo-Saxon” Protestant Christians. You would think that appreciating what their ancestors went through that the President and chief of Staff might have a little bit of sympathy for current immigrants, those who came here legally and those who did not for the same reasons that motivated their ancestors: freedom, safety, and opportunity. But they don’t.
When I see what they are doing to make immigration more white and to return people who came here legally, or were brought here as children and raised as Americans to countries that they either do not know or would be in danger if they returned I am reminded of, and echo of words of Abraham Lincoln who said:
“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. 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.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].”