I took an afternoon nap, watched a little news, and found myself angry enough that I just have to hold a little American History class. This nation is not and has never been perfect. But our basic documents give us goals and a purpose to believe in. The Declaration of Independence addresses the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of liberty. It also speaks to all men being created equal. The main document, the US Constitution speaks in its Preamble the reasons we formed a government. It clearly states that one reason is to create a more perfect union. While we at times have made great progress with all these things, we have also failed miserably. Mixed in with all that is bright and shiny are some pretty damned dark and shameful events.
When the first Europeans stepped foot on North American dirt they were met by an indigenous people. For a very brief period we tolerated each other and myth tells us that the Natives helped us get established. That relationship didn’t last long and by the late 1860s the American government’s unwritten policy was best described as, “the only good Indian was a dead Indian.” Under president Jackson the Eastern tribes were forced to resettle west of the Mississippi in what became known as Indian Territory or the Indian Nations. A painful result of that relocation policy was the Trail of Tears; a forced migration that took the lives of four thousand or more Indians were lost.
Following the Civil War the demand for mineral wealth and cheap western land grew and waves of wagon trains headed into the plains and mountains. Before long the American Army was required to protect these newcomers. What evolved were the Indian Wars in which Native Americans were deprived of their major food supply and building material, the American Bison. The buffalo was systematically and deliberately brought to near extinction for the principal purpose of making good Indians. The weakened tribes became concentrated on reservations and left to the not so merciful Bureau of Indian Affairs. Those who resisted and stayed free were gradually hunted down and butchered. For the Native Americans the major exception occurred on June 25, 1876 when Custer’s 7th Calvary was wiped by the combined forces of several plains tribes at the Little Bighorn River.
Yet another black mark occurred on May 6, 1882. That was the day the US Congress caved into West Coast racist and signed the Chinese Exclusion Act. This was the nation’s first anti-immigration law and for decades banned the immigration of people’s from China and other parts of Asia.
This law does not represent the beginning of discrimination against immigrants. That began when the second European arrived. The first European got pissed because he didn’t think the second European was good enough. New comers to America have always been discriminated against and the more they differed from Northern and Western Europeans, they more they were hated.
By the turn of the 20th century the labor demands of the industrial revolution had opened the doors to peoples from Southern and Eastern Europe; Russians, Poles, Slavs, Greeks, and Italians. These newcomers were different in their religious tenets, many being Jewish or non-Protestant Catholics. They spoke different languages, worshiped differently, ate different diets, and their skins were different and darker.
By the 1920s the picture of the typical American was changing and the xenophobes and racists began demanding the government take action to keep America white. So the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed establishing quotas that gave preference to Anglo-Saxon Protestant nations while setting much lower limits for less desirable countries.
By now the word had gone forth that America was a racist nation that had no love for Asians and non-lily white Europeans.
The next major black spot was turning away ship loads of Jewish refugees trying to escape the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany. The Smithsonian Magazine states that thousands of Jews were turned away from American sanctuary prior to WWII. Many, if not most, ended up back in Germany and in Nazi concentration camps. A major excuse was that there might be Nazi spies among them. By the way, as a Democrat I will say that this was not Franklin Roosevelt’s finest moment.
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the bigots turned their attention to the Japanese-American population of the West Coast. President Roosevelt approved (another splotch on his record) of the wholesale roundup of these innocent people, stripping them of their personal belongings, businesses, farms, and other properties. Long-term internment camps were constructed in the deserts and elsewhere and for the duration of the war over a hundred thousand people lived inside the barbed wire of American concentration camps. Decades after the war Japanese-Americans were reimbursed with pennies on the dollars for their losses.
In 1965 president Lyndon Johnson signed a new immigration law that placed emphasis on needed skills and existing family relationships. If America needed doctors, doctors were given preference regardless of nationality. If someone had close relatives living in America they were given preference in order to keep families together. This may have been the only bright spot in immigration history but it wasn’t to last.
This new law contained unseen flaws that fell victim to changing population, political, and economic trends. These flaws also contributed to increased immigration from Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. As economic and political turmoil increased below our Southern border the influx of illegals grew rapidly.
The political parties, the presidencies, and the legislatures have all failed to adequately address the problems created by the 1965 law and America is faced with another dark spot over those who aren’t white enough. As you all know the issue has exploded with the election of Donald Trump. As often happens politicians use fear of difference as a means to whip up political support. That’s exactly what’s happened in recent years and has culminated in the recent policy that for the first time in our history, deliberately separated parent from child as a political lever to get what a president wants. Donald Trump is using children to pressure Congress for $25 billion dollars for the construction of a huge and controversial wall along our Southern border.
Now it’s well-known that along with the others, America doesn’t care much for brown-skinned folks who speak Spanish. The history and symbolism of the Statue of Liberty is under severe attack.
But this lesson and darkness isn’t over. Just this day, June 26, 2018, the US Supreme Court upheld Donald Trump’s desire to slam shut America’s door to people of another religion, Islam. To my knowledge this is the first time in our history that the Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom has been ignored in order to saté the wishes of extreme right-wing political and religious entities. Conservative evangelicals in America sold their souls, closed their eyes and ears, and pinched their nostrils in support of a devil that promised them a court system that would give them an advantage while ignoring well over two hundred years of Constitutional history.
I don’t know when or how this will end but at the moment a more perfect union is in great jeopardy.