Neil Diamond is currently performing to large crowds as part of his 50th Anniversary Tour. Lessons can be learned from one of Diamond’s songs.
We’ve been traveling far
Without a home
But not without a star
Only want to be free
We huddle close
Hang on to a dream…”
The above words are, of course, the lyrics from Neil Diamond’s patriotic song America, released in 1980. Neil Diamond himself was raised in a Jewish household, and was born in the metropolis that is New York City. His ancestors emigrated to the USA from Russia and Poland. In the space of several minutes, he encapsulates parts of US history so profoundly; rhetoric surrounding American exceptionalism, and the aspirations of many who moved for a better and safer life, from all over the world.
Of course, Diamond is by far from the only singer-songwriter to produce patriotic songs that have used the immigration (and emigration) theme as part of their work. In 1973, the Paul Simon song, American Tune, was released, and is enjoyed by so many today, despite any convergent or divergent political views. The following lines hit home to a lot of people:
“We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune…”
Recent films such as Brooklyn (2015) have also sensitively, and in a comedic fashion, explored the nature of immigration and emigration. Saoirse Ronan, who played the protagonist, admitted that she has experienced homesickness, and felt those emotions during filming. Leaving “home” is not an easy decision to make, especially since attachments to people, places, and other sociological aspects are strong feelings — part of human nature. Like most countries, there is not really one American culture, but a great deal of heterogeneity: a fusion of a multitude of cultures and histories. The way the US can often be portrayed by some people, in other countries, can be so simplistic. For example, it would appear that some seem to view the US through the spheres of institutions such as political legislatures, Hollywood, and cities such as Las Vegas, or misrepresentations of the American South.
However, much of the rhetoric and attitudes with regard to immigration, that is being espoused by some lawmakers, especially Donald Trump and other high profile figures in DC, are more than just socially irresponsible. Many of our President’s comments are insensitive to immigrants, and also to many who have experienced moving around, whether within the same country, or to another. Immigrants are not just statistics, but people, and no one lives in a social vacuum. Compassion for humanity is lacking in parts. Our President is not only arbitrarily focusing on negative rhetoric regarding Middle Eastern countries, China and Mexico, for example, but his personal insults on some nationals of other countries, and his behavior toward other politicians in the US, and abroad, is not only embarrassing, but uncomfortable viewing, and reading.
On so many occasions he has discussed immigration through a wholly negative and sensationalist lens. Furthermore, some commentators are using the term “Trump bump” to refer to the spike in marriages recently in parts of the US — some have attributed this to fear of deportation. It is important for all countries to have a robust as possible system to protect citizens, residents, tourists, or visitors on business trips, from people who may, or are known, to be a threat. That is one reason why the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), managed by the Department of Homeland Security, includes questions on felonies, for example. It is possible for prospective tourists or business visitors to be denied entry to the US for certain crimes, even some that are historic and could be considered minor. The visa system for moving to the US is also relatively strict and expensive, with many background checks. There may be some errors made a long the way, and the process is different depending on the type of visa. However, any mistakes made during any of the processes are likely to be relatively few and far between. Yet, if an error or misjudgment is made, and a US resident, or visitor, does commit a serious crime, for example, it is natural for others in society to be angry. The same applies when an undocumented immigrant engages in anti-social behavior. There are some crimes which are simply unforgivable, especially when much upset is caused. However, cherry picking and targeting some immigrants, whether documented or not, or making sweeping generalizations about people based on religion, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender, for example, are socially dangerous behaviors.
One of the many reasons why so many people are horrified by some of the current rhetoric is through the lens of recent acts of horrific hate crimes in the US, and also sociopolitical history. In its most extreme and devastating forms, the genocide of millions of Jews in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s, and the 100 Days of Slaughter of so many Tutsis in Rwanda by Hutu Power in 1994, illustrates what can happen when persons are so horrifically politicized, and viewed as disposable.
The immigration debate is important, yet so complex. It is also an issue that needs to be addressed with civility. Both the left and the right have political figures and cheerleaders, that continue to make mistakes, or are just pushing a favored agenda to control an argument. Some argue that some comments are made just for “shock value”, or to (badly) entertain, or for sensational headlines, which leads to high profits. However, calling all persons “racist” if they criticize, or show any concerns, about issues relating to immigration are wholly unhelpful comments, and can misconstrue points made. Also, references which state that persons who oppose Trump’s immigration policies are not dialed into the seriousness of global terrorism, again are simplistic and unhelpful comments. The vast majority of people who oppose Trump are not lacking awareness of terrorism, and many feel his policies make the US less safe. That is why we, as a society, need to have a much more balanced discussion on immigration, work across party lines, and really listen to the debates, while researching relevant information. It is such sensationalist rhetoric that has led some people to espouse that the US should accept no refugees from war-torn parts of the world. Sweeping generalizations affect lives. For years, many have applied, sought refuge, and moved to America, in the vein that Neil Diamond sang about. Moving or traveling to the US is not a right (and laws are required to protect the country and individuals), but all immigration policies ought to be measured, balanced, fair, and sensible.
Moreover, there is also growing frustration that some lawmakers, especially on the left, have been too eager to try and deflect issues regarding immigration. In the UK, for example, for years there has been a growing debate regarding a lack of appropriate public services in parts of the country, and some lawmakers and others in society have blamed “foreigners”. The reality is, in parts of the UK, some public services and other infrastructures have been poorly managed over several years, and decades. Lack of space in schools, long waiting lists for doctors, traffic jams, and overcrowding in other areas, are not social problems that are directly due to immigration. Yet, there are some who unfairly blame foreign nationals, and that includes biased comments about people from other parts of the UK, who may have migrated.
Discrimination is not new. The rhetoric of Donald Trump is not new. The novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist (originally published in 1914) is a left-wing book that has had a revival in recent years in the UK. The book has often been dubbed “the painter’s Bible”, as the narrative largely centers on the lives of fictitious laborers. It is a controversial book that explored the issue of the capitalist system in Britain during the early 1900s. It was written through the lens that the working classes were victims of greed, and controlled by the bourgeoisie, or petit bourgeoise. The author, Robert Noonan, published under his pen name Robert Tressell, perpetuated so many myths in his work, but one point he did make was when the protagonist mentioned that foreigners are not to blame for poverty in Britain. It is a flawed, but profound read.
Many citizens and residents of the US are uncomfortable with Trump’s “America First” mantra, which some have dubbed “America Only, World Second”. The Trump Administration does not seem to be seriously u-turning on talk of mass deportations of undocumented immigrants either — another issue causing fear and confusion. All of this is going on while more and more reports are coming out of gay men being tortured and put in concentration camps in Chechnya, thousands of miles from DC. It is very worrying, and many people are finding the era unnerving.
The spoken word is powerful, so is the written one. Now is most definitely not a time for complacency, and while there is so much fear and anxiety during our troubled times, it is heartening to see so many speak out, and do what they can in a non-violent, democratic fashion. Persons engaging in acts of violence, as a protest toward our political climate, are part of the problem too.
As Neil Diamond wrote, and I repeat:
Only want to be free…”