Full disclosure: I don't have a drop of Irish blood in me that I know of. I don't wear green on St. Patrick's Day, or drink green beer. I don't kiss people because they're Irish. But that doesn't stop me from recommending a terrific op ed in today's New York Times by Fintan O'Toole, a columnist for The Irish Times: Green Beer and Rank Hypocrisy
Stop reading this right now and link to his column! Or, if you prefer, stick around and read what I have to say about it.
O'Toole's basic thesis is, don't forget that most of the Irish-Americans we celebrate today are descendants of reviled immigrants.
[The Irish] 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.
Today in a proclamation, Trump celebrates "the achievements and contributions of Irish-Americans to our nation . . . overcoming poverty and discrimination and inspiring Americans from all walks of life with their indomitable and entrepreneurial spirit.”
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.
O'Toole says of those members of the Trump administration with Irish ancestry, like Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway:
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.
He reminds them of "the charge that Irish Catholics were innately crooked and violent." (Similar insults were heaped on my Eastern European Jewish ancestors when they arrived at Ellis Island. One writer at the time called Jews "a natural criminal class.")
He concludes by reminding people of Irish descent:
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.
If O'Toole were standing in front of me right now, I might be inclined to kiss him — not because he's Irish, but because he speaks a powerful truth which all of us need to keep in our minds and our hearts as we slog through the vicious, government-sponsored swamp of hatred toward "the other" which is central to the Trump presidency.