Remember the days when reasonable people could sit down and rationally discuss opposing views on immigration policy or other issues? The dividing line tended to fall along things like, “How workable is E-verify?” or “What is a crime involving moral turpitude?” or “What is a reasonable wage floor for H-1B visas?” Debate might get animated, and you might end up agreeing to disagree, but at least people tended to avoid unabashedly racist language .
The discourse has changed. Within the past few months, we have heard the now-president-elect denigrate immigrants, insult prisoners of war, and offend an entire faith in the broadest strokes. Within the past week, we have seen the Trump transition team offer prominent positions to people who have referred to Muslims as a cancer, or who are associated with groups that freely throw around terms like “renegade Jew” and “turban toppers.” And just in the past few days, on a major network, we tuned in to hear a prominent Trump fundraiser flippantly refer to the internment of Japanese Americans as precedent for a proposed Muslim registry.
What should be of greatest concern is that these extremist comments are no longer the muted rantings of fringe groups or little known alt-right publications. They are being expressed in the same bold and open tones as discussions on tax policy and infrastructure planning. These are examples of the normalization of offensive and extremist views. And when references are made to outrageous and unconstitutional policies, when proposals are made that are so clearly based on racist and xenophobic stereotypes, when those who openly support these initiatives are placed in positions of civil authority, we need to confront them in the strongest terms.
There are many ways we can confront this encroaching normalization of extremist views. For those who tweet and post, keep tweeting and posting. Anyone with a Facebook account, when you see a friend re-post sensationalist fake news, don’t let it sit there. Respond to it and add voice to truth and reason. We also need to break out of our own echo chambers where we prefer to only engage with those with whom we agree. Now is not the time to sit back and wish it all away. Now is the time to be strong and confident, and to refuse to let extremism become acceptable discourse, let alone mainstream ideology.
We also must be prepared for the most common responses we will hear.
“It’s just what people say, nobody means it.” Words have power, and words have resulted in a sharp increase in hate crimes across the country since the election;
“People say things in private they don’t really mean.” No. “Renegade Jew” was part of an article headline, and talk of Japanese internment as precedent for Muslim registration was on Fox News;
“You have to be tolerant of other people’s opinions.” No, that’s for ‘I don’t like peanuts,’ not ‘I don’t like brown people’;
“I have a First Amendment right to say what I want.” – I’m not telling you your speech is illegal, I’m telling you it’s untrue, hateful, and immoral.
Let us be bold, bolder than those who would attempt to normalize racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Timidity because we don’t want to confront people, or because it’s uncomfortable, must be overcome. Extremist policies are not born overnight; they build up slowly, quietly, incrementally, seeping from the fringes to the mainstream. They cannot be left to saturate our society. This offensive talk must be confronted and exposed for what it is, and what it can become. We must step up and deal with it head on, for the sake of our clients, our families, our profession, and our nation. Yes, the stakes are that high.
Written by Andrew Nietor, Chapter Chair, AILA San Diego