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Trust This Immigrant: Trump’s Ban Is a Moral Crisis

The identity of America—unity—is under attack by Trump’s administration, whose key goal is to divide. So stand up, shout out, and love thy neighbor.

Liel Leibovitz
January 30, 2017
Zach Gibson/Getty Images
Demonstrators gather near The White House to protest President Donald Trump's travel ban on seven Muslim countries in Washington, D.C., January 29, 2017. Zach Gibson/Getty Images
Zach Gibson/Getty Images
Demonstrators gather near The White House to protest President Donald Trump's travel ban on seven Muslim countries in Washington, D.C., January 29, 2017. Zach Gibson/Getty Images

I am an immigrant. I came to America when I was 23. I worked at a hardware store, mixing paint, to afford my small apartment far away from Manhattan. But even as my stomach was empty, my heart was full: This, truly, was the land that I loved.

I fell in love with America when I was a teenager growing up in Israel as Saddam Hussein lobbed missiles on my hometown. I climbed the roof at night to wait for the siren and the spectacle that would soon follow, that of Iraqi Scuds intercepted mid-air by the unimprovably named Patriot surface-to-air missiles. The ink-dark sky lit up with explosions in red and yellow and blue, tiny beacons of liberty advertising that somewhere nearby, American men and women risked their own lives to protect mine. When I was old enough, I bought a one-way ticket to America, and, just like I knew it would, America embraced me warmly. It gave me the opportunity to study in one of the world’s finest schools, work hard and earn a good living, meet the love of my life and raise a family without fear or want. I will never be convinced that it is anything but a singularly great nation, which is why it’s very important that we see President Trump’s immigration ban as what it really is—not just a political debacle, but a colossal and inexcusable moral failure.

The events of this past weekend have made it clear that Trump and his aides have no interest in governing. Had that been the case, they might’ve taken the trouble to explain the order and its purpose. They could’ve reassured millions of anxious Americans that Green Card holders needn’t worry. They would’ve allowed sufficient time to make sure we don’t cruelly and needlessly afflict those—like the Iraqi translator who had served with American forces in Iraq, say, or the brilliant Sudanese-born who is a resident at one of our best medical institutions—who merit an obvious exception to the ban.

They did none of that. In fact, they did the opposite, with senior Trump aide Steve Bannon overriding, according to some reports, orders by the Department of Homeland Security insisted that lawful permanent residents—men and women like myself, here legally—should be targeted as well, separated from their families for no other reason but the unhappy accident of their particular place of birth.

This should come as no surprise to anyone following this administration. Whatever else might be true about its aims, this much is absolutely clear: Trump and his people do not care about this nation in any form that I, and millions of others, recognize or cherish. They don’t care about its institutions or its traditions or its higher calling. They see the world as only terrified toddlers do, as an endless battlefield between those who stand with us and those who stand against us, a contest that could be decided only by means of domination, subjugation, and humiliation. And their enemies aren’t the terrorists lurking on some foreign shore; they’re millions of Americans whose hopes and ideas and convictions have made them the enemies of their own state. This is why Bannon has propelled himself to the National Security Council, why he gleefully went on the record and told the free press to keep its mouth shut, and why he advocated for the travel ban to be as painful as possible. A self-described Leninist, he knows all about the old Bolshevik’s favorite tactic, that of heightening the contradictions: do something outrageous, wait for your opponents to come out in full force, then rally the faithful with hysterical talk of impending peril. Czeslaw Milos captured this dynamic neatly: “I predict the house will burn; then I pour gasoline over the stove. The house burns; my prediction is fulfilled.”

The gravest danger of the Trump Administration, then, isn’t that its actions are objectionable to many Americans. It’s that they’re carefully designed to tear this nation apart, and to goad its citizens into a state of permanent conflict and unending mistrust. And that’s a crisis that calls out for more than political solutions. It demands moral outrage. It insists that we inform our elected officials, as bluntly as we can, that we are uninterested in any policy that is pursued at the cost of our exceptional national soul. It’s a struggle that binds all of us, but Americans of faith have a particular duty here. Ours was a nation founded by pious men and women who believed in more perfect unions and in tight communities that shared the same faith and the same fate. The immigrants who followed suit introduced America to a panoply of creeds, but they have all affirmed their commitment to the same basic idea, the idea of this nation as a cohesive community. We fought one great war and many brave battles to defend this very concept—that we are in this together, that we share a common destiny, that we are all, no matter to whom we pray and how, Americans.

This very idea, the idea of American unity, is now under attack. Now is the time to stand up and say that you can not be a true Christian, a true Muslim, a true Jew, and support such a violation of the fundamental dictate of religion, any religion—the commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself. There is no commandment greater than this, and no more pressing moment to live up to its charge.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.

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