I spent four hours sitting in a barbershop today waiting for a trim since I made the mistake of cancelling my December appointment. I spent the hours glued to my phone, absently flipping between a Kindle edition of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 and the seemingly endless media fallout from Trump's immigration ban. First the wall, now this. The world has become a smaller, harsher place in the span of a week. A shadow has been cast over this country, and even if Americans have yet to see it, they must certainly feel the cool.
An apparition like Trump can polarize a nation. At a time like this, it's easy to sit on the left and think that Republicans are uniformly anti-immigration or anti-Islam. Paul Ryan's defense of the order, not to mention his complete debasement since he chose to back Trump after the nomination, does nothing to refute this. When a formerly reasonable politician backs the machinations of a mad man, he normalizes their insanity.
As I watched the madness pour in, I was reminded of how much bipartisan support for and celebration of immigrants there has been in this country. JFK embraced it in his posthumous work A Nation of Immigrants. Ronald Reagan defended it in his farewell address to the nation. George W. Bush protected it for Muslims around the world with in his 17 September 2001 speech, saying "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace." Barack Obama embodied it by providing a path to citizenship and protecting the Dreamers.
If you do anything today, take a moment to meditate on the idea of the city on the hill, the image first conjured during Jesus's Sermon on the Mount and later penned in its more recognizable form by the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colonist John Winthrop. American presidents from Kennedy to Obama celebrated and defended the idea of the city on the hill - a nation that had achieved more because of the immigrants who built it, not in spite of them.
Do not be fooled by Trump's attempts to label his America First politics as an example that will "shine for everyone to follow." Trump's America is not a city on a hill but a citadel, and the shining beacon of hope is flickering. The shadow is already falling, but how far and dark it falls is up to us.
The signal fires have been lit in the watchtowers of civilization. Government agencies are going rogue, scientists are organizing a march, lawsuits are being filed. The signal fires are burning but they require careful tending. Only time will tell if they will be enough to hold back the dark.
I leave you with two quotes to ponder below, one from John F. Kennedy and one from Ronald Reagan's farewell address.
I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier. "We must always consider", he said, "that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us". Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us—and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill—constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities. For we are setting out upon a voyage in 1961 no less hazardous than that undertaken by the Arbella in 1630. We are committing ourselves to tasks of statecraft no less awesome than that of governing the Massachusetts Bay Colony, beset as it was then by terror without and disorder within. History will not judge our endeavors—and a government cannot be selected—merely on the basis of color or creed or even party affiliation.
-John F. Kennedy, January 9, 1961 Inaugural Address to the Joint Convention of the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.
And how stands the city on this winter night?
-Ronald Reagan, January 11, 1989 Farewell Address to the Nation
How stands it, indeed.