Only Trump could turn a line of destitute and terrified people walking thousands of miles in hopes of finding safety in the America that all admired until recently, into a caravan of desperados bent on breaking laws, robbing, stealing and raping Americans.
Actually that’s wrong – the last time I know of was when Gen. Douglas MacArthur ran the bonus marchers off the mall in Washington, D.C. The bonus marchers were veterans of World War I, trying to survive the Great Depression. They came to Washington to petition their government to give them their promised World War I bonuses a little early, since they were desperate and destitute. Disobeying orders, MacArthur ran them off. MacArthur disobeyed four presidents until Truman finally fired him for insisting on widening the Korean War into China.
But the Bonus marchers and the Caravan both remind me more of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath – farmers who lost their lands to the banks after drought, the dust bowl and the Great Depression made it impossible to farm or earn a living in those farming communities. They joined a sad and sorry march from Oklahoma to California. They were farmers, not thieves or rapists. But they were vilifield as beggars. Oakies, originally meaning from Oklahoma, became an epithet. To the loss of their income, the loss of their farms, often the loss of their families, they now added the loss even of human empathy. Cold and hungry, the migrants gathered in shantytowns they called Hoovervilles, named for the president in office when the Great Depression began. They lit fires in steel drums to keep warm. I wish Steinbeck had written a sequel. He described great suffering and often death. Yet some percent of them survived and eventually melded into the population of California.
I thought we had outgrown demonizing the homeless and destitute, but not Donald Trump.
I thought we had outgrown running off the homeless and destitute like vermin, but not Donald Trump.
I thought we had learned that the problems of massive unemployment are not the workers’ making, but not Donald Trump.
I thought we had learned that farmers who’d lost their lands, shopkeepers, factory workers and miners who lost their jobs, were decent people suffering from forces beyond their control, but not Donald Trump.
Come back John Steinbeck and remind us all of our humanity.
Come back Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and show us how to care for our fellow human beings and build a better world out of love and compassion.
Come back America and show a large heart to each other and to the cold and desperate trying to reach the safety of our shores.
We can do it. There is no economic reason why we can’t. We could get to work rebuilding our infrastructure and make plenty of work for everyone. This is America. Si se puede; yes, we can and be stronger for it.
— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, November 13, 2018.