Crises have a way of bringing out the best and the worst in people. The Syrian refugee crisis is a classic example as politics seems to overwhelm principle – not unique but no less appalling, especially considering the lives at stake – as so many politicians succumb to xenophobia and religious bigotry and try to justify it in terms of national security.
So far in the four-year-old Syrian civil war, 12 million Syrians – half of them children – have fled their homes, according to World Vision. Four million are refugees, mostly in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Nearly a quarter of a million have been killed in their country, including 12,000 children, and another million wounded or permanently disabled.
President Barack Obama has proposed accepting 10,000 of them by the end of next year, fewer than many smaller countries. That humanitarian gesture has brought out the worst in many demagogic politicians
All but four Republicans in the House of Representatives plus 47 Democrats voted this week to effectively block Obama's decision; the Senate is expected to follow suit. The President, who has said refugees will be allowed in only after a vigorous vetting process, has said he'll veto the bill.
Nearly every Republican governor has declared none would be welcome in their states. They have no legal authority to ban them, that is federal jurisdiction, but there is a political campaign underway (isn't there always?) and demagoguery trumps truth every time.
Speaking of Trump and truth, the current GOP frontrunner, the factually-challenged reality show performer, says "our president wants to take in 250,000 from Syria." Totally untrue, of course, but that has never troubled Trump or the likes of Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina who put the number at 100,000.
Carson, rivaling Trump for crude and rude, likened the refugees to "rabid dogs" and then lashed out at the media for quoting him accurately, even running videos of his comments.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said, not even "orphans under five should be admitted to the United States at this point. They have no family here, how are we gonna care for these folks?" Asked what he'd do if Syrians tried to settle in his state, he said, "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it." (I made up that last sentence but the one about four-year-old orphans is accurate.)
Another presidential wannabe, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is trying to blame Obama for his own cowardice and bigotry.
The former Baptist preacher says he is sympathetic with the plight of refugees but doesn't trust Obama to make sure no terrorists sneak into the country with the displaced Syrian. He told MSNBC he couldn't imagine any method for screening that would satisfy him. He sent a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan say that if he won't stop the refugees he should step aside and let someone else do the job.
These politicians are all busy courting Jewish contributors in 2015, but I can't help but wonder how they'd have reacted in the 1930s and early 1940s when Jews fleeing Nazi Germany found America's doors closed. Remember how many Syrian refugees Obama wants to admit? 10,000. It's the same number of refugee children from Germany – most of them Jewish – that it was proposed be brought to the United States. A Gallup poll showed most Americans were opposed by a two-to-one margin.
Rhode Island State Sen. Elaine Morgan (R) has a solution with another painful historic twist. She wants to put Syrian refugees in internment camps. Her model is apparently the World War II internment camps for Japanese-Americans. "The Muslim religion and philosophy is to murder, rape, and decapitate anyone who is a non Muslim," she wrote to a constituent and to colleagues.
In a similar vein Trump is talking about requiring American Muslims to carry special ID cards so they can be more easily tracked. Maybe they should also wear yellow armbands with a crescent and star?
Why is it the same people who demand extensive and unrealistic background checks on all Syrian refugees, including little children, are the ones most vehemently opposed to any back ground checks on people buying guns?
Texas State Rep. Tony Dale says it would be too dangerous to admit any refugees because it is so easy to obtain guns in his state. "In Texas, there is no background check, no training, no age limit required to carry loaded high capacity weapons openly," according to Bipartisan Report. That's OK for Texans, Dale seems to think, but not foreigners, and that's why he doesn't want any refugees, including little children and orphans, coming into the Lone Star State.
Another anti-refugee voice is Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), who plunged fear mongering and demagoguery to new depths last year when he charged that ISIS was in cahoots with Mexican drug cartels to secretly smuggle Ebola-infected terrorists across the Rio Grande border so they could attack and infect Arkansans.
He's at it again. This time Cotton is introducing legislation with the inaccurate name of Liberty Through Strength Act, which would give the intelligence community even more intrusive authority at the expense of our civil liberties. And all in the name of protecting the freedom Curtin and his cosponsor Marco Rubio would curtail.
Those, with the infectious virus of bigotry and demagoguery, are far greater threats to America than the Syrian orphans who terrify Chris Christie.