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Trump’s attack on Congress members is an attack on decency, American ideals

Donald Trump is a divisive figure for the Republican Party. Besides his crude rhetoric, he has also spurned the GOP on its views. There have been rifts over trade, Social Security and financial regulation. Here is where Trump and the Republican Party disagree.

"Go back to where you came from" has long been the call of bigots and xenophobes in the U.S. It's what the Know Nothing Party of the 1850s said about Irish and German Catholic immigrants. It was aimed at Chinese immigrants who helped build the transcontinental railroad a generation later. It was hurled at Italian, Jewish, Slavic and other eastern and southern European immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Civil rights opponents even tried using it against African-American activists, notwithstanding that their ancestors were dragged here involuntarily in shocking, inhuman conditions.

Indeed, fear and enmity toward immigrants became so great in the 1920s that U.S. immigration laws were changed in 1924, according to official records "to preserve the ideal of U.S. homogeneity," and limit further immigration of Italians, Jews, Greeks, the Polish and other Slavs, and pretty much people from everywhere else except northern Europe.

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Immigrants have also been among the leading reformers in U.S. society and politics. Al Smith was a reform governor of New York who faced terrible bigotry when he became the first Roman Catholic to run for president in the 1920s. Fiorello LaGuardia was a beloved reform mayor of NYC. And much of the labor movement in the U.S. — from the Irish Molly Maguires in the coal mines to the Jews and Italians in the garment shops, to the Russian, Poles and Italians in the steel mills and trade unions — has been led by and for immigrants and the descendants of immigrants. They’ve given us workplace benefits we now take for granted, like safer working environments, child-labor laws, employer-paid health care, medical leave and vacations.

President Trump’s latest bigoted attack on duly elected members of Congress — American citizens — to go back to where they came from is an attack on decency, but it’s also an attack on the American ideal. The march of American history, time and again, demonstrates this country’s ability to absorb waves of new immigrants from different places and integrate them into our society. Typically, these immigrants have fled extreme poverty, violence and persecution and come to the U.S. because of its promise of opportunity and the chance for a better lives for themselves and their families. Over time, their cultures became part of what we call the American culture. And often, they became a force for change in our political, economic and social institutions, changes that ultimately made our country better.

What's happening now has happened before. Mr. Trump is the latest demagogue to try to use bigotry and fear, hate and division to his political advantage. But each time in the past, the bigots have been unsuccessful, our society has adapted, and yet another culture has been woven into the fabric of America.

Donald Trump’s wife, Melania, is facing controversy whether her immigration to the U.S. was legal.

So, while I am disheartened by Mr. Trump and people who support his attacks on immigrants, I am not discouraged. Because while I believe they are on the wrong side of basic human decency and of the American ideal, I know that they also are on the wrong side of history.

Syl Sobel is an author of children’s books on U.S. government and history. A new edition of his book, “The U.S. Constitution and You,” will be released later this summer. His website is www.sylsobel.com.

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