The Donald Versus the Scriptures
It doesn’t matter what religion you believe in — if any — to see that the GOP’s immigrant-bashers aren’t quite people of the book.
It took the combined efforts of Donald Trump and a Hungarian camerawoman called Petra Laszlo to drive me to religion.
To say I’m not religious would be an understatement: I grew up in the most secular of households. My maternal ancestors turned their backs on several varieties of Christianity — one dramatic family story features my dying great-great-grandmother flinging a crucifix violently across the room — and my paternal ancestors abandoned Judaism with similar zest. My family embraced Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy with pagan enthusiasm when I was a child, but the sacred texts of the world’s major religions were approached only in a spirit of anthropological inquiry.
But, well, my God, people! The Scrooge-like attitude toward immigrants and refugees now evident on both sides of the Atlantic is enough to send me straight to the Holy Writ.
Over in Europe, we have police using water cannons and tear gas to repel refugees fleeing Syria’s deadly civil war, which has left Syria in ruins and killed more than 200,000 people. And we have one Petra Laszlo, a Hungarian camerawoman who, sent to photograph the influx of desperate migrants, decided to go the extra mile by kicking a few kids and then tripping a refugee carrying his 7-year-old son in his arms.
Petra is now an unemployed Hungarian camerawoman, but there’s still a lot of kicking going around. Here in the United States, Donald Trump recently told an enthusiastic Texas crowd that the number of undocumented immigrants in this country is “disgusting,” reserving much of his ire for Mexican immigrants (too many “rapists” and “criminals”) and “anchor babies.” (Too bad The Donald couldn’t find a convenient anchor baby to kick!) Trump also had some special words for American municipalities that he considers insufficiently enthusiastic about cracking down on undocumented workers: “We have to end this sanctuary cities crap.”
Don’t these people ever read the Bible?
I mean: Even I, godless heathen that I am, had no trouble recalling the gist of Matthew 25: 31-46. “When the Son of Man comes in His glory … All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.”
Being a sheep, in this context, is not such a bad thing:
“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? … And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'”
But it’s not so great to be a goat:
“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'”
Not a Christian? Every major religion offers some version of this story. Islam, for instance, has Allah making much the same points: “Verily, Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, will say on the Day of Resurrection: O son of Adam, I was sick but you did not visit Me. He will say: O my Lord, how could I visit Thee when Thou art the Lord of the worlds? Thereupon He will say: Didn’t you know that a certain servant of Mine was sick, but you did not visit him, and were you not aware that if you had visited him, you would have found Me by him?” And so on.
Looking for a Jewish version? Try this.
The sheer moral nastiness of the current wave of anti-migrant sentiment should appall people of any religion — or none. It betrays a stunning lack of empathy and imagination. After all, the refugees swamping Europe and the undocumented immigrants Trump believes are turning America into “a dumping ground” have two crucial things in common: They’re all searching for a better life for themselves and their children, a life free of fear and hunger and repression, and they’re all willing to take enormous risks and endure great privation to find that better life. Do we really want to kick these people in the teeth?
Unmoved by parable and sacred texts? We should still push back hard against the trans-Atlantic desire to build walls, turn away ships at sea, and corral the hungry, frightened, and desperate into camps surrounded by barbed wire. It’s just common sense — and self-preservation, if it comes to that.
What goes around, comes around. When a society is nasty to migrants — when it takes them in grudgingly, treats them badly, and makes it difficult for them to become fully integrated — guess what happens? Sooner or later, many of those migrants (whether driven by economic hardship, war, natural disaster, or political persecution) start resenting their surly, uncharitable hosts. Sooner or later, some of those migrants, or their children, or their children’s children, get resentful enough to take up arms against their hosts — or against their host’s interests. Conversely, societies that are kinder to migrants tend to generate loyalty rather than resentment among migrant populations.
This is a primary reason the United States has seen so much less “homegrown” terrorism and extremism than Europe. In much of Europe, nationality is still a matter of blood, land, and religion to a significant extent, and migrants find full integration difficult: The children and grandchildren of immigrants may still be unable to become citizens, and even those with citizenship may forever be viewed as cultural “foreigners.” In the United States, it’s different: The Donald notwithstanding, America remains a nation of immigrants, and national identity isn’t a matter of skin color or ethnic heritage. The foreign-born and the children of immigrants can be quickly accepted: Think of Bobby Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants, or Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants (both anchor babies!), or Barack Obama, the son of an American and a Kenyan student. Think of Arnold Schwarzenegger (born Austrian), or Madeleine Albright (born in then-Czechoslovakia), or Samantha Power (born Irish).
Numerous studies and polls confirm that those societies that give immigrants an easier path to full integration end up with happier, more prosperous, and more loyal immigrant communities. Foreign-born and second-generation Muslims living in the United States, for instance, have much lower levels of support for extremism and terrorism than their counterparts in Europe; they’re also wealthier and more positive about the nation they live in than European Muslims (though, to be fair, the integration of Muslims and other immigrants varies substantially within different European countries).
In general, American immigrants of all national and religious origins — including those undocumented Latino immigrants who so enrage Trump — fare better and are more positive about their adopted homes than immigrant communities in Europe. Their children do better, too: While the children of migrants in Europe are more likely than their parents to say they face discrimination, the children of immigrants in the United States generally say they feel like “typical Americans” and view their heritage as either irrelevant or helpful to their efforts to find work, gain admission to colleges, and so on. Immigrant communities “give back,” too: In the United States, both legal immigrants and undocumented immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in government benefits, and studies suggest that overall immigration tends to boost, rather than depress, the wages of native-born workers.
Generosity and empathy toward migrants and refugees won’t transform our world into the kingdom of heaven, but it just might help stave off several varieties of everlasting fire.
And now that I’ve found religion, I can articulate what I always knew to be true: Donald Trump, you’re nothing but a nasty old goat.
Photo illustration by FP