Are we really so frightened of a very few violent fools that we’re willing to abandon some of the very ideals that made our country, as one former president said, a shining city on the hill? 

That, apparently, is what people such as state Sen. Neal Tapio, R-Watertown, believe. On Jan. 9, he sent the Capital Journal and other media outlets a news release accusing the folks behind the state Capitol’s first Interfaith Day of being politically motivated and insulting military veterans.  Tapio held a competing event to recognize two South Dakota veterans after which he went down to the Interfaith Day ceremony for the express purpose of telling the gathering that he didn’t like being called a racist. 

Yes, the Interfaith Day was politically motivated. Why else would it have been held in the state Capitol?  But Tapio’s actions also were political. Nakedly, even cynically, so. 

Tapio’s Jan. 9 news release clearly was intended to raise his own political profile and attack two people, Shantel Krebs and Dusty Johnson, who are running to be the next Republican nominated to run for South Dakota’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Tapio’s chief criticism of the two candidates was that they haven’t shown enough support for U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to prevent immigration from several Muslim-majority countries and create a registry of certain Muslims in the U.S.

Tapio, who led Trump’s 2016 campaign efforts in South Dakota, appears to be preparing to launch his own campaign for the nomination. That campaign, apparently, would be based on Tapio’s support of Trump policies that are, at best, cowardly attempts to provide a false sense of security to the American people and claim their votes for political office. In other words, politicians such as Tapio are trying to scare people into voting for them by using half-truths. 

The fact is that almost all of the immigrants and refugees who have become radicalized and done harm to Americans did so long after they came here, not before. Their reasons for becoming radicalized largely center on feelings of isolation and marginalization, feelings that events such as Interfaith Day are designed to help combat. 

Every group of immigrants to this country, whether they were Irish, Italian, Norwegian, Somalian or Chinese, has faced a certain amount of anti-immigration sentiment as they struggled to find their place here. And one’s struggles to fit in are no excuse for violence. 

However, the current crop of immigrants and refugees is facing a unique set of circumstances. Namely that the political left is out there preaching that people don’t need to assimilate into the American fabric. The left seems intent on arguing that American ideals have no more merit than anyone else’s. That it’s okay to cling to the familiar, comforting dogmas from the old country, whether or not those beliefs fly in the face of American ideals because they’re part of one’s ethnic identity. After all, who are we to say our way is better? That sort of relativism leads to isolation and the fragmentation of communities. 

History has shown that America is an exceptional place because, despite its faults and shortcomings, as a nation we have a set of common beliefs. Among those beliefs are a belief in the rule of law, a belief in the separation of church and state, the belief that all people are created equal and that all people should be treated equally under the law. Our common beliefs have created a society where people are free to be who and what they wish, which in turn has led to vast economic prosperity and, just as importantly, an expansion of personal freedom.    

The solution to the “threat” posed by refugees and immigrants from certain Muslim-majority countries becoming radical Islamic terrorists is not to impose a “temporary hold” on immigration from those countries. No, the solution is to cast fear aside, to embrace new Americans for who they are and to show them what makes our country so great and why they should want to be an integral part of it. Most already do. 

Maybe that’s a little too optimistic, maybe it’s a bit idealistic but, then again, idealism and optimism helped build this country. By the way, first- and second-generation immigrants are some of the most dynamic pieces of the American economy. Refugees, meanwhile, pay on average about $21,000 more in taxes than they consume in government benefits during their first 20 years in America, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. 

 

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