Common sense is a strange virtue. As you may have noticed lately, it is not so common and oftentimes it is not even sensible.
In fact, common sense might be defined as any course of action on an issue of the day that a couple of old guys might say while leaning on a bar.
The Syrian refugee crisis provides a prime example. All summer Americans saw pictures of mostly families, many with children, in harrowing circumstances. If America were really a Christian country, these pathetic scenes would touch sensitive nerves of faith and national identity and move all to compassion.
So much for that. The terrorists of the so-called Islamic State know how to play on our nerves too, all the raw ones that disable the humanitarian impulse through fear.
No sooner had the Islamic State sent its killers to commit atrocities in Paris, than the U.S. House threw aside its usual bounds of inertia to pass a bill to keep us all safe from refugees coming to America — all in the name of supposed common sense.
Snails outside the Capitol building marveled at the speed of this action, having come to believe that members of Congress were a kindred species to themselves, painfully slow and apt to leave a trail of slime.
What was also extraordinary was that this frantic step was a solution to no immediate big problem. The process to bring refugees here takes two years or so. And the number of Syrians projected to come to this country is actually quite small — 10,000 this year in a vast land of more than 320 million people.
Ah, but what about the Trojan Horse? Everybody who purports to speak common sense mentions how the people of Troy were lost because they naively never expected their enemies to be hiding in the horse.
Let me concede that it is good that old guys in bars are now quoting Greek mythology, instead of just saying, “Hey, how about those Steelers?” The problem with the metaphor is that in our time the Trojan Horse doesn’t have enough wheels for traction.
Consider that every Greek warrior hidden in the horse was there to overthrow Troy. Is every heavily vetted refugee coming here bent on the destruction of America? Really? You mean, all those families with children who have every reason to despise the Islamic terrorists who victimized them?
Let us suppose for argument’s sake that just one in a hundred refugees might possibly be a would-be terrorist — and that is a huge stretch of the fearful imagination. Back to the horse, if only one warrior in a hundred were there to destroy Troy, how do you think he would have done? I think he would have been about as lonely among his fellows as a lamb chop at a vegetarian banquet. It would be the same today, real common sense suggests.
Do not misunderstand me: Fear is understandable and prudence is desirable, as underlined by recent horrible events. But absolute guarantees of safety are impossible in this life, despite politicians who insist that this be so before any refugees are accepted — as this legislation cruelly does.
Was it really necessary to send the rushed message that the home of the brave is so fearful that “give me your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free” now bears the implicit postscript “except Muslims”?
How does common sense suggest we defeat Islamic terrorism without the help of the great mass of decent Muslims in the world who want to be our friends and who speak Arabic and know the culture?
Every xenophobic instinct in the refugee debate comes together in the person of Donald Trump, the presidential candidate who currently holds the title of panderer-in-chief.
He long ago gave up any resemblance to being a conservative and more resembles an old-fashioned fascist in the Mussolini mold, gross, blustering and ridiculous. Every outrageous statement he makes enlarges his popularity. He promises to rid the country of certain demonized human beings and make the golf courses run on time.
In a perverse way, this gives me hope in a Thanksgiving week which otherwise seems bereft of things to be thankful about. Donald Trump will never be president of the United States.
Why? Because we are so much better than that. Our history repeatedly is of fear-induced mistakes, which the American people always rise above in the end. The common sense of any fearful age inevitably gives away to the common decency of this great nation.
God bless, America, I say, and Happy Thanksgiving.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Reg Henry is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist. Readers may email him at [email protected]
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