Column originally published in the Tampa Bay Times.
Amid the gymnastics and pyrotechnics of another great Super Bowl halftime show, Lady Gaga bookended her powerful performance with an ode to the nation (God Bless America) and its citizens (“I’ve got a million reasons to walk away, but baby I just need one good one to stay”).
Translation: We’re in this together.
By contrast, the notion of “divide and conquer” is alive and well, an age-old human prescription for power championed by leaders looking for advantage or permanent control.
After years of petty politics and media-fueled fire, America has now become divide and conquer’s laboratory as conversation gives way to confrontation, and dialogue succumbs to diatribe.
We’re having trouble talking things out and working them out.
Machiavelli would have loved all this, because righteous certainty enfeebles foes by feeding distrust and sowing discord.
Enter, stage right, the immigration travel ban where, in less than a week, a nation of immigrants has engaged in a rush to rancor shorn of virtue and integrity.
Conscience and principle yielded to divisiveness and bitterness.
Proclamations of policy became declarations of domestic war.
Protests of conscience morphed into cabals of virulent dissent.
Immigration is a tough issue for us and others across the world. The last time we seriously addressed citizenship was more than 150 years ago when Congress finally conferred citizenship on freed black slaves. Two years later, the 14th Amendment was adopted to ensure future Congresses never changed their collective minds.
A century and a half later, America’s “Now President” called for a 90-day travel ban against nations President Barack Obama two years ago called “countries of concern.” Trump’s rationale: We need a timeout to ensure our citizens won’t be iced by ISIS and a vetting system to keep America safe.
The latest warning shot came from 22 British medical students from one of those terror states, Sudan, who just allied themselves with ISIS.
Opponents of the ban are not swayed. Many deem it a callous act of intolerance, if not an Americanized version of jihad.
Granted, the opening choreography of Trump’s executive order deserved some blowback as the moment may have been better served by symphonic messaging vs. tectonic tweets.
Yet underneath it all rests the questions we just don’t feel comfortable addressing openly or honestly.
What is the right policy on legal (and illegal) immigration? How can we safeguard our immigrant pedigree while also safeguarding our borders and legitimate national interests? How will it impact American jobs and the nation’s pocketbook? Are American institutions, from schools to hospitals, ready to do their part?
Are our citizens going to be safe?
More importantly, can we even have this conversation without shaming and demonizing, without bulldozing our way past each other to power our way to the moral high ground?
Consider Sweden’s plight today, a nation of idyllic tranquility where an historic wave of immigration spawned such serious crime that police have established “no-go zones” they no longer patrol or control.
The reality is tough; now the conversations there — and across Europe — have grown even tougher.
Here at home, a half-million Americans remain homeless. Many are veterans; a quarter of them are children. We have a $20 trillion debt that’s growing, debilitating student debt, crumbling infrastructure and millions unemployed.
Maybe it’s time to apply the Reagan Doctrine of “peace through strength” to immigration. Our grounding and our heritage compels us to be a beacon of light to the world, but compassion without strength equates to conscience without consequence.
In the days ahead, the courts all the way up to the Supreme Court will weigh in on the temporary travel ban and, indirectly, the new immigration paradigm. It’s the “checks and balances” stuff we learned about in school that ensure democracy never gives way to monarchy or theocracy.
As we await the judicial verdicts, know that a verdict on the American people hangs in the balance. Can we talk about life-changing, nation-protecting issues without trying to outdo, outpoint and outshout each other? Can we unite for the common good instead of igniting for the political good?
With immigration, health care, foreign policy, trade deals, and more recently Cabinet appointments, don’t we already have enough hype and hyperbole to keep us all on edge?
Instead, let’s restore America’s edge by replacing “divide and conquer” with something far more powerful, a patriotic tune Lady Gaga could go platinum with.
E pluribus unum.
Out of many, one.
Adam Goodman is a national Republican media consultant based in Tampa and the first Edward R. Murrow Fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.