Be­com­ing an Amer­i­can in the Trump era

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - Dan Ro­dricks dro­dricks@balt­

There came a time dur­ing Tues­day’s nat­u­ral­iza­tion cer­e­mony in Bal­ti­more’s City Hall — the first one ever held there, as far as any­one knows — when the im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials run­ning the show pre­sented a video mes­sage from Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

The video, a re­make of one recorded dur­ing the pres­i­dent’s first term, when he had fewer gray hairs, has been shown count­less times to new cit­i­zens dur­ing Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. The pres­i­dent, dressed in a dark suit and sil­very-blue tie, ap­pears to speak from a con­fer­ence room, the Amer­i­can flag over his right shoul­der. His tone is earnest and kind, vin­tage Obama.

His au­di­ence in the Cur­ran Room at City Hall, their cit­i­zen­ship papers and minia­ture flags in hand, seemed cap­ti­vated by the pres­i­dent’s high-minded words, ap­pear­ing in sub­ti­tles across the bot­tom of the screen.

“To­gether we are a na­tion united not by any one cul­ture, eth­nic­ity or ide­ol­ogy but by the prin­ci­ples of op­por­tu­nity, equal­ity and lib­erty that are en­shrined in our found­ing doc­u­ments,” Obama said.

“Today marks a very spe­cial day in your life. You’ve trav­eled a long path to get here. You swore a solemn oath to this coun­try, and now you have all the rights of cit­i­zen­ship.

“With the priv­i­leges of cit­i­zen­ship, though, come great re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. And so I ask that you use your free­doms and your tal­ents to con­trib­ute to the good of our na­tion and the world.”

I started to imag­ine what hap­pens in the next year, with Don­ald Trump as pres­i­dent.

Trump looms large and heavy over ev­ery­thing these days. As Amer­i­cans come to grips with his shock­ing elec­tion vic­tory, we try to imag­ine him in the many roles Obama has served with steady and stud­ied com­mand for eight years — lead­ing the na­tion out of the Great Re­ces­sion that he in­her­ited, over­see­ing the armed forces in a long war against ter­ror­ism that he in­her­ited, con­sol­ing the na­tion af­ter mass shoot­ings, in­clud­ing the mur­der of chil­dren at Sandy Hook and the killing of po­lice of­fi­cers in Dal­las.

Now, dur­ing a nat­u­ral­iza­tion cer­e­mony, I tried to imag­ine Trump, a man of se­vere coun­te­nance, the bullish bil­lion­aire who as a can­di­date stoked fears about im­mi­grants, wel­com­ing them as pres­i­dent. It was hard to imag­ine.

“Al­ways re­mem­ber,” Obama went on. “No dream is im­pos­si­ble. Like the mil­lions of im­mi­grants that have come be­fore you, you have the op­por­tu­nity to en­rich this coun­try through your con­tri­bu­tions to civic so­ci­ety, busi­ness, cul­ture and your community.

“You can help write the next great chapter in our Amer­i­can story. And to­gether we can keep the bea­con that is Amer­ica burn­ing bright for all the world to see.

“I am proud to wel­come you as a new cit­i­zen of this coun­try.”

The au­di­ence — 24 newly nat­u­ral­ized Amer­i­cans from 17 coun­tries, their rel­a­tives and friends — broke into ap­plause.

I had gone to City Hall be­cause I needed to feel good about some­thing, and nat­u­ral­iza­tion cer­e­monies usu­ally do the trick. I’ve at­tended prob­a­bly a half-dozen of them over the years, but this was the first time, as my new fel­low cit­i­zens promised to “bear true faith and allegiance” to the United States, that I thought: I hope they know what they’re get­ting into.

White su­prem­a­cists just spent the week­end in Wash­ing­ton celebrating Trump’s vic­tory, and the pres­i­dent-elect scorched a lot of earth.

To be clear, Trump, for the most part, did not rail against im­mi­grants who were in the coun­try legally. His alarmist and na­tivist rants were aimed largely at im­mi­grants here with­out le­gal doc­u­men­ta­tion. But he as­so­ci­ated the lat­ter group with crim­i­nal­ity, called for ac­cel­er­ated de­por­ta­tions — Obama’s record on that will be hard to beat — and called specif­i­cally for a tem­po­rary ban against Mus­lims en­ter­ing the coun­try while vow­ing to build a wall at the bor­der with Mexico.

So while the im­mi­grants as­sem­bled at City Hall on Tues­day all played by the rules — they got in line and fol­lowed in­struc­tions to­ward cit­i­zen­ship — there’s lit­tle about the next pres­i­dent that can be said to be wel­com­ing to­ward out­siders. It is hard to imag­ine him in that video mes­sage to new cit­i­zens.

Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake, with two weeks left in of­fice, spoke elo­quently at the cer­e­mony, re­peat­ing some­thing that be­came a hall­mark of her ad­min­is­tra­tion: Bal­ti­more wel­comes im­mi­grants, we don’t scare them off; we en­cour­age them to seek cit­i­zen­ship and raise their fam­i­lies here. Rawl­ings-Blake knows that a good part of the city’s prospects for pop­u­la­tion growth — and the na­tion’s pro­duc­tiv­ity — rests on im­mi­grants.

“Our coun­try’s di­ver­sity has al­ways been our great­est strength,” the mayor said, and while that’s an ar­ti­cle of faith for many of us, it ap­par­ently is not as widely ac­cepted as we might like to be­lieve. In fact, it ap­pears that the pol­i­tics of re­sent­ment coun­tered the pol­i­tics of di­ver­sity in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, by just enough to give us Trump. It’s not ex­actly a feel-good time in Amer­ica.

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