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On St. Patrick’s Day, The Trump Team Blarney about Good Old Days

 

As the White House prepares for the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration, it’s hard to see past the Administration’s blaring hypocrisy. Trump and his white nationalist posse call Muslims, refugees and immigrants a threat to our country, then they turn around and celebrate the history of Irish-Americans, who were once accused of being the very same thing.

It’s something Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister, himself lectured Trump about at the Friends of Ireland luncheon in Washington yesterday. “There are millions out there who want to play their part for America — if you like, who want to make America great,” Kenny pointed out, before reminding Trump of the 50,000 undocumented Irish in America who would suffer under Trump’s broader deportation crackdown.

“We would like this to be sorted,” Kenny said, referring to immigrants attaining citizenship. “It would remove a burden of so many that they could now stand in the light and say, ‘Now I’m free to contribute to America as I know I can.’ That’s what people want.”

As Fintan O’Toole highlights in a new op-ed for the New York Times:

The whole thing would be funny if it did not raise the most uncomfortable question: Is it right to applaud the legacy of mass immigration from Ireland because the Irish are white and Christian? The question is especially pertinent because so many of the people who have devised, defended and attempted to carry out Mr. Trump’s policy of identifying immigrant communities with criminality and terrorism are themselves Irish-Americans.

And, as Lawrence Downes notes in a new piece,

On this St. Patrick’s Day, the closest thing America has to a national holiday of immigration, unless you count Thanksgiving, feast of the undocumented Pilgrim, let us pause to honor the immigrants everybody loves.

It’s an annual rite, when the tale of the uprooted, transplanted Irish gets a fresh retelling, plus a parade up Fifth Avenue. Even the Trump administration, busily working to hunt down and wall out poorer, browner immigrants and refugees, paused this week for the spreading of the sentimental slurry.

O’Toole and Downes pieces are available online here and here respectively and included below:

Fintan O’Toole: “Green Beer and Rank Hypocrisy”

Does green beer taste better laced with hypocrisy? Does shamrock smell sweeter perfumed with historical amnesia?

We may be about to find out, for this year’s St. Patrick’s Day jamboree at the White House will be a breathtaking celebration of double standards and the willful forgetting of America’s recent past. Even by the crooked yardstick of the Trump administration, the disconnect is surreal: The president will salute the legacy of one wave of immigrants even as he deploys against other immigrants the same calumnies once heaped upon the Irish.

In the blizzard of executive orders, it was easy to miss a proclamation President Trump issued on March 1. The president declared this Irish-American Heritage Month and called on “all Americans to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Irish-Americans to our nation with appropriate ceremonies, activities and programs.”

The proclamation could hardly be more upbeat in its praise of the Irish for “overcoming poverty and discrimination and inspiring Americans from all walks of life with their indomitable and entrepreneurial spirit.” Mr. Trump embraced these poor and despised foreigners as the forebears of “the more than 35 million Americans of Irish descent who contribute every day to all facets of life in the United States.”

The Irish are at least as fond as anyone else of being told how great they are, but as an Irish person, I find this more than a little disconcerting. It is like having your chastity praised by a brothel keeper, or your temperance and thrift eulogized by a drunken sailor. The whole thing would be funny if it did not raise the most uncomfortable question: Is it right to applaud the legacy of mass immigration from Ireland because the Irish are white and Christian?

The question is especially pertinent because so many of the people who have devised, defended and attempted to carry out Mr. Trump’s policy of identifying immigrant communities with criminality and terrorism are themselves Irish-Americans. The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, announcing in January that his boss would continue the tradition of accepting a bowl of shamrock from the Irish prime minister on March 17, told reporters that the St. Patrick’s Day reception is “an issue that’s near and dear to me” because of his pride in his own Irish roots. Mr. Trump’s senior strategist, Stephen K.

Bannon, boasts of his “blue-collar, Irish Catholic” family background. Kellyanne Conway (née Fitzpatrick) is half-Irish. Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, who has the job of enforcing Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, “is remembered fondly” in Massachusetts, according to The Boston Globe, “as an adventurous Irish Catholic son who reached the highest echelons of military service.”

These are intelligent people, and it seems unlikely that they are so romantic as to imagine they’re descended from Irish kings and Celtic goddesses. Most probably, some of their ancestors were wretched people. The Irish Catholic immigrants who washed up in the United States after the potato famine of the 1840s were, on the whole, the most destitute national group ever to arrive on American shores.

They were nobody’s ideal of the desirable immigrant. The typical Irish Catholic arrival in New York or Boston was a peasant with little formal education and few material resources. Worse, these people were religious aliens — the papist hordes who threatened to swamp Protestant civilization and, in their ignorance and superstition, destroy enlightened democratic American values.

The people around Mr. Trump surely know this history, yet they act as if they were the descendants not of these poor immigrants but of the American nativists and Know Nothings who slandered and derided them. Mr. Trump’s assertion that millions of illegal immigrants voted to deprive him of his victory in the popular vote directly echoes one of the most common charges against the Irish in the 19th century: that, in the words of one Yankee, “Irishmen fresh from the bogs of Ireland” were led to the polling booths “like dumb brutes” to “vote down intelligent, honest native citizens.”

The relentless campaign to associate undocumented migrants with criminality reworks the charge that Irish Catholics were innately crooked and violent. And the demonization of Muslims as implicitly un-American reproduces the canard that Irish Catholics could not be trusted in high office because they would take orders from the Vatican. As late as 1960, John F. Kennedy faced exactly these slurs in a presidential election.

