The forces of left- and right-wing extremism are tearing the USA asunder. The radical left, as spearheaded by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders and others, unflinchingly propose socialist policies that have been repeatedly discredited in practice. They ignore the lasting damage to global societies that socialism inflicts through political purges, mass executions and economic collapse as witnessed in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Unrestrained government intrusion and expansion invariably leads to totalitarianism. The Nordic nations the left-wing Democrats seek to emulate, and single out as socialist are, in reality, capitalist free markets with strong laws protecting businesses and private property rights. Profits from private enterprise and high taxes on the middle-class fund the welfare programs: an economic model that, although not socialist, is also not entirely ideal.
The radical right has found a willing mouthpiece in President Trump. Trump’s time in office has been characterized by the textbook authoritarian tactics of ugly narcissistic nativism, incessant lies, irrational scapegoating and dehumanization of immigrants and minorities, attacks on the free press, and control of the masses through fear and derision. The Republican Party that I joined as a teenager has mutated into something chilling and unrecognizable. Trump’s thoughtless cringe-inducing tweet targeting four minority Congresswomen, goading them to “go back” to their countries of origin, resurrected childhood memories of similar language.
My family’s flight from communist Cuba eventually took us to the working-class neighborhood of Lindenwold, N.J., with its manicured lawns, simple yet cozy houses, and a Mister Softee ice cream truck cruising the streets each humid, hot summer day. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, very few Hispanics lived in Lindenwold. With our Cuban culture and Spanish language skills, my sisters and I attracted polite curiosity. Interactions with the Anglo adults and their children were mostly positive, but not everything was sweet and melodious on Sutton Avenue. On occasion, insensitive children, perhaps influenced by parental attitudes at home, spouted the piercing, exclusionary refrain, “Go back to where you came from!” which I knew, even then, to be a political impossibility given the oppressive nature of the Castro dictatorship. My young mind could not comprehend the absurd hostility.
Upon signing the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, former President Lyndon B. Johnson offered soothing, gracious words of welcome to all immigrants irrespective of national origin:
“Our beautiful America was built by a nation of strangers ... The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources — because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples…The dedication of America to our traditions as an asylum for the oppressed is going to be upheld.”
In contrast, Trump’s grating, bombastic speech, targeting anyone perceived as alien or different, clashes with our most cherished moral principles and democratic values. Assuredly as the sun rises, sowing discord, and pitting neighbor against neighbor will not “make America great again.” The aggregate moral integrity of each individual defines America’s greatness.
Ukraine, ravaged throughout the 20th century by communism and fascism, recently upheld a law declaring communism and nazism equally culpable in the control and systematic destruction of individuals and cultural institutions. We too, must take heed, step back from the abyss, and reject all forms of extremism in the USA.
Daisy B. Peñaloza is a resident of Bakersfield.