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BY BILL MEFFORD

April 7, 2019


Breaking News: Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen is resigning.  She was the architect of the administration's family separation policy. Today's letter, written before this news broke, focuses on our nation's immigration policies.
Kirstjen Nielsen is leaving the Department of Homeland Security. 

"Beto O’Rourke compares Trump’s rhetoric on immigration to that of Nazi Germany," via the Washington Post:

  • Speaking at a town hall meeting at a college here in a heavily conservative enclave in the far western corner of Iowa, O’Rourke criticized “the rhetoric of a president who not only describes immigrants as ‘rapists’ and ‘criminals’ but as ‘animals’ and ‘an infestation.’”
  • “Now, I might expect someone to describe another human being as ‘an infestation’ in the Third Reich. I would not expect it in the United States of America,” the former congressman from Texas added, drawing an enthusiastic response from a crowd of about 150 people, including dozens of young people.
Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered and separated among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not appropriate for the king to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued for their destruction.” -- Esther 3:8-9a

Donald Trump has, since the start of his campaign, demonized and dehumanized immigrants. If things are going bad for him – which they often are – he turns to what he knows and does best; demonizing immigrants. Not surprisingly, hate crimes against immigrants have consistently risen since his campaign started, as has the activity of white nationalist groups. There is a direct correlation between the use of hate speech and the resulting violence against those objectified by hate speech. 

And there is nothing new about this connection as our passage in Scripture shows us. Trump, Stephen Miller and the members of his administration are simply followers of the likes of Haman and King Ahasuerus in the book of Esther. 

At the time of this verse in the story of Esther, Haman had been lifted to the number two position in the Kingdom and was offended that Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, had not bowed down in homage. So insecure is he in his power – like trump is in his position – that he lashes out against the Jews and manipulate the King to issue an edict that calls for the genocide of the Jewish people. Briefly here is how he did it. 

Haman picks an opportune moment to approach King Ahasuerus about his plan to eradicate the Jews. The conversation between Haman and the King shows how entire groups of people can be dehumanized so subtly, but yet so cunningly. And key to this is Haman making his personal grievance against Mordecai more general against all of the Jewish people, for he cannot be seen to be holding a grudge. He has to impersonalize it and insinuate that if the Jews remain alive they will threaten the very well-being of King Ahasuerus and the entire Persian Kingdom. Haman plays to the nationalistic fears. He all but says, “Persia First.” 

He begins his argument with a statement of relative truth. “There is a certain people scattered and separated among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom.” (3:8) Haman cannot begin with the blunt request to annihilate the Jews. He smartly begins where his listener is and with a statement that anyone would agree with so he can earn the king’s trust before he moves on to his more diabolical intentions.

Haman then swerves from truthfulness as he says, “and they do not keep the king’s laws.” (3:8) This is an entirely meritless statement. Haman ignores the earlier part of the story in this book where Mordecai discovers a conspiracy against the King and thus, by reporting it, saves the King’s life. Haman’s statement here is little more than a thinly veiled anti-Semitic trope of the “otherness” of the Jewish people. Dehumanization depends on “othering” those who are hated and feared. Dehumanization is based on lies and entirely ignores the contributions of the people who are being denigrated. 

As we have all seen these last few years, trump follows Haman’s playbook to a tee. 

Haman ends his conversation urging the King to not “tolerate them.” Haman knows that committing evil against a people is much easier when the people who are being targeted remain faceless and nameless. The more personal they are the more difficult it is to order their extinction. Haman must dehumanize the Jews and create an image of the Jews as an enemy; as inhuman. In other words, he must lie. 

This is exactly what Trump does as well. He calls all immigrants gang members. He calls for “America First,” with a thinly veiled understanding that he really means “White American First.” He calls them animals and he treats immigrants like animals as well, caging them, denying them their due process rights, and blaming them for every ill people face. 

Trump lies, in other words. 

Throughout history when a dominant group wishes to exploit, colonize, or oppress another group, they begin the evil with denigration and dehumanization. This is why the work of resistance is such holy work. Peoples’ lives are literally dependent on it. 

As Trump and Miller and his administration dehumanize through detachment and generalizing the lives of immigrants, the resistance demands that we must personalize and lift up the stories of those seeking refuge. Therefore, we must be in relationship with those who sojourn to the United States.

Creator God, 
open our eyes so we can see you in the eyes of our immigrant brothers and sisters,

eyes downcast for having lived so long in the shadows, 
eyes challenging us to join them in the streets or picket lines,
eyes lifted looking for the Christ light in us.

Compassionate God, who has come to dwell among us,
open our ears to hear the cries of your children,

children being separated from their parents,
rounded up in raids,
led to detention centers,
silently giving up dreams.

God of Justice, who crosses all boundaries,
give us courage to resist, to say NO

to unfair labor practices,
to unjust laws 

Give us the strength to stand with and for

your inclusive love,
faith to believe,
another world is necessary and possible.

Let it begin with us.

(Taken from the United Church of Christ)

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