Let me introduce you to a young boy. His name is Thomas and he is naturally bright, savvy and streetwise. He is not afraid of hard work or long hours and is innovative and enterprising. His story is very relative to what we see happening in America today.
Thomas family fled their native country and found shelter in the US. The boy’s father had become involved in a political reform movement in his home country. The government there were extremely corrupt and power lay in the hands of just a few. This small group dominated the church, business and political institutions. A couple of recent bad harvests had only made matters worse. The people were starving, impoverished and desperate. The Government failed to act and simply ignored their plight. The Reformers were inspired by similar movements in other countries. They believed in ideas such as democracy, equality and liberty. The reformers slowly grew in number, meeting in private dwellings and later in public houses and taverns. As the movement spread the ruling elite began to get nervous. Armed supporters of the Regime began to attack the Reformers and break up their meetings.
Gradually the reformers became more radical and believed that only physical force would advance their cause. In the wake of an election to the ruling assembly there was evidence of vote rigging by the State. Soon the country was in open rebellion and Thomas’s father was involved. Despite initial success the Military and Government-backed militias use dtheir overwhelming force to decisively crush the revolt. The leaders were rounded up and put on trial, many were imprisoned and some were executed. Reformist supporters become victims of sectarian vigilante mobs.
Defeated and despondent Thomas father decides that they must leave. They cross into the US at night without any visa or green card and eventually settle in a small town in Ohio. Thomas finds school hard. He is easily distracted, his concentration span is short and the teachers find him difficult to handle. Thomas mother eventually decides to teach him at home and he quickly develops a voracious appetite for reading and learning. Thomas never returns to formal education but this is no hindrance to him in the land of opportunity, for he will go on to become a hugely successful businessman known all over the world.
Thomas’s life is an example of that all too elusive “American dream” – he is the embodiment of the self-taught, hard grafting self-made millionaire. This is a guy who made it big. The boy we are talking about is none other than the renowned inventor Thomas Edison. Edison’s father Samuel was a political refugee[i] from colonial Canada ….. Yes you did read it right, Canada! Edison invented the light bulb thus it would be remiss of me not to use the analogy of him enlightening the lives of his compatriots, and at the same time inventing a new pastime, dusting!
Sadly the modern day Edison family would find America to be a very different place. We must ask ourselves if young Thomas Edison were around today where would he be? Could he possibly be on a flimsy raft in the middle of the Mediterranean or Aegean Sea? Would he be shivering around an open fire in a Serbian detention camp? Perhaps he’d be getting ready to move in to a converted Hotel in Roscommon? Is the person who will finally find a cure for cancer amongst these desperate people?
The majority of the residents of the US are the descendants of refugees of some kind or another – they might be like Edison’s father, a political refugee, or perhaps their ancestry lies with some of the millions of Irish and Italians, fleeing famine and poverty. America has benefitted from these refugees; it is they who made America great. Trump’s malignant narcissism will destroy America and diminish whatever small bit of light she has left as a beacon for the rest of the world. America cannot hide away in isolated paranoia, no more than Trump can solve its problems by creating scapegoats to prop up his alternative truths. Perhaps the better policy to pursue is the one the great Walt Whitman counselled ‘Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you’. A big wall creates a big shadow and soon America will need a new Edison to take them out of this darkness.
‘The best thinking has been done in solitude. The worst has been done in turmoil.’
[i] Samuel Ogden Edison fled Canada in the wake of the failed 1837 Mackenzie Rebellion. Ironically Samuels’s father had fled the US for Canada in the wake of US Independence. He had been a Loyalist in the Revolutionary War.