What the Devil won't tell you
Turning away refugees proves Gov. Ducey more scared than American
It's time believers in American ideals stop ceding the high ground to same-old opportunism
Gov. Doug Ducey has a message for a neighbor of mine. "It was a mistake to let you into this country."
My neighbor and I talk in the parking lot of an apartment complex that is, for all intents and purposes, a refugee relocation center. Turks, Russians, Burundians, Iraqis and Sudanese outnumber Latinos and African Americans.
My neighbor is Iraqi. He fought under Saddam Hussein in the war against Iran back in the 1980s. He went on to study engineering, which became his trade. The other day he talked about another Iraqi who left America because this man was used to a privileged life.
“You have to start at the bottom here and you work your way up,” he said. “You have to make a reputation for yourself and then you can move up.” My neighbor was disgusted with his countryman's attitude.
Ducey just asked the feds to stop letting folks like that neighbor into the country. See, it's ISIS – or the Daesh – attack in Paris that makes the governor get so wobbly in the knees.
I for one am sick to death of ceding the high ground to folks who throw out the word "freedom" as if they never saw a dictionary and call America "exceptional" while jealously guarding the fetishes of lesser nations as their own. History, Gov. Ducey, has us atop Cemetery Ridge as you're figuring out Little Round Top.
Let's set aside the fact that the 2nd Amendment types in Arizona began declaring the problem with France was that it is an unarmed country. We are an armed citizenry of 290 million guns so that wouldn't happen here. Guess not even our guns can protect us, or do we need 300 million more? Neither here nor there, I just thought I'd remind you. Frankly, governor, if you get weak-willed at the sight of cable news, you probably wouldn't be much use with a Glock at an Eagles of Death Metal concert. So please, leave it at home.
That neighbor and I talked, as men do, about the affairs of the world. He has provided a fascinating and educated take on the affairs of Iraq. He said it was bad under Saddam Hussein but it was unlivable after the invasion. He talked about the corruption and outlandish pay of the elected leaders at the top of the kleptocracy we installed after Saddam. He is equally critical of Obama for pulling U.S. troops out.
Yet, he's an Iraqi and we can't be too careful.
People in this complex are nice. They are quiet. They keep among their numbers, which isn't to say they are rude or impolite. They just have more in common with one another. They dress in resplendent colors and head scarfs are all the rage. Down the sidewalk, I see through a screen door Russian soap operas in an elderly lady's flat with the TV on and the door open. She doesn't get around too well but will sit on a chair at night and water a little garden she planted. She smiles and says hi. I never said “go home.”
The kids all run together, regardless of national origin and spout off in any number languages and national dialects. You hear dead-on American accents break into urban hip-hop slang cutting into Southern California mall-talk before chiding one another in Turk, Russian or Arabic. Then they go back to playing. The older kids just chill in a dozen languages.
They share something in common. If they aren't here, there is a good chance they face systematic persecution, even death. What? You don't believe that? You can't say ISIS/Daesh, radical Islamists and Bashar Al Assad are butchers and call the folks they are butchering no-good, mooching terrorists. Well, you can but you will break the logic machine.
Going down the list
There's never ever a downside in times of crisis to scoring political points by showing your resolve against the (enter name here) menace.
"The Chinese are uncivilized, unclean, and filthy beyond all conception without any of the higher domestic or social relations; lustful and sensual in their dispositions; every female is a prostitute of the basest order." — Horace Greeley, Democratic nominees for President, 1872 — Hasta I.M. Pei, Vera Wang and Olivia Munn (oh, hell no!)
“The Irish fill our prisons, our poor houses. … Scratch a convict or a pauper, and the chances are that you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic. Putting them on a boat and sending them home would end crime in this country.” — Chicago Post, 1868
Bon voyage Bill O'Reilly, Georgia O'Keefe and Ronald Reagan
Even some of our heroes have curried favor with stoking our fear and distrust of the other:
"Why should Pennsylvania ... become a Colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us, instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion?" — Benjamin Franklin, 1752
Back where you came from Lou Gehrig, Dr. Seuess, Albert Einstein and both grandfathers of mine.
Sometimes even an emancipator must show deference to the bigoted xenophobes — or maybe he was one of those, too.
"I am not, nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people, I as much as any man am in favor of the superior position assigned to the white race." — Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln-Douglas debates.
And if you are looking for religious groups to attack, I'll serve up this mushball:
“Mormons in the attitude of an open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of having made war upon the people of this state. Your orders are, therefore, to hasten your operation with all possible speed. The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace — their outrages are beyond all description.” — Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs signed that as part of Executive Order 44, which was your basic directive to exterminate followers of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints. When Mitt Romney said he would never apologize for America, what's his excuse for this little nugget?
