Our grandparents weren’t afraid of Islam or “Sharia law.” They believed America and its ideals were special, the best in the world. They believed that, in time, the whole world would become like us—democratic, capitalist, free—because the whole world would want to be like us.
Today’s Trumpists don’t believe that. They’ve fallen for the relativism that says America is just one more country and American democracy is just one more idea. They’ve fallen for some angry post-modernism that says that we can no longer persuade with facts and reason. They disregard evidence and logic as tools for demonstrating that our ideals our superior. Trumpists buy the lie that there is no persuasion, only the force of arms and numbers.
That cynical relativism leads Trumpists to fearful conclusions. Let Muslims in, let them increase their numbers, and they will rub out American freedom and democracy and impose their medieval worldview! Trumpists assume every worldview suffers the weakness of their own: static, impenetrable by argument, surviving only by blood loyalty and force. Trumpists have abandoned their faith in America and become the same kind of fearful ideologues they imagine are coming to get us.
I still believe America can win its own argument.
I still believe we are a special nation with special values. I still believe that when people from other cultures experience those values, when we open our doors and our hearts and show them everything America can be, most of those newcomers will say, “Wow—America really is the best! America lives up to the promises that made us want to come here in the first place.” Newcomers properly welcomed to America will give up Old World traditions and embrace the blessings of liberty that they see all around them in America. Not all will—some newcomers will fail to embrace America, just as some of our own, our “natives”, our fifth- and tenth-generation residents do as they succumb to selfishness, greed, depression, addiction, hatred, and ignorance. But enough will. Enough newcomers will pledge allegiance to the flag, to the Republic, to all for which we stand, that they will keep alive by their example and their commitment the ideals of liberty and justice and opportunity for all.
In the crisis of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt opened his Presidency with these words:
I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance [FDR, First Inaugural Address, 1933.03.04].
Roosevelt understood this fact as surely as Reagan: those of us who believe in America have nothing to fear. Our nation has not only endured but embraced wave after wave of newcomers—if not we ourselves, then brave souls not that many steps above us in our family trees—who forsook their native nationalities and chose to become Americans.
America, like all nations, has its faults. We wallow in materialism and ammosexuality (both of which forces have loci of hopeful opposition). We sometimes succumb to doubt and erupt with prejudice and racism, embodied now in Trumpism. But America done right, living up to its brave, rational, inclusive ideals, is the persuasive nation, the nation good people of all cultures and creeds, will choose as their model for just government.