Let’s say I want to convince you that most dogs are German shepherds. So I buy a pair and parade them around the block, and pepper my conversation with tales of police K-9 units and Rin Tin Tin.
Does it work? Or at some point do you reflect back to your own experience and think, “Gosh, you know, most dogs actually aren’t German shepherds. Most dogs are other breeds.”
It’s an important question, because the logic above, so easily seen as flawed — well, easy for some; others just don’t get it — is what elected Donald Trump president. He tarred Mexicans as rapists and criminals with his first words as a candidate, and rode the deep fears and hidden hatreds — and not-so-hidden-hatreds — of half the country right into the White House.
This cracked reasoning permeated his first State of the Union speech Tuesday. Lauded for lacking the malice and pettiness of his endless tweets, it was also a thinly-disguised appeal to racial hate. Frankly, I prefer when he’s candid.
Trump spotlit the weeping parents of youngsters murdered by immigrant gangs. Exhibit A and the last word in his argument to slam the door on immigration so we can all live in the white country club country where Trump and his ilk feel most comfortable.
He mentioned the word “safe” or “safety” 11 times, four attempting to justify barring immigrants.
Let’s be clear. It isn’t that immigrants don’t commit crimes. They do. Everybody does. But immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. The safety argument against immigration could be used equally to argue against Americans having babies, since some of them grow up to be criminals too. Trump spotlights individual cases because he can’t cite statistics, can’t generalize. People buy it because they want to.
Just to be clear: Republicans don’t fear immigrants because they’re criminals; they cast them as criminals because they fear them. They’re like the 5-year-old who said: “If there’s no ghost in the closet, then why am I afraid?”
I watched the speech, cringing, particularly at “Americans are dreamers too,” a drop of venom off the fangs of Stephen Miller that instantly entered the lexicon of American coded hate, along with “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Immigrants are Americans too, or would be, if only we let them.
Not every generalization is untrue. I thought of one watching the speech: immigrants aren’t criminals, proportionately, but they are health care workers, far more than their share of the population.
“I watched the State of the Union address,” said Donna Sroczynski, president of operations for the Lincolnwood-based Symphony Post Acute Network, which operates 30 skilled nursing homes across the Chicago area, from Milwaukee to Northwest Indiana. “Everyone gets characterized in the worst possible way. In health care, people have a heart and soul; nobody would stay in health care without it. I find the immigrant population passionate, caring, compassionate individuals. I couldn’t live without them; they’re wonderful.”
Sroczynski pointed out something completely overlooked: many new immigrants care for older ethnic American citizens.
“Chicago is a very diverse city,” she said. “We need an immigrant population that reflects the population in the facilities. We pair Hispanic staff with Hispanic patients to form a cultural unit together. Without diversity in my work force, these would be very lonely people.”
Health care jobs are some of the hardest, most grueling, poorest paid jobs you can imagine. Immigrants take them because they’re trying to get a foot up in this country, and because these jobs are so readily available. America’s demographic, like every other industrial country, is aging fast. The only thing — the only thing — that keeps America’s population from slipping is immigration. Without it, we would be Japan, where 400 grade schools close every year, some immediately becoming nursing homes, and the nation’s population is expected to slide by nearly a third over the next 50 years.
Our nation will eventually refute Trump and his dog whistles and simplistic codes. And this period will be seen as an era of shame, and all those Trump supporters photographed with their faces frozen in ecstasy at a rally will deny it’s them, deny it ever happened. They’re good at that already.