Nash Naam opinion column: Should we go back to where we came from?

During a trip to Germany two weeks ago, Elene and I visited our friend, Professor Günter German in Heidelberg, a beautiful city in southern Germany close to Stuttgart.

Günter and his lovely wife Ulli took us to visit the wine country near Heidelberg. On our way we passed by a sleepy village nestled in the rolling hills called Kallstadt. Günter and Ulli told us that this was the village which President Trump’s ancestors came from. There are still many Trumps living there now. This shows that, with very few exceptions, almost every American or their ancestors came from somewhere else.

This came to my mind as I was reading President Trump’s tweet from last weekend in which he made this remark about four liberal congresswomen: “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places that they came from?”

This also reminded me of when Elene and I were trying to finalize our immigration status, many years ago, when I was told by a secretary working at the immigration office in St. Louis: “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?”

Since I was not an American citizen then, I was frightened that my application would be rejected, and I would be deported from this country. I personally find all these remarks very offensive and totally anti-American. To begin with, three of the four Congresswomen were born in this country. The fourth one was born in Somalia and immigrated to the United States with her family, then became an American Citizen.

So, does the president want those Congresswomen to go to countries they don’t belong to?

Our country is a country of immigrants. Some immigrants came hundreds of years ago but some came more recently, and others are still coming. Does the president’s tweet include himself also, or only limited to those who immigrated recently? Are the immigrants who came in the 1700s or 1800s more American than those who came in only a few years ago? Are the Americans whose ancestors came from Norway, Germany or Slovenia more American than those whose ancestors came from Iran, Somalia or Egypt?

This is a very divisive comment. We are all Americans. We have equal rights granted to us by our constitution. Thank God the constitution is a very short document. Yet, it is a very powerful document that stood the test of time for 243 years and counting.

These hateful remarks are in total contrast with what is written on the Statue of Liberty, which should be the mantra of our great country:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

"Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

"The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

"Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

"I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Furthermore, these divisive remarks are totally different from the welcoming attitude of the American people towards immigrants. Since my family and I came to this country, we have been met with millions of acts of kindness, generosity, and goodwill. I have always said and will continue to say that the American people are the kindest and most generous people on this planet.

The constitution also protects our rights to free expression. This is clearly stated in the First Amendment. I personally disagree with many if not most of what those four congresswomen stand for. But they have the right to express their points of view like any other American citizen, including our President. The freedom of speech does not extend only to those whose opinions we agree with, but more importantly to those with whom we don’t agree.

The president should reflect on the saying, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

President Trump is our president. He is the president of all Americans, those who elected him and those who did not. Those who agree with him and, more importantly, those who do not. This is what our constitution spells out very clearly.

The president has the right to defend his position on policy or any other matter, but he should not demean those who disagree with him as if they are not fully Americans. Our discussions should be civil and idea specific. We should not demean anyone who disagrees with us.

This condescending approach does not serve anyone and does not advance our political discourse. It is our collective responsibility to act in a responsible way and to avoid insulting others who disagree with us. We teach that to our children.

Our president should take notice.

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