I can't count how many times growing up I heard "the great thing about America is that we don't have a class system, we don't have arbitrary restrictions on what people can do with their lives, or even who gets to be in charge. Anybody can do anything in America. Anybody can grow up to be President!" Then we elected a black man President and half the country lost their goddamn minds.
You can argue that turning away Syrian refugees is the correct thing to do because it's being done in the name of saving American lives, that despite the intensive vetting process there still might be some lucky terrorist that gets in pretending to be a refugee and later goes on to claim even one American life in an act of terror, and that is unacceptable. You can leave it as unspoken and implicit that this means saving one American life is more important than saving numerous Syrian lives. Just know that if you do, you are ceding the moral high ground. No more "Americans are the good guys". No more "America is the world's moral compass". No more "shining city on the hill", no more "land of the free, home of the brave". Because telling Syrian refugees that we can't take the risk of granting asylum effectively makes America "land of the privileged and closed off, home of the scared shitless."
Oh and P.S. no more "America is a Christian country founded on Christian values." Turning a blind eye to the needy is the exact opposite of Christ's most explicit admonitions. Just FYI.
So by all means, stand up proud and tall and shout from the rooftops that taking care of yourself and taking care of your own is paramount. I can't say that you're wrong. I can't say that feeling that way, thinking that way, and insisting we decide on our national policies that way makes you a terrible human being. I can't even say that I don't understand where you're coming from. I do. But just know that it shows your true colors, and it paints America as a cowardly 900-lb gorilla that can do whatever it wants but chooses not to lift a finger to help the weak and powerless and desperate, because it's just a big dumb self-interested animal after all.
This a country of 300 million people with a vast multi-faceted system of government aid programs and private charities. I think we can do something to help Syrian refugees and also help homeless veterans or whatever other cause you happen to think is more important. One doesn't cancel the other out.
You know what you sound like? You sound like that asshole who has something massively wrong with his house, like an actual hole in the roof that has a Hefty bag stapled over it but still lets in rain and bugs. And you never do anything about that stupid hole in your roof, you just kind of accept it like "oh well, what can you do". And then someone says, "Hey, can you help me move?" And you're like "What the hell??? I've got problems of my own! Have you seen the hole in my roof???"
Two weeks later your friend will have moved, one way or the other, and you won't have done a damn thing about the hole in your roof. But at least it will still make a nice convenient excuse the next time someone asks you to do something you don't want to do.
The same goddamn people who think it's unpatriotic to criticize America, because America is the greatest and best country in the history of everything ever, are the people saying we have waaaaaay too many problems in America, like homeless vets and children, to be bothered to think about the humanitarian crisis of Syrian refugees. So somehow we all live in the most perfect paragon of democracy and opportunity and freedom and equality in all of human civilization, and every other country in the world should look up to us and fall in line whenever we tell them what to do, except we all live in this horrible barren hellscape which has been ruined by a Kenyan Muslim socialist dictator for the past seven years and requires a serially bunkrupted real estate mogul in a made-in-China trucker cap to "Make America Great Again". Got it.
ISIS attacks Paris.
A certain Republican presidential candidate tweets that it probably happened because France has strict gun laws and only the bad guys were armed. The implication seems to be that such could never happen here, all praise to our sacrosanct Second Amendment.
Uncowed, France announces they will accept 30,000 Syrian refugees.
No ISIS attacks on U.S. soil.
Republicans vote in lock-step to pause U.S. admittance of Syrian refugees by needlessly complicating the existing vetting process, because of the slight risk of a terrorist getting through.
Soooo ... moratorium forever on the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" jokes about France, right?
Politician logic, post-Newtown: Look, occasional domestic terrors like the slaughter of a couple dozen six year olds in an American elementary school is simply the price we have to pay for living in a civilized, enlightened society that is forever dedicated to upholding the basic right of all people to own as much of the latest most technologically advanced personal murder tools as they like. Stricter gun control laws are not the answer! If we enacted them, they would only constrain the law-abiding citizens who have the greatest right to personal arsenals in their basement. Criminals would by definition ignore the laws and nothing would be accomplished. It's complicated, but basically there's nothing we can or should do.