Later Steve Young, Mitt Romney and Mo Udall.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio would be interested to know that all the heads of the five families of the New York mafia were natives of what we would now call Italy. They sure as shooting didn't respect our laws, but we found room for you, DeNiro, Joe Montana and most of my high school class.
Yeah. Yeah. We've been here before. The United States has a singular history. It is exceptional, I would argue, because the world came here to build this country on high ideals — that often are undercut by our most base proclivities. No other country is built on idealism. I think that's pretty fucking precious, don't you? When you dismiss that ideal as “political correctness” it is a slur against all who came before you to build the United States of America.
Governor, start acting like the leader of a state in a country that does the greatest good — even if you are scared. Calm your voters and steel their fears, don't pander to them and indulge their will to hide. Don't give in to glib political opportunism that makes us apologize for you later. And don't you dare hide behind the bluster that you are keeping Arizona safe. The easiest way for a terrorist to get here is, and has been, to fly first class.
You've thrown in with 15 other right-wing governors to try to put the president in a box and make scapegoats out of people just trying to find a safe place to live.
What — you think this kind of hysteria can't happen here? Tucsonans, if you decide to drive up to see the snow on Mt. Lemmon this week, take a look to your left when you get to Prison Camp Road. Before you go, google Executive Order 9066.
And if you really want to know what happens to refugees no one wants, read about the roundabout trips of the MS St. Louis, otherwise known as “the Voyage of the Damned.”
No there's never been a short-term political downside to turning neighbor against neighbor on account of a asking us to sound off by race or religion. However, someday we'll talk to grandchildren and tell them which side we were on when the shit hit the fan. Would we rather say we stood up for values or hid behind our fears out of a false sense of grim resolve?
I'm not sure how or when the "tough party" became the "frightened party" but please, on this, bring back Reagan and Barry Goldwater. At some point, categorical condemnation of entire peoples got confused with resolute wisdom and tough choices. In fact, it's always been the cheap and easy path to power.
We just spent a day posting on Facebook all our respect for veterans and in May we'll post again for the ones who never made it back from where we sent them. How about practicing the ideals that they fought for as a show of gratitude? Liberty and opportunity and equal protection under the law. That government is subject to the people and rights won't be trampled when it becomes politically expedient. My neighbors — refugees from Africa, Asia and parts of Europe — actually believe this stuff about their new home.
Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Australians and some Asians are just members of the lucky sperm club. We got our freedom because we were born into it. When it's tested is when we prove ourselves worthy of it. So in the words of Thomas Paine, "what we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly." Don't just be a summer soldier, governor.
To sort-of quote another great American writer: Let us not talk falsely now, 'cuz you're acting like an idiot. The price of freedom is not that someone else's strapping young lad may die in battle on foreign soil. No. It's that you might be killed right here at home because a free country is a soft target. If a beacon of hope and a bastion of freedom isn't worth dying for, then why send our troops anywhere? Life is more dangerous in a land that tries to be free. So the land of the free must also be the land of the brave. Any of this sinking in?
You want to talk brave?
So far 129 people have been counted dead in the Paris attacks. My Iraqi neighbor lived in a country that withstood the equivalent of 1,100 of these attacks in 12 years. That's right more than seven a month. Yep, 150,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. He didn't leave his country until he and his family witnessed about their 1,000th Paris.
But you, governor, see one attack six time zones east of New York (and further east of the Grand Canyon) and start re-litigating what it means to be an American. Gov. Jane Dee Hull after 9/11 didn't do this. She was a real man.
I find it fascinating that many of the same voices chortling at our ideals in the name of keeping us safe are the same ones who would tell my neighbor "sure, 150,000 of your compatriots died, but at least you're free..." The logic machine just gave its last.
I would love to tell you my buddy's proper name and age and quote him more directly but I can't. See, he got on a plane the morning you issued your order, governor. He had get on a plane and go back to work for the United Nations. His family is still here. He'll be gone eight months.
I asked him Saturday if it would be cool to have money again, as his savings (savings, not welfare) were dwindling. He shrugged and said, “Well, where I am going there is nothing but desert and conflict.”
"Where are you going?" I asked.
“Darfur,” he said (I am not making this up).
That's right, governor. He's on his way to Darfur to help the U.N. mission there to make that country safe for the people who live there, so maybe they don't have to seek asylum here. Yet you just said, “We don't serve your kind here.” What the hell did the xenophobes do today, except post memes on Facebook mocking liberty and opportunity as naive?
Talk about doing the work we won't do for ourselves.
Oh, one last point about my Iraqi refugee neighbor, who fought as a conscript for Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, worked as an engineer and is now on his way to a simmering quasi-war zone. He's a Christian, who fled the wrath of radical Islam, as are many of my refugee neighbors. How PC am I now? Should it matter?
God bless America ... the difference is I actually mean it.
Blake Morlock covered Arizona government and politics for 15 years, including 11 in the Tucson Citizen. He also worked on Democratic Party campaigns in the field of political communications. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.