The Wednesday, December 30 Wall Street Journal included an Op-Ed by William A. Galston. The entire piece is below. Such wholesale appropriation is bad practice. I have purposefully waited for one day to pass. But in my judgment this is the best short analysis and argument I have read regarding the issue. You should read it too. I also encourage you to access the WSJ website to scan the over 250 comments that readers have offered. There are some thoughtful disagreements, there are many more reflexive dismissals. The few supportive comments are indirect.
My wife and I have just returned from twelve days with extended family, mostly in Kentucky and Illinois. On the refugee crisis we encountered a wide-range of opinion: From those opening their own homes to those in need to one individual who was so consumed with anti-immigrant anger that his wife had hidden the television and disconnected Internet, blaming the media for driving her husband crazy.
At a party after the Christmas Eve service an old friend with whom I once shared Latin class reminded me that argument originally had two forms: argutare, meaning to babble, prattle, chatter and arguere, meaning to brighten, clarify, prove. “Too much tearing, not enough air” was his analysis. Maybe you had to be there (and sharing the eggnog). But fundamental to any meaningful homeland security — especially for this particular land — is an ability to communicate with each other: to brighten and clarify, not just babble and accuse.
The following is by William A. Galston:
Democracies are often better than their leaders, but they cannot be better than their peoples. As months of anger give way to a winter of fear, it is time for Americans to ask themselves some hard questions.
Despite hyperbolic claims to the contrary, we remain the land of the free. But are we still the home of the brave?
According to a CNN/ORC survey released on Monday, 45% of Americans are worried that they or their families will become victims of terrorism. With all due respect, my fellow citizens, this is absurd. During the past decade, seven times more Americans died from lightning strikes in the U.S. than at the hands of Islamist terrorists.
But America’s public culture, which shapes our society and our politics, is increasingly decoupled from facts. We prefer to take our bearings from our sentiments—often the least honorable ones.
Fear is a powerful motivator but a poor counselor. Driven by fear, democracies make mistakes. The World War II internment of Japanese-Americans is a blot on the nation’s history. That the action was demanded by California Attorney General Earl Warren,authorized by President Franklin Roosevelt and ratified by the Supreme Court makes it even worse.
Toward the end of his life, Warren said that he “deeply regretted the removal order and my own testimony advocating it, because it was not in keeping with our American concept of freedom.” Whenever he thought of the children torn from their homes and neighborhoods, he admitted, he was “conscience-stricken.” He had come to believe that “it was wrong to react so impulsively, without positive evidence of disloyalty.”
Warren had discovered what Greek tragedians knew: Wisdom usually comes too late. In 1988 President Reagan signed legislation authorizing financial restitution for surviving Japanese-Americans who had been forcibly relocated. “No payment can make up for those lost years,” Reagan said. “What is most important in this bill has less to do with property than with honor. For here we admit a wrong.”
Fear is the enemy of honor, because it induces us to act dishonorably. That was the effect seven decades ago, and it threatens to return today.
When the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination recently called for a moratorium on the entrance of all Muslims into the U.S., 41% of his party agreed, according to a Quinnipiac survey in mid-December. Asked whether America should admit 10,000 Syrian refugees, only 28% of Americans endorsed humanitarian relief without regard to religion, according to a mid-November Bloomberg survey. Eleven percent said only Christians should be admitted, and a majority—53%—opposed admitting any Syrian refugees at all.
Granted, no public official can honestly say that accepting the refugees entails zero risk. But is that the right standard? Does a truly brave people do the right thing only when it is risk-free? Does a truly brave people exaggerate a minuscule danger into an existential threat? Is this the course of national honor?
The brave individual, Aristotle tells us, fears the right things for the right reasons, in the right way and at the right time. The fear so many Americans feel toward Syrian refugees does not meet that test.
Demagogues manipulate public passions; they don’t create them. These would-be leaders pander to what is worst in us in the service of their destructive agendas.
Real leaders tell the people what they need to hear. True friends of democracy don’t flatter the people. Demagogues assure the people that they are thoroughly virtuous and always right. That is the core falsehood of populism.
On Jan. 20, 1939, just two months after Kristallnacht was front-page news, Gallup’s American Institute of Public Opinion made public the results of a survey asking whether the U.S. government should permit 10,000 refugee children from Germany—most of them Jewish—to enter the country to be taken care of in American homes. Sixty-one percent of the people answered in the negative. The next month, a bill authorizing the admission of 20,000 German-Jewish children was allowed to die in a congressional committee.
That May, as the German liner St. Louis sailed within sight of Miami, President Roosevelt could have issued an executive order allowing nearly 1,000 German refugees, nearly all of them Jews, to enter the country. He did not. The ship returned to Europe, its passengers left to fate as Germany overran the Continent.
Since 2011 the U.S. government has done almost nothing to alter conditions on the ground in Syria. Nor have European governments. Now a flood of refugees threatens the stability of our closest allies. Thousands of refugees already have died at sea. And yet our leaders, backed by the American people, take no responsibility for the consequences of our collective inaction.
Even those who remember the past, it seems, are condemned to repeat it. Nothing changes except the names of the victims.