I’m not Donald Trump’s enemy — but I don’t want to be his friend, either.
I’m an immigrant and a journalist. These two attributes define me, and at age 58, I feel that I’ve been preparing for this moment, for this fight, my whole life.
When Trump launched his presidential campaign in June 2015 by likening Mexican immigrants to criminals and rapists, he left little room for them to be anything else. I knew he was misleading Americans, and I knew it was my duty to stand up to him.
I never expected that Trump — the son of a Scottish immigrant, grandson of a German man and husband of a Slovenian woman — would disparage immigrants throughout his campaign, then continue to do so from the White House.
If you listen to his speeches, like the one he recently gave before Congress, you would think that all “illegals,” as he calls them, are “gang members, drug dealers and criminals.”
But that’s simply not true.
First, no human being is illegal, as Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, taught us.
Second, Americans who were born in this country commit more crimes on average and end up in jail more often than immigrants, according to a study from the American Immigration Council. There are many more “buenos hombres” in the United States than “bad hombres,” as Trump has labeled millions of people he hopes to deport.
It’s also not true when Trump says that immigrants steal jobs from Americans, or that they are a burden on the U.S. economy. Immigrants contribute much more money to the economy than they receive in public services — a $54 billion net gain from 1994 to 2013, according to the National Academy of Sciences.
Trump, who complains bitterly about fake news constantly, is himself the king of fake news, given his frequent lies about immigrants. But when he makes immigrants scapegoats for our problems in this country, how are we journalists supposed to react?
Trump has forced us to re-examine the role of the media in the 21st century. There are significant moral and ethical components to our profession. We report on the world as it is, not as we want it to be. But our job goes well beyond the dissemination of data.
Our most important role as journalists is to question those in power. When the president makes racist and anti-immigrant comments, we must confront him. But we cannot do that unless there is a clear distance between journalists and politicians.
Trump seems to believe that only the journalists he’s friendly with can report impartially about his presidency. Once again, he’s wrong.
There is a word in Spanish that perfectly defines our journalistic mission: “contrapoder” — or counterpower. We should stand on opposite sides and confront those in power, regardless of whether a Democrat or a Republican is in the White House.
Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, recently labeled news organizations “the opposition party.” Trump took that a step further when he tweeted that the media “is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people!”
Trump is very thin-skinned and doesn’t like to be criticized. But he doesn’t understand that it’s the media’s job to hold him accountable for his words and actions.
Now, I don’t know if Trump is racist, sexist or xenophobic, but he must be held accountable for the racist, sexist and xenophobic comments he made during his campaign. They are why so many people don’t respect him — and he is a president who desperately seeks validation and respect.
If Trump attacks the press and the First Amendment, I will defend freedom of speech, even if he considers me an enemy. If he attacks our democratic system and judiciary, I will stand up to him. And if he insists on falsely blaming undocumented immigrants for America’s economic and security woes, I will point out those falsehoods.
If he thinks I’m his enemy, no matter. I’m just doing my job.
So no, Mr. Trump, I’m not your enemy, nor your government’s enemy. But to be honest, I don’t want to be your friend, either.
(This column is an adaptation of comments delivered by Jorge Ramos earlier this month at the 2017 Goldsmith Awards Ceremony at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Watch the ceremony here.)