Representative King of Iowa believes that the culture of so-called Western Civilization is superior to other, non-Western cultures, and that we should not allow those inferior cultures to dilute our superior Western Culture. Representative King insists he is not a racist. He believes non-whites are wonderful, but they need to assimilate into our superior culture. Well.
The notion of “superior culture” is dubious in historical perspective. Take the example of Germany. There was a time when Germany’s artistic, scientific, and philosophical culture was the crown jewel of Western Civilization. Scandalously, that same “superior culture” bequeathed humanity a little moral blot known as the Holocaust. The commandant of Auschwitz listened to Mozart as Jewish flesh burned.
As for our own self-perception of greatness, we might want to consult the ghosts of our history, and dust off the grim artifacts of “Western Civilization” as it played out here at home: Native American genocide, slavery (400 years of it, even after Europe had abolished it), and Jim Crow. Or we might seek the opinion of foreign ghosts, say, the cinder children of Hiroshima, or the naked Vietnamese girl, running away from her burning village, wailing in pain as the napalm jelly clung flaming to her skin.
In response to this, one needn’t list all the bad practices of other cultures. This isn’t about defending every aspect of every non-Western culture. It’s about the arrogance that leads to bullying, by nations as well as individuals. It’s about the failure to grasp the inherent temporality of culture and to understand that a culture can change in positive ways by coming into contact with other cultures.
Does this mean we cannot defend and preserve the things that are good about our culture? Of course not. However, the things that corrupt a culture are more likely to come from within than from without. Indeed, the very first thing to corrupt a culture and make it evil is the notion — born of sinful pride and intellectual laziness — that one’s own culture is “superior” to all others.
Section 5(a) of Trump’s Executive Order on immigration and refugees stipulates that after the 120 day suspension of the US Refugees Admissions Program (USRAP), foreign nationals will be admitted only from those countries that have been determined to have procedures in place “adequate to ensure the security and welfare of the United States.” Think about that. Syria? Forget it. Those refugees are forever barred. The very conditions that are forcing them to flee will now serve to justify their permanent exclusion from our shores. What a cruel Catch 22. We’ve seen this before. It goes without saying that Nazi Germany lacked adequate emigration procedures “to ensure the security and welfare of the United States” (our safety obviously wasn’t a concern to Hitler at all), which is one of the reasons why Anne Frank and hundreds of other Jewish refugees were turned away and sent back to their destruction.
The plaque on the Statue of Liberty doesn’t read “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, but only if their country of origin has procedures to ensure the security and welfare of the United States.” If such were the criterion, we would never allow refugees from any war-torn country or repressive regime to enter our country. In applying such cruel logic, we have confused making the protection of American citizens a national priority with making the slogan “America First” our national policy.
Now, finally, we can pinpoint the moment in American history that serves as Trump’s benchmark when he says he wants to “Make America Great Again”. In 1939, what was the favorite slogan of isolationist Americans who slammed America’s door in the faces of Jewish refugees? “America First”. So, don’t expect to melt the hearts of any Trump supporters with appeals to the memory of Anne Frank and the hour of America’s shame. That’s what “America First” is all about.
THE GREAT TABLECLOTH
By Pablo Neruda
When they were called to the table,
the tyrants came rushing
with their temporary ladies;
it was fine to watch the women pass
like wasps with big bosoms
followed by those pale
and unfortunate public tigers.
The peasant in the field ate
his poor quota of bread,
he was alone, it was late,
he was surrounded by wheat,
but he had no more bread;
he ate it with grim teeth,
looking at it with hard eyes.
In the blue hour of eating,
the infinite hour of the roast,
the poet abandons his lyre,
takes up his knife and fork,
puts his glass on the table,
and the fishermen attend
the little sea of the soup bowl.
Burning potatoes protest
among the tongues of oil.
The lamb is gold on its coals
and the onion undresses.
It is sad to eat in dinner clothes,
like eating in a coffin,
but eating in convents
is like eating underground.
Eating alone is a disappointment,
but not eating matters more,
is hollow and green, has thorns
like a chain of fish hooks
trailing from the heart,
clawing at your insides.
Hunger feels like pincers,
like the bite of crabs,
it burns, burns and has no fire:
Hunger is a cold fire.
Let us sit down soon to eat
with all those who haven’t eaten;
let us spread great tablecloths,
put salt in the lakes of the world,
set up planetary bakeries,
tables with strawberries in snow,
and a plate like the moon itself
from which we can all eat.
For now I ask no more
than the justice of eating.
Each day your mailbox fills
With postcard offers to buy your house
Your neighbor’s trimmings
Dropped over the fence
The broken birdbath
Each morning your neighbor’s engines
Shake the side of your house
On the western side the kitchen window
Opens onto exquisite sunsets
The nicer neighbors
Your son visits a little
More often since his father died
He helps you sweep
A spider from the box of coins
© 2016 David A. Welch
Gaunt master of the dressing room,
Our man Pride surveys the ladies
With coin slot eye, while clinging Vanity
Trembles and giggles, fingering
His impeccable cravat.
© 2016 David A. Welch
Finely crafted evasions of personal investment
in these lines are more than a dilatory strategy
it is bright fear of sudden discovery
boots gutturals door-shards
then dragged onto landing
down stairs neighbors peering
he writes poetry well he did but now
they will teach him to go out during the day
© 2016 David A. Welch
In the delicate derangement of broken lines
I sought obscure and fleeting signs
of other eyes in the mask I wore,
some kindred loss, evasive, behind the door.
One knuckle tapping, I sound the rhymes
for vicarious confession of my crimes.
Hand traces wood, but no sliding grill
through which to pass, agreed, the token ill.
Speak easy, ghost, your guilt to shrive,
my faculties are limited, but I will strive
to breathe what sins of yours might pass
through lit enjambments, odorless, like gas.
© 2016 David A. Welch