I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m feeling sort of left out when I look at President Donald Trump’s tweet storm over the past couple weeks against a whole lot of people, including five Democratic members of Congress — Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
When I saw that he had lashed out against Rev. Al Sharpton, a private citizen and public activist, I thought, Well, why not me?
True, I haven’t been elected to Congress. Neither am I a woman like four of those U.S. representatives, or a person of color like all six people targeted in these tweets.
But, like them, I am an American citizen. If Trump is going to spend a lot of time trying bully these people, I’m OK with him trying to bully me. It’s gotten to be a kind of badge of honor.
Not only am I a citizen, but I am an immigrant. Well, I wasn’t born in Somalia like Omar. But I’m as much an immigrant as Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib and Pressley and Cummings and Sharpton inasmuch as my ancestors came from somewhere else.
Somewhere near the very end of the 1800s or the first years of the 1900s, my grandfather Patrick Riordan (he changed our name’s spelling later on U.S. soil) came from Ireland. After he got here, he met Elizabeth O’Connor. They married in Chicago and raised a family that included my father, David.
So count me as an official immigrant.
Our chief executive told the four congresswomen to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” (Even though, as I mentioned, only Omar, now a naturalized American citizen, is originally from somewhere else.)
In his tweet-lashing of Cummings, President Trump insisted that the congressman should forget about looking into the president’s finances and practices and instead focus on Baltimore, which Trump described as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”
I don’t know if Ireland was or is “rat-infested.” The legend is that St. Patrick drove out all the snakes. I never heard whether he did anything about rats.
However, at the time my grandfather came to the United States and for half a century before that, I know Ireland was a “broken” place and a “mess.” After all, a whole lot of people were starving to death and living dead-end lives. Why else did he, like hundreds of thousands of other Irish people, flee the island for America?
Patrick Riordan came here to find a better life. From all I can tell, he was a big fan of the United States. He and Elizabeth became citizens. His two sons served in the Armed Forces in World War II. As far as I know, no one ever told him to go back where he came from, although, of course, that might have happened given the anti-Irish feeling in the U.S. a century ago. Nonetheless, he found a great life here.
My grandfather had come to this country of his own volition. That wasn’t a choice for the ancestors of Sharpton and Cummings who were sold into slavery in Africa, brought in chains across the Atlantic and put to work in a culture that demeaned and oppressed them.
Nonetheless, Sharpton, Cummings, the four congresswomen and my grandfather are examples of the great genius of the American experiment — an openness to people of all sorts, of all colors, cultures, religions and world views. This openness is something that has been evolving since the nation’s founding. And more than half a million Americans died in the Civil War to determine that the nation would not only keep that openness but also expand it to include the former slaves.
These targets of President Trump’s anger are, like my grandfather, emblematic of what has made America great from its inception. And of why so many people want to become Americans. Yes, the economic opportunities here are better. But, much more, there is freedom and openness to differences.
Not all the time, and not from everyone, as the president has reminded us over the past two weeks.
I want to stand with these six who, it seems, are doing their jobs so well that they’ve gotten under the president’s skin. I’m not doing anywhere near as much as they are to help America be even greater. But I want to be an American like them.
So, tweet at me, Mr. President! Please! It would be an honor.
Patrick T. Reardon, a longtime Chicago writer and reporter, is the author of “The Loop: The ‘L’ Tracks That Shaped and Saved Chicago,” an examination of the impact of the elevated Loop on the development and survival of Chicago, forthcoming from Southern Illinois University Press.
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