On moral grounds, I absolutely agree with Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin, with his statement on Syrian refugees:
It would be wrong for our nation and our state to refuse to accept refugees simply because they are Syrian or Muslim. Obviously the background of all those crossing our borders should be carefully reviewed for reasons of security. Too often in the past, however, our nation has erroneously targeted individuals as dangerous simply because of their nationality or religion. In these turbulent times, it is important that prudence not be replaced by hysteria. As is our well-established practice, the Diocese of Providence stands ready to assist in a careful and thoughtful process of refugee resettlement.
In keeping with my consideration of related matters on Sunday (see here and here), I’d suggest that this statement is incomplete. A statement of principle is the starting point to a conclusion, not the conclusion of itself. The states across the country that are refusing to work with the Obama Administration to resettle refugees within their borders after the Paris attacks are more of an effect than a cause. Many Americans simply don’t trust President Obama or the executive branch over which he has charge.
And many Rhode Islanders don’t trust their state government to either make decisions for the right reasons (including our safety, health, and well-being) or act competently even if the politicians’ and bureaucrats’ hearts are in the right place. Using a helicopter to save people wounded in an accident would be a morally appropriate thing to do, but if our home ship is already sinking and if a sociopath and a five-year-old child are the only people available to do the flying, the mission would likely do more harm than good.
This is the problem with allowing government to become so broad, to shift its mission, and to run for so long without sufficient correction — all of which we’ve done in large part because we’ve been bedazzled by our principles without reference to our reason. Consequently, we’re left with no satisfactory civic structure to enact our principles.
Bishop Tobin is right, of course, that we shouldn’t replace prudence with hysteria, but that only begs the question of what would be prudent. If these masses were fleeing their homelands because of some terrible, deadly, communicable disease, we’d quarantine them. Well, we can be sure that some not-ignorable percentage are infected with Islamic fundamentalism (or whatever one wishes to call it).
It’s also possible, in other words, to fall into a sort of hysteria in the other direction. Look, for example, to progressive Providence Democrat Representative Aaron Regunberg’s morally obtuse equivalence between Jewish families fleeing Germany and Europe during the Nazis’ ascendance and World War II with the masses of young men currently exiting the Middle East. The former were a minority targeted for elimination; the latter are for the most part in the ethnic and religious majority of the nation they’re leaving.
Regunberg quotes the inscription of the Statue of Liberty about “huddled masses, yearning to be free,” but those words were engraved during a different time. In the intervening years, Americans, themselves, have become less free. Their government has changed its basic role from protecting the safety, health, and well-being of its citizens to redistributing wealth to preferred groups, including non-citizens.
Since the French gifted Lady Liberty to the United States almost a century and a half ago, progressives like Regunberg have worked assiduously to undermine the cultural confidence that a welcoming nation must have if it is to remain itself and to protect its people. His own press release is a typical example: He leads with and emphasizes accusations of “nationalistic and prejudiced actions” and “xenophobia and bigotry.” We’re bad, in other words, and we have no right to hold off a tide of refugees because we’re bad.
Such rhetoric gives Rhode Islanders and Americans ample reason to question whether we’ll actually get the prudence that Bishop Tobin encourages and to distrust the likelihood that the process will be “careful and thoughtful.” Better words to describe our government would be “reckless and conniving,” and to the extent it actually continues to turn to its people for approval, we have to take its behavior under consideration.
Yes, it is a tragedy — perhaps the central tragedy of our age — that the United States has deteriorated to such an extent that prudence — much more than nationalism, xenophobia, and bigotry — advises great caution in trusting our government to pursue what our ideals would suggest, but that’s the world in which we live, and our first order of business must be to fix our own ship and find the right pilots.