One of humankind’s most primitive fears, it seems, is the fear of “otherness.” People tend to feel threatened by those who are different, whether in color or tradition or condition.
I’ve just been reading an address delivered on July 1, 1956, to the American Federation of the Blind. It was given by Professor Jacobus ten Broek (the most outstanding professor in my undergraduate experience), who was himself blind. He spoke of the challenge of the blind to find their place in a society where some took pity on them, many ignored them, and some opposed them.
How odd that there would actually be people who opposed the blind. What in the world might that mean? First it meant there were people who simply wanted the blind to stay out of the way, to be put in homes or institutions. But intensifying that desire, there were some people who tried to denigrate the AFB, to stop it from demanding equal opportunity and from making progress.
Very soon after that speech, the demand of the blind for social justice was overshadowed by the Civil Rights movement centered around color. The issues were the same: People who are different from the majority are told to keep to their place, out of the way.
There was a time in America when we said the same to the Catholics, who found a home only in Maryland. And to the Irish, who were for a time ghettoed in Boston.. And to the Chinese, who were allowed to build railroads and wash clothes but not much else. We still say it to Native Americans. And to Hispanics. And to Gays.
Yes, in each case there is a slightly different rationale and each case to the casual eye looks quite unlike the others. Underneath, however, lies the same primal fear: They are “other” and therefore are a threat to us. This is insecurity with a megaphone.
Racism, one of the most common forms of this fear, has been stoked in our day by the Republican party in general and now very specifically by the Republican candidate for president. Fear makes a feeble foundation for creating a society or government but it does lead to short-term popularity, as Hitler knew so well in his tirades against the Jews.
When the Republicans gained control of the Senate a couple of years ago, Mitch McConnell boasted that we would now see that the Republicans know how to run the nation. What we have seen instead is that they do not know how to run their own party. There are self-destructing before our eyes. They are living proof that fear of others is no foundation at all.
What makes it especially sad to watch what may be the Republican death throes, is that they claim to be the party which respects the Constitution and the Founding Fathers and all the founding documents.
While trump calls for a wall, his party should be shouting from the rooftops that we, the
American people, “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
How sad, how very sad that one of our two major political parties has evolved into an enmity against the outsider, the alien, the “other,” into common gutter racism and a rejection of the very idea of America.