As I watched the immigrants from Venezuela arrive on Martha’s Vineyard, I thought about my grandparents. They came to America from southern Italy to escape their impoverished and crime-ridden towns. (My maternal grandmother came from Gioia Tauro in Calabria which is now a global cocaine hub.) I imagine that my grandmother, a young woman when she arrived, would have been tired and scared, not knowing anyone and not speaking the language. I never spoke to her about her arrival (she mostly avoided the topic), but I hope that she encountered people like those on the small Massachusetts island who embraced and helped those refugees.
Then I thought about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. According to Wikipedia, Ron’s great-great-grandfather Salvatore Storti immigrated to the U.S. in 1904, followed by Ron’s great-great grandmother Luigia Colucci in 1917. Does Ron think about how his ancestors would feel about the cruelty he displayed in placing 48 immigrants from Venezuela on a plane, not telling them where they were going and what would happen once they got there? Does he imagine his relatives would congratulate him -“Good going, Ron for sticking it to the Eastern liberal elites.” Somehow, I don’t think so.
While we’re at it, let’s deal with Ron placing himself in contrast to Eastern Liberal elites. Ron grew up in Florida and after graduating from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School and Dunedin High School, he studied history at Yale. (One wonders how much American history he actually remembers.) He graduated magna cum laude, taught history at a high school for a year (did he avoid critical race theory?), and eventually graduated from Harvard Law School, cum laude. Ron may not be a liberal, but he certainly benefitted from attending two of our country’s elite Eastern universities.
Unlike Donald Trump who, although he went to an Ivy League college (Penn), lived in terror that his grades would be released to the public, DeSantis would gladly release his transcripts. He’s smart, something that makes him even more of a threat to our democracy. Every move he makes he makes deliberately, with his eye on running for president. Trump may be the de facto leader of the Republican Party now, but DeSantis knows – he’s betting on the fact – that the former president is headed for a fall. When that happens, he’s the heir apparent. What better way to appeal to Trump’s base than to appear to be strong on immigration?
Trump has his wall, Ron has his planes. Neither will solve our country’s immigration problems. In the short-term, Ron will score points with Republicans who also have forgotten where their relatives came from. (it’s a sad fact that Ron’s antics have increased his popularity among the MAGA crowd.) But in the longterm, voters, particularly independent voters, will eventually wake up to the fact that this is not who we are. The people of Martha’s Vineyard, not wealthy people, but mostly workers who farm and fish for a living, opened their arms to the arrivals. TV reports showed locals hugging the Venezuelans. Children were given soccer balls and stuffed dolphins. They were fed, given clothes. High school Spanish students came to serve as translators. Those scenes stood in stark contrast to the show Ron provided in Florida as he addressed the media for the headlines he knew would follow.
A practicing Catholic, Ron also seems to have forgotten what Jesus told his disciples:
“For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.”
“Then the righteous will answer Him, `Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit You?’
“And the King will reply, `truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did it for Me.’”
Catholics believe (one assumes deep in his heart, Ron believes this, too), that after death we will have to account for what we did on earth. When that time comes, Ron will have some explaining to do.
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