So now what do we teach schoolchildren about Thanksgiving?
Americans’ constant yammering about the “true meaning” of holidays takes on wry significance as the very values that underpin this day come under attack.
Donald Trump’s resurgence on the backs of Syrians fleeing persecution is proof enough that many Americans have forgotten – or choose to ignore – that the refugees responsible for this holiday were doing the very same thing as the Syrians when they set sail. The only difference is that the screening process is a lot tougher now.
The billionaire celebrity has made an art of turning campaign rallies into fact-free zones. Doubling down on his call to ban Syrians after one of the Paris bombers had a fake Syrian passport is just the latest proof that reality TV and reality are two different things.
Even as Erie County legislators mimic him by calling for hearings on Syrian refugees, U.S. officials say no refugee has ever committed an act of terror in this country. Of some 750,000 refugees admitted since 9/11, only two from Iraq – who later admitted having attacked U.S. troops there and are now in prison for trying to aid al-Qaida in Iraq – have even been arrested on terrorism charges, officials say.
That’s not surprising, considering the 18- to 24-month screening refugees endure before setting foot here and the fact that there are far easier ways to get in, including on the student, tourist and business visas the 9/11 terrorists used.
Refugees, on the other hand, are rigorously screened by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and then by multiple U.S. agencies that do their own vetting overseas.
The processes include iris scans, fingerprinting, multiple interviews and background checks by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center, as well as checks against databases of criminals and terrorists.
All of that to make sure we aren’t putting ourselves at undue risk while honoring our heritage. Thanksgiving celebrates that heritage by remembering those who risked all in search of better life somewhere else – just as Syrian refugees, mostly women and children, are doing now.
But the day also celebrates the idea of sharing the bounty, which the natives did by teaching the settlers to farm and fish and then gathering for a feast in which they jointly enjoyed the fruits of what America had to offer. At least, that’s what we teach the kids.
But there is little of that sharing today, as the latest AFL-CIO survey put CEO pay at 373 times that of average workers. That gap, while down from 525 in 2000, still remains obscene in a nation that preaches equality.
Meanwhile, efforts to gradually create a $15 minimum wage generate fierce blowback, and GOP presidential candidates oppose any increase at all.
The spirit of sharing seems to have escaped Trump, Ben Carson and the other GOP front-runners as completely as did the history of how the nation they would lead actually came to be.
Of course, there is one sense in which Trump & Co. do have a point.
America’s original refugees did turn out to be a sleeper cell for terrorists. Their descendants massacred Indians, drove them from their lands, destroyed their cultures and finally – like ISIS – made movies glorifying the barbarism.
And all because Native Americans failed to secure their borders.