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Steinberg: Give Rauner a break

Let’s be fair to Bruce Rauner.

Given the governor’s consistent, utter indifference toward Illinois children, the poor, the disabled, the elderly, and anybody in the state who depends upon the government for any kind of support whatsoever, except of course for rich businessmen like himself, how much should we expect him to show sympathy toward a bunch of refugees fleeing the slaughterhouse of Syria?

Not a lot, right?

So we can’t be too surprised to see him demanding that Syrian refugees be turned away from Illinois.

Not that Rauner has the power to actually do that — none of the Republican governors across the country lunging to slam their doors do. The federal government controls immigration, and local pols trying to use Friday’s terror attacks in Paris as a pretext to keep America free of foreigners are playing to their base and nothing more. They are seizing on the pretext of one of the Parisian attackers apparently slipping in among a group of refugees to indict all of refugees everywhere. That the ringleaders seem to be French has not inspired Rauner to block the French but then, as a fan of expensive wine, he wouldn’t.

“Our nation and our state have a shared history of providing safe haven for those displaced by conflict” began Rauner’s press release announcing his xenophobic stunt.

Yeah, a lousy shared history. Americans have always heaped contempt upon immigrants, in general, and refugees, in particular, and in this regard Rauner’s bleat of fear is only echoing the public will. We hate refugees. Always have.

OPINION

Bear in mind the United States was not exactly holding open the Golden Door to Syrians before Rauner et al. decided to act tough at the expense of terrified families who fled their homeland in a desperate bid not to be killed. Barack Obama went out on a ledge and said our nation could perhaps find room to wedge in 10,000 — the amount the U.S. population grows every day and a half. The Chicago area has taken 100 refugees, which means the city has more witches than Syrian refugees. I wouldn’t be surprised if the city also had more Yanomamo Indians or Laplanders. A hundred people ain’t much.

None of this should be surprising. No refugee group was welcomed in this country. From the Irish in the 1840s onward, all were diseased subhumans bringing crime and strange ways who could never fit in to the American dream. Ditto for the Chinese — our first anti-immigration laws were to keep them out. Ditto the Italians. And the Eastern Europeans. In the late 1930s, 83 percent of Americans — about as close to unanimity as you can get — were against easing America’s draconian immigration laws to admit Jews frantic to get out of Germany. A Congressional bill that would have admitted 20,000 German children under the they’re-so-cute-when-they’re-young exemption died in committee.

Why? Well, c’mon, they were Jews. Nobody wanted Jews around, for lots of reasons just as specious as the reasons the governor wants to yank away the welcome mat that isn’t there for Syrians. The Jews were also seen a threat, and if few here sincerely thought they kidnapped Christian children and drank their blood, they knew they took jobs and college berths that God intended for real Americans. In 1939, the Illinois chapter of the American Medical Association, aided by the patriots at the American Legion, pushed a bill in Springfield that would have banned immigrant doctors from practicing here until they became naturalized citizens, a process that took seven years at the time.

“Shared history of providing safe haven …” Puh-leaze. Rauner’s office obviously left off “… to the handful we couldn’t manage to keep out.” We are a fearful, selfish, ungenerous people, flattering ourselves on a bigheartedness that was never true and is certainly not true now — ask the 11 million Hispanic immigrants living in permanent rightless limbo (because, all together now, they’re illegal and making them legal is impossible).  Add Syrians to the long list. More than one reader already has challenged me whether I would want a Syrian refugee family to live next door. “Sure,” I’m tempted to reply, “a whole lot more than I’d want some gimlet-eyed hater fingering his weapons and wetting himself with fear at every new face that shows up on our shores.”

So don’t blame Rauner, a plutocrat with nine homes and a heart the size of a gumball. We elected him, let’s not get all weepy now that he behaves in a manner completely consistent with the man he obviously is and has always claimed to be.