Last Saturday, the 45th President instituted the popularly termed “Muslim Ban.” Muslims from Middle Eastern countries which had previously produced zero terrorist acts on American soil were immediately and categorically denied entry to the States and held upon landing. No countries with whom #45 (which I’ll henceforth call him) does commercial business were listed despite nationals from those places having participated in 9/11 and other atrocities.
This executive order caused green card holders—literal card-carrying American residents—to be detained unlawfully (see: the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965). It caused Canada to offer asylum to American residents who feared becoming captives in the United States of America. It indiscriminately punished at least one translator for the US Military. And it forced infants and grandmothers and one stage four cancer patient to wait out an interminable grind of pro bono paperwork enacted by the ACLU, a continuing grind we can’t quite see the end of.
People are still being held. Unlawfully, on US ground. Because of their religion. I thought we had “freedom of” speech and the press and religion and whatnot around here. Freedom of boxers vs. briefs. Freedom of dill vs. butter pickles. Freedom of pre-drug Beatles albums vs. post-drug Beatles albums. Just freedom, period. My strong impression was that the Founding Fathers even believed in this principle. Maybe I got that impression from Hamilton, but I don’t think so.
Then there’s the matter of avowed white supremacist and government-loathing Nazi Steve Bannon gaining one of the highest roles in the nation while our backs were turned. At the cost of sacking the Joint Chiefs of Staff from access to the Presidential ear canal. Such as it is.
If you disagree with any of the above as being factual, you’re cordially welcome to stop reading. Because the following may not apply to your interests. If, on the other hand, you’d like to verify the above and are simply curious about its accuracy, I encourage you to consult any of these top rated anti-political bias fact check sites: https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/2016/07/20/the-10-best-fact-checking-sites/ If you don’t like one, try another. If you don’t like that one, try the next. And the next. And the next.
If you think such a thing as “alternative facts” exists, may God bless you and keep you free from risky encounters with gravity, electricity, and rabid mammals. Because you need all the help you can get.
That was a preamble, but this isn’t meant to be a political rant. On the contrary. It’s meant to be a confession. On Saturday, I like many other outraged New Yorkers—the ones who weekly hail the Muslim-driven yellow cabs who were also protesting by refusing to drive to JFK—showed up at the airport with signs and passions and a very deep-seated feeling that we were pro-something. I’ve heard people express that simply being anti-#45th President is tiring. Well and good. This was people of all races and creeds chanting, “Let them in! Let them in!” Not because we want our borders to be unsafe but because we believe diversity is strength. We believe in kindness and humanitarianism. We believe green card holders have been vetted well beyond #45’s tax returns. And we believe that “Give us your tired, your poor,” doesn’t mean “Give us your tired, your poor, your pale-complected Christian and your well-scrubbed and wait no not you, you’re a bit brown, a bit bearded, you have your hair curiously covered up, what’s that scarf about, no seriously why is your hair hidden, just like a Catholic nun’s would be theoretically but you’re quite tan so never mind that, step to the left, we need to check your Twitter for loyalty.”
The NYPD were in riot gear but highly respectful. Very big clubs. Very large shields. Thankfully not needed. The crowd was warned of arrest possibility but given a legal aid phone number in case that happened. Thankfully not needed by me, at least. Nothing really happened personally except for a few dozen Twitter trolls heaping vitriol on my head, and one blue ribbon Twitter troll telling me that I should be beheaded by a jihadist. Stupid, disconcerting, asinine. Forgettable.
Here’s why it wasn’t forgettable.
There are still real people, people with families, and they are locked up in our airports despite a court order to let them go. Handcuffed. Innocent of crime. And I write novels set in previous centuries. The reason I have been losing so much sleep for days isn’t because nothing really happened to me and I’m a snowflake (winter is coming, people). It’s because this is real, all of it, it’s no dystopian YA fantasy in which (improbably) the National Parks Service went full feral rogue. I know what might happen to all of us if we allow this to continue. It’s as clear to me as a page in a history book. I stare at them constantly.
