As much as any president before him, Donald Trump’s life has been defined by the rest of the world’s admiration for America, and America’s open arms.
His grandfather Friedrich left Kallstadt, Germany at the age of 16 to venture off to New York, where for years he would tell his Jewish customers he was from the less off-putting country of Sweden. His son carried on that canard for decades.
Trump’s wife Melania was born in Slovenia and began traveling the world as a model at 18 and moved to New York at 26, where she became a U.S. citizen in 2006. His first wife, Ivana, was a Czech-born model who, after living in Canada for some time, moved to New York where she’d meet Trump and marry.
Most of his children speak other languages. He has businesses around the world and employs thousands of immigrants to work in his hotels and golf courses. Trump’s connection to the immigrant community is extensive. And yet, no president in the modern era has been as divisive and hostile to immigrants and foreigners as Donald Trump.
Even through egregious policies like FDR’s Japanese internment camps during WWII, and Dwight Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback” in the 1950s, you have to go all the way back to Woodrow Wilson in 1915 to find a president who talked about foreigners with the same kind of vitriol as Trump has over the past year and a half.
“There are citizens of the United States,” Wilson said in an anti-immigration speech, “born under other flags but welcomed under our generous naturalization laws to the full freedom and opportunity of America, who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life . . . Creatures of passion, disloyalty and anarchy must be crushed out.”
The wording might be more eloquent than Trump’s, but the sentiment is the same: Foreigners — whether Mexican or Muslim — are a threat, if not the enemy.
It should be no surprise, therefore, that immigrants and minorities in this country are anxious and afraid that Trump was elected and now holds the highest office in the world. Many have taken to the streets to voice their anger, and some in leadership positions have called on President Obama to take steps now to protect undocumented immigrants.
Some Democratic leaders have even vowed to defy Trump’s immigration policies. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio have pledged to keep their cities sanctuaries for the undocumented.
Trump himself has done little to quell the fear. Less than a week after he was elected, Trump was on “60 Minutes” telling an audience of millions that he plans to immediately deport 2 to 3 million illegal immigrants. What he didn’t say is how: Will he rip families apart? Will he send a deportation force into schools, factories and homes? Will he dump deportees in the desert like Eisenhower did in a program that Trump has praised?
Whatever policies Trump ultimately pursues, he needs to give a speech, and soon, to begin to calm the waters and heal the gaping wounds he has inflicted. In it, he must convey several key points:
Legal immigration is a good thing. It’s how his grandfather came here and how his wife came here, and he will continue to encourage and celebrate the appeal of the American dream to the rest of the world.
Diversity is not a bad word. Living next door to someone who looks different than you do is what makes America special. We needn’t fear people from other countries.
He will be a president for all people, working with Democrats and Republicans to make sure every community — Mexican American, Muslim American, African American, LGBT, etc. — feels safe and not a target.
And finally, the nativist, nationalist impulses of some of Trump’s supporters will have no platform or place in his administration. They are ugly, backward-looking and not what he stands for.
While it’s hard to imagine Trump can find the courage to deliver a message of this kind of magnanimity, anything short of it will only continue to stoke fear and sow the seeds of anger.
He created this climate. Now it’s his job to as the next president of the United States to do something about it.
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com
This column originally appeared in the New York Daily News.
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