‎⁨The Nativity Of The Holy Virgin Church⁩, ⁨Menlo Park⁩, ⁨United States⁩ (Photo: Ali Noorani)

A Shadow of Powerlessness

Every day something new shocks the system. A shooting. A tweet. A policy.

Like you, I have been trying to make sense of it all.

The sheer volume leads me to think I am making a “strategic decision” by responding to some things. But not others.

Along the way, I hope I am not taking things for granted. That I am not allowing our new normal to feel, well, normal.

Today, I wonder if I am wrong.

As I have talked to allies and colleagues across the country, tracking a range of news sources, I think many of us are making the same decision. Don’t respond to everything. Keep the moral higher ground. Pick our spots.

We only have so much political capital to spend, we say. And, well, immigration is complicated. And controversial.

Yes, there are courageous displays of energy and activism from many. African-Americans, Latinos, Asians. White progressives. Refusing to fold. Taking to the streets, the airwaves.

The silence from the rest of us is having an unintended impact.

In our work with moderates and conservatives across the country, I have noticed people feel more isolated these days. They don’t know what to say, who to believe. They’ve been shocked into silence. They feel like they are watching a horrific movie. They hope it will end. But no one is sure how it will end.

These are communities that don’t look to their political left for leadership. So, they have nowhere to go.

A shadow of powerlessness has settled over their lives.

At precisely the worst time.

In their annual report on extremist-related killings in the U.S., the ADL’s Center on Extremism reported that at least 50 people were killed by extremists in 2018. The last week alone doesn’t bode well for the 2019 number.

Robert Evans, a journalist reporting on far-right extremist groups in the United States, documents the connection between extremist manifestos, online message boards and the fact the “act of massacring innocents has been gamified” as onlookers celebrate the number of people killed.

We aren’t watching a movie.

We are watching a process through which Americans are polarized — and then radicalized — by speech, actions and policies.

And too many of us are watching silently.

Therefore, we are participating in this process.

When Gallup finds that “immigration is the number one problem and that a record 27% of adults cited immigration as the top problem,” we have to meet the challenge of the moment.

Simplifying this as an issue of racism or party politics deepens the division. In 2017, Steve Bannon told Robert Kuttner, “The longer they [Democrats] talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day.”

As I wrote a couple weeks back, opponents of immigrants and immigration want our political debate to be about going back. To a time when the country was less diverse. To a time when the goods Americans bought were made by Americans (even if they were immigrants). To a time when kids would do better than their parents. To a time when the pictures Americans saw of immigrants were the stories of their parents, grandparents, great grandparents.

This backwards-looking debate makes it easier to divide the country. Easier to polarize the country. Easier to radicalize the country.

Of course, the stories of stories of division will continue to dominate our newsfeeds as long as it is the animating characteristic of national leadership.

But I think people want to hear, and be a part of, stories that advance unity.

And there are so many ways we can create those stories, those moments.

If there are leaders that want us to think immigrants undermine the American dream, we need to make the case that with their belief in freedom and opportunity, immigrants make America special.

If there are forces that want to divide the nation through rhetoric and violence, we have to work to unite around the idea that America is special.

If there are people who have questions and concerns about immigration, who are different from us, politically, racially, economically, we need to listen to them, become their friends — not as a means to the end, but as an end itself.

The story of Adrian Bota, a Romanian refugee, a conservative, an entrepreneur, a Buckeye State job creator, is just one of many.

There are a massive number of points in the polarization of America that lead to these deadly acts of terror. Each of these points is a moment where we can make a different case.

It’s time we stopped pretending they didn’t happen.

President and CEO of National Immigration Forum and America is Better, author of There Goes the Neighborhood, host of the podcast, Only in America.