I’ll quote the poetic tweet that SNL writer Jack Bornstein, clearly from his last name a complete stranger to historic racial hatred and its ilk, wrote in response to the nationwide crisis:
First they came for our Muslims
And we all freaked out and resisted,
Because this is full-on Nazi shit,
And we know better now.
The problem as I want to frame it to people, what I want everyone to understand absolutely blows my tiny little mind, is that I write historical fiction for a living. It doesn’t make me smarter than anyone else. Or even better informed. It makes me more involved in historical hypotheticals, however. It forces me to be empathetic to past prejudices and understanding of past injustices. I approach writing as an actor, and I approach character choices as personal ones, with every nuance and factor altered depending on which voice is doing the talking. What I attempt every day is to imagine myself in impossibly difficult historical contexts, ones like:
What would I do if slavery were still legal? Would I fight it, or wait for the politicians to solve the problem?
What if women still couldn’t vote? Would I march? Be ridiculed? Be physically threatened? All to cast a ballot?
What if the Japanese were being imprisoned in camps? Would I say something, in spite of the war effort?
What if blacks had to drink from separate water fountains and attend separate schools (as opposed to every other terrible thing blacks still have to battle today)? Would I march in front of a hose because strangers were being lynched?
Well, guess what?
I don’t have to ask any such thing anymore, and neither do you.
Let me repeat: You don’t have to ask yourself these questions today. You’re in the thick of it. You’re deciding right this very moment what you would do. And what you would do is very rapidly becoming what you did do.
Welcome to a national emergency. Call me crazy all you like. Because Jesus H. Christmas on a rainbow-striped zebra, I hope you're right.
#45’s America is not a new America. It’s the America my black friend experienced when he was walking down the street towards his apartment in Harlem and six cops poured out of a van and body-slammed him to the concrete. It’s the America that made my gay friend suicidal. It’s the America that’s called me a cunt and a whore so many times that I can’t even list them, the one that made it OK for guys on the open street to grab a handful of my ass. It’s the America many have survived and many other (privileged) people have never even glimpsed. Now the ugliness is out in the open, and it’s daunting. I’m daunted at seeing its scope. I freely admit that.
But it’s a different thing to be daunted than to be cowed.
This is also the America that created the Underground Railroad. It’s the America that tossed McCarthyism to the curb. It’s the America that took in the tired, poor, hungry, lost, and the America that allowed those identical people to turn into business giants and social titans. It’s the America I love. Never EVER allow anyone to tell you that criticism is unpatriotic, or that dissent is whining. I adore this country.
That’s daunting too. I love it here. I’m not leaving.
There are now reports that people are also being detained at airports for their social media and their online connections. Fabulous, I thought as I munched on an artisanal falaf-taco, I am so fucked. I’m under no illusions about how I come across. But this has happened before, all of it, so many times, in other eras and places where democracy was threatened. What do you do? When shit gets real and the dangers are physical? What do you chose to say when you’ve always wondered, if I had lived in Germany when the Third Reich was coming to power, if imagining such things were actually your bread and cheese, and then suddenly you wake up one day fighting literal Nazis in the Oval Office? When last week you had a black President?
I don’t have answers, but I know our choices have consequences. I know I have a voice, and such as it is, I need to say something simply because I possess the capacity to do so. I know people battle tyranny in all kinds of ways. Some of them simple. Some of them complicated. Some of them visible. And some less so.
What I know most assuredly of all is that we are at a crossroads.
Please don’t imagine that doing nothing is adequate. Albert Einstein, who was a refugee fleeing for his life after his home and property were confiscated, said, “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
And when Frodo said he wished that such evil hadn’t happened in his time, Gandalf answered, “So do I, and so do all those who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
According to your gifts and your capacity, please do something. Do all you can. Every single one of us is depending on you.