There was a time, it seems so long ago, when we hungered for the words of wise and thoughtful men and women. We congregated in public parks to listen, or hungered to read the words of statesmen and orators chronicled in circulars or newspapers, or gathered around the radio, and, later, television and listened and watched in rapt attention as the great issues of the day were discussed and debated.
And, yes, there were always the petty politicians and the Elmer Gantry-type rabble rousers and fire-and-brimstone sermonizers and a variety of raconteurs who regaled their minions, but serious discussions and debates of the great issues of the day flourished. People, complacent and comfortable were moved from their zones of comfort by the words of fellow Americans like Frederick Douglas, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emma Goldman, Horace Greeley, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and countless others.
William Jennings Bryan mesmerized the Democratic convention in 1869, when he admonished the assembled delegates… “Ah, my friends, we say not one word against those who live upon the Atlantic Coast, but the hardy pioneers who have braved all the dangers of the wilderness, who have made the desert to blossom as the rose, the pioneers away out there who rear their children near to nature’s heart, where they can mingle their voices with the voices of the birds out there, where they have erected schoolhouses for the education of their young, churches where they praise their Creator, and cemeteries where rest the ashes of their dead – these people, we say, are as deserving of the consideration of our party as any people in this country…” Years later, an uneasy and frightened nation was reassured by a beloved and trusted President who told us “…we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
I was privileged to be seated with other members of the press at the west portico of the capitol, on that clear, but bitterly cold day, and sat transfixed as the youngest president in American history proclaimed, “…Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty… And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you– ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
But today our national political dialogue, our discourse as a nation, seems bereft of wisdom or, often, even a modicum of serious thought. Voices that hinted, or confirmed, our great potential are largely absent from today’s discourse. They are fading echoes of the past.
One of the most important opportunities a future President has to lay out his or her vision for America is when he or she becomes a candidate and addresses the nation. When candidate Trump addressed the nation to announce his candidacy he addressed the issue of immigration thusly, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us (sic). They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
That’s what passed for insight from a soon-to-be-president. And the discourse has deteriorated ever since. And, since the President caved on the wall in order to temporarily end the government shutdown, provocateur Ann Coulter now reminds us at every opportunity, that President Trump has turned out to be, “the greatest wimp since President George H.W. Bush.”
Make no mistake about it, immigration is a serious issue worthy of serious debate and action. The United States needs sound and constructive immigration policy because the United States simply needs immigration. Immigrants to the United States have played a substantial role in our growth and development. We would, today, have a declining population without immigration and that would equate to declining economic growth and declining prospects for future generations of Americans. Immigration is, and has always been, a vital element of our growth.
Immigration, however, has always been a hot-button issue in our country, and it is not hard to understand why. Workers in marginal jobs understandably feel threatened when there is an infusion of skilled or unskilled labor into the workplace. Historically, however, sound immigration policy and economic growth have always gone hand in hand. Growth creates opportunity and employment always grows with the economy.
The Trumps, Kings (Sen R-Iowa) Coulter’s, Limbaugh’s, Hannity’s, and many others who command so much media time and attention trade in fear; fear of the border, fear of the immigrant, fear of the other, fear of the press, and in doing so they sully public discourse and devalue the gift of free and open debate we enjoy in America.
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