Politician logic, post-Paris: The hypothetical possibility of the death of even one American on American soil at the hands of a jihadist terrorist is utterly unacceptable. Refugee control IS the answer! We MUST alter our already strict refugee vetting process which takes 18 to 24 months and make it even more rigid to the point where it effectively strangles refugee inflow to nil. Only that will stop terrorists, who were exclusively planning on using our legal methods of entering the country, from broaching our shores, and thus guarantee the safety of our own citizens. We have no other choice but to take this action. Please hold your applause, we're only doing our jobs.
Future President Trump,
On more than one occasion a Christian has murdered an abortion doctor for religious reasons. Since the actions of individual extremists effectively taint entire faiths and all their millions of adherents, can we please issue ID cards to all American Christians for monitoring against threats of violence? Thanks!
I am writing to let you know that in voting in favor of H R 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, you have failed to represent my will as your constituent, and failed a very basic test of decency. Your vote saddens and sickens me. You have aligned yourself with the panicked pandering that we desperately need our leadership to resist. Syrian refugees are not our enemy, ISIS and other terrorists are our enemy, and by confusing and conflating the two you have made a bad situation worse. We are in no danger from people who want to come to America for a better life, we are in danger from people who hate our way of life. The American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act goes one step further to ensuring not American safety in the short term, but that many more people will hate us in the long term.
You are on the wrong side of history, and you are on the wrong side of humanity. I look forward to doing everything in my power to work against your re-election next year.
(NB: I actually did send this letter to my representative in Congress, and also seriously considered copying it to Facebook.)
+++ We are never going to beat the terrorists by sinking to their level. We can only beat them by actually being better than them. I know a lot of people find it compelling to repeat "violence is the only thing these brutes understand." That may be true. It probably is, I believe it, too.
I'm not some hippy-dippy idiot. I'm not saying that if we meet a horde of violent, desperate zealots who have nothing to lose and offer them hugs and flowers, we're going to melt their hearts and get the whole world to sing in harmony and share a Coke. I think war is terrible - and find it troubling that the same people who think one civilian dying at the hands of an ISIS terrorist is flatly impossible to contemplate, also think sending our ground troops of young men and women to face ISIS where some percentage of them will surely be killed is so unexceptional as to pass without comment - but for the sake of argument let's say I'm already convinced that we're already at war with ISIS, they started it, and we need to finish it in the conventional manner. Fine. Engaging on the battlefield, blowing up their oil fields, drawing the ISIS fighters back to Syria to defend their front rather than letting them run around attacking domestic targets worldwide, those are viable tactics. That's how we win short-term. I've seen shock and awe, I know that it works, short-term
But winning long-term matters, too, yes? Arguably matters more? Guys, we JUST FUCKING WENT THROUGH THIS like ten or twelve years ago. There's winning the shoot-em-up, and then there's winning hearts and minds. Last time we succeeded at the first and utterly fucking pooched it at the second, and it wasn't because we weren't even thinking about "hearts and minds". That phrase got bandied about a lot.
"Bombing the shit out of ISIS" can't be our entire strategy. Supporting and encouraging everyone else who ideologically opposes ISIS has to be part of it, too. It's actually crucial. That means welcoming those running as fast as they can away from ISIS. Those people are caught in the middle, with ISIS on one said saying "submit to brutal subjugation or be killed" and the U.S. on the other side saying ... well at the moment we're saying "drop dead for all we care". We SHOULD be saying "come, be part of our pluralistic and inclusive society. It's not just 'join ISIS or die'. There's a third choice, which is live free among us." Every military victory we rack up will be meaningless if we're simultaneously pushing people who don't want to die into ISIS's waiting arms.
I know it's viscerally satisfying to focus on the "blow 'em up good" stuff. But I also think how glorious it would be to defeat ISIS by building a better, inclusive, enlightened world that marginalizes them completely because they refuse to engage with it. And when they are sitting amidst the smoking ruins, abandoned and forsaken and defeated, they'll say to themselves, "We used violence and they used violence, how did they defeat us? I don't understand, I don't understand." Because they'll still be blind to that other half of our efforts. THAT will be satisfying. Difficult and uncomfortable, maybe even counter-intuitive for some. But worth it.