In the Trump era, there are only two ways to toast the achievements of the Irish in America. One of them is tacitly racist. It relies on a silent distinction, an assumption that the Irish are somehow different from, say, today’s migrants from Latin America. But what is that distinction? It is not that the Irish were wealthier or better educated by contemporary standards, or more highly skilled or harder working. It is simply that they were white and their whiteness gave them a right to be in the United States.

If we are not to collude in this obnoxious distinction, people of Irish descent must celebrate their heritage in a radically different way: as the ultimate rebuke to a paranoid frenzy about immigration. We Irish are not Know Nothings. We know something important: what it’s like to be feared, to be discriminated against, to be stereotyped. We know from our own family histories that anti-immigrant hysteria is founded on lies. And we know that, over time, those lies are exposed. Yesterday’s alien is today’s workmate; yesterday’s pariah is today’s patriot.

St. Patrick’s Day is always in danger of being drowned in beer and sentimentality, but President Trump and his inner circle of Irish-Americans have given it the possibility of renewed gravity and seriousness. They have made it what it once was when the Irish were outsiders: a day when people who are in the shadows stand up and say, “We belong here.”

The Irish belong, not because they are better or worse than any other group of migrants, now or in the past. They belong because they are exactly the same: hopeful people doing their best to build dignified lives.

Fintan O’Toole is a columnist for The Irish Times.

Lawrence Downes: “Even on Their Special Day, Irish Immigrants in America Have Reason to Fear”

On this St. Patrick’s Day, the closest thing America has to a national holiday of immigration, unless you count Thanksgiving, feast of the undocumented Pilgrim, let us pause to honor the immigrants everybody loves.

It’s an annual rite, when the tale of the uprooted, transplanted Irish gets a fresh retelling, plus a parade up Fifth Avenue. Even the Trump administration, busily working to hunt down and wall out poorer, browner immigrants and refugees, paused this week for the spreading of the sentimental slurry.

Vice President Mike Pence went first.

“The bond between the people of America and the people of Ireland stretches back into the mists of American history,” he told a group of prominent Irish-Americans on Wednesday night in Washington. “Drawn by the promise of this brave new world, the sons and daughters of Ireland began leaving their land for ours as far back as the 17th century. They came here, one by one, or sometimes in small bands. But what they lacked in numbers, we already heard tonight, they more than made up in courage.”

President Trump was next, at the Capitol on Thursday, hailing the “tremendous” contributions and success of Irish immigrants and their descendants in the United States.

What both men said was boilerplate. But the dishonesty behind the clichés makes one wish that the ghost of Maureen O’Hara would rise from the mists and slap them both across the head. Because those sugared words fail to acknowledge the Irish sons and daughters living here now, without legal status, who are terrified by the Trump administration.

They make up a small fraction of the national unauthorized population of 11 million. But these 50,000 or so Irish, like the others, are stranded by the failure of immigration reform, and threatened by the administration’s deportation regime. Many have lived here for decades. They have bought homes, built businesses, reared children. They are doing what immigrants here have always done, while the administration puts new effort into hunting them down and removing them.

The fears are real. The Ireland Funds, the very group Mr. Pence praised on Wednesday, pledged $100,000 last week to a coalition of Irish-American centers around the country to give humanitarian and legal assistance to unauthorized Irish immigrants. On Thursday afternoon, Ireland’s minister for the diaspora and international development, Joe McHugh, visited one of the sites, the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers, which offers social services, health screenings and other assistance to those it calls “the forgotten Irish.” Staff members there said anxiety among undocumented Irish is peaking because of Mr. Trump. There is more talk of moving back to Ireland, or to Canada.

“They live in fear,” said Mr. McHugh.

Fear, of course, is even greater among Latino unauthorized immigrants. Police raids and racial profiling are less a problem for the Irish in the Bronx than for Mexicans in Arizona and California. The Irish are not, as a group, as traumatized and destitute as the Central Americans fleeing to the border, and they are not — yet — seeking sanctuary in churches. They blend in better than the Latinos who are shadowed by immigration agents and the local police.

But the despair is the same, as is the hopelessness. Skyping your parent’s funeral hurts the same whether you are Irish or Guatemalan.

There was a time, about a decade ago, when Senator Edward Kennedy was alive and leading a bipartisan congressional push for immigration reform. His Republican ally Senator John McCain visited a buoyant meeting of the Irish diaspora in Yonkers and pledged action. Emotions and hope ran high.

Now, Mr. McHugh said, he has no hope to offer. “When people are feeling as flattened as they are,” he said, “it would be a dereliction of duty to build up any expectation.”

Many leading Irish-Americans know what Mr. Trump is up to. The mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, has vowed to fight the White House on behalf of his sanctuary city. Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, finds it infuriating that the Irish government is not standing up to Mr. Trump over immigration. “That the Irish — of all people — would shower this immigrant-bashing president with shamrocks is appalling,” he said in a statement read aloud on Thursday at an immigrant-solidarity rally in Dublin.

Speaking at the White House on Thursday, the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, voiced the mildest of demurrals. “We would like this to be sorted,” he told Mr. Trump. “It would remove a burden of so many people that they can stand out in the light and say, ‘Now I am free to contribute to America as I know I can.’ ”

It’s sad to see the Irish leader gingerly trying to steer the president of the United States away from a white-nationalist, anti-immigrant agenda. Nobody knows, from tweet to tweet, where America is headed. But immigration agents are spreading terror on the ground, and Mr. Trump is asking Congress for billions, for detention centers and deportations, for immigration officers and border agents, for the wall.

Mr. McHugh said his job was to focus on helping the diaspora to ride this out: “We have a choice here, to do nothing or do something. The something we haven’t figured out.””