We have real enemies.
Terrorists want to kill us and destroy everything we stand for. Economic dislocations are threatening millions of American jobs and the very structure of our economy. The dollar has fallen nearly 40% in the last five years, making everything we all own ... that much less valuable. Trillions of dollars have been sucked out of our pockets ... a hidden tax that has tripled the cost of gasoline.
And what has emerged as the major political issue of the day? Concern over illegal immigration?
Historians will recognize this as a classic pattern. When societies feel themselves in peril, they seek out scapegoats to blame.
Hitler rose to power in Germany during the 1920s and early 1930s exploiting the victims of hyperinflation, economic upheaval, and political turmoil. Many beleaguered Germans found comfort in blaming the Jews. Hitler said the Jews were taking all their jobs.
The price of an egg, for example, had inflated to 30 million times its original price in just 10 years. Economic upheaval always breeds political upheaval, and Germany in the 1920s was no exception. And month after month of hate speech by an angry fringe turned into conventional wisdom ... with horrific consequences.
For most of recent US history hate speech has been marginalized, limited to far right cults and obscure talk radio shows with minimal impact. But in the last few months an anti-Hispanic venom has gained a new respectability and entered into the general political discourse of Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls.
Listening to the last two presidential debates I was horrified at the spectacle of Republican and Democratic candidates openly pandering to - and inflaming - newly awakened immigration fears of an already anxious electorate.
Rudy Giuliani basically said to Mitt Romney during the CNN debate: Why didn't you turn in your illegal gardener?
Even NPR's Steve Inskeep recently fueled the flames of venomous vigilantism when he essentially asked the Democratic presidential hopefuls on Dec. 4th: Why don't you report illegal immigrants?
The politicians seemed to be falling all over themselves for fear of ending up on the wrong side of this inflammatory issue.
How many illegal aliens did you turn in today?
Seems to be the level of questions that are being asked. Shades of Anne Frank!
Republicans naturally want to deny the painful realities of Iraq, Iran, the economy and even terrorism - which are losers for them - and focus on the phony issue of immigration.
If Republicans can shift the center of attention off these real threats and fears onto illega1 immigrants, they win. This is similar to the way George Bush used the 9/11 indignation to invade an uninvolved Iraq, instead of fighting real anti-American terrorists ... a much more complicated task.
But politicians will do or say anything to stay in front of the mob.
The real evil lies in the demagoguery of the media, including CNN, Fox, the rest of the MSM, and NPR, which feed on, provoke, and legitimize this morally repugnant wave of hate and xenophobia.
CNN has been particularly craven in exploiting the immigration issue by trumpeting Lou Dobbs' jingoist rantings for an hour each day - on one of its most popular nightly shows.
Politico.com has noted that Dobbs may be the most important person in the 2008 presidential election, aside from the candidates themselves, because of this issue.
It's all very well to say that this is not race baiting; it's just against illegals. But "illegals" is a code word for foreigners ... poor, little, brown skinned peoples who will blow up our buildings, take our jobs, and our women, and destroy our way of life.
The media has created an environment where hate speech against immigrants becomes an ordinary part of conventional wisdom and dialogue, and poisons the air we breathe, where Michael Savage, a radio talk show host, who reaches 8 million listeners weekly, can casually say:
"[W]hen I see a woman walking around with a burqa, I see a Nazi - a hateful Nazi who would like to cut your throat and kill your children. (When a Muslim woman wears a burqa) She's doing it to spit in your face. She's saying, 'You white moron, you, I'm going to kill you if I can.' "
Nobody is against having secure borders, but this feeding frenzy and irrational fear over the security of the Mexican border is a waste of time and a waste of money ... better to spend the money on radiation detectors to protect cargo coming into NY harbor ... better to spend the money on great intelligence, hiring Arab speaking spies and analysts.
The 19 terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center did not come across the Mexican border. They entered the US as legitimate visitors. Only about 1 out of every 20 foreigners who come to the United States comes to immigrate. Most are business travelers, students, tourists, and Canadians and Mexicans crossing to shop or visit families.
It's obvious that the Mexicans coming across our southern border are not terrorists. They believe in this country, perhaps more than most Americans.
And contrary to the falsehoods being spread by Dobbs on CNN each night, most economists conclude that undocumented immigrants are a net plus to our overall economy - contributing much more in taxes and social security than they will ever take out. Last year in an open letter sponsored by the Independent Institute to President Bush and Congress, cited by the Wall Street Journal, more than 500 prominent economists, including five Nobel laureates, proclaimed that "immigration has been a net gain for American citizens." The letter added that "while a small percentage of native-born Americans may be harmed by immigration, vastly more Americans benefit from the contributions that immigrants make to the economy, including lower consumer prices.
Exploiting this fear for ratings or votes and turning it against 14 million people who are not harming us, and can't fight back, is dangerous and evil, and makes us no safer.
History will not look kindly on this period of demagoguery, which has created a state of terror for millions of American workers. The direct consequences of this hate speech are all around us - midnight raids against tens of thousands of law abiding, hard-working families, who are separated from their children, and thrown in jail. After a recent Massachusetts factory raid, one baby, a legal citizen, who was being breast-fed, had to be hospitalized for dehydration because her undocumented mother remained in detention.
The politicians and the media who pander to the call of the hate mongers - to round up people and families - are abetting vigilante evils of the worst kind. As the economy and political situation deteriorates, this sickening crisis threatens to get drastically worse.
As Hillary Clinton bravely responded during the NPR Democratic debate this week, "What we're looking at here is 12 to 14 million people - they live in our neighborhoods, they take care of our elderly, they probably made the beds in the hotels that some of us stayed in last night. They are embedded in our society. If we want to listen to the demagogues and the calls for us to round up people and turn every American into a suspicious vigilante, I think we will do graver harm to the fabric of our nation than any kind of person-by-person reporting of someone who might be here illegally."
America is not yet Germany in the 1920s. Immigrants have made us strong, but if we listen to the vigilantes, can the yellow armbands be far behind?