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The U.S. election season, viewed from Europe

From a bogus migrant "invasion" to an attack on a Jewish synagogue, Trump's reaction is a far cry from Winston Churchill's soaring rhetoric of national unity.
Former U.S. Ambassador John Feeley is a Univision diplomatic analyst.
A demonstrator waits for the start of a protest in the aftermath of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, in Pittsburgh. Crédito: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Traveling in England for the past ten days and following the news back home in the United States, I felt the dizzying confluence of events was tailored by fate to provoke in me sorrow, irony and … unexpectedly, hope.

Upon departure, the polarizing Central American migrant caravans had already begun. The President and his supporters reliably posted videos of raucous young Honduran men shouting at Mexican border guards and called that an invasion. I happened to see those Tweets while visiting the Churchill War Rooms in London and reminded myself what the words “blitz” and “invasion” really mean. The irony was inescapable, as was my sorrow at our President’s leadership by division, when compared to Churchill’s three-party coalition and his soaring rhetoric of national unity in the face of non-stop Nazi bombings.

The anti-caravan posts contrasted with far more images of collapsed women and children, desperate fathers, and the stunned silence of the elderly, shuffling towards a mirage of the American dream that most will not attain.

When the FBI and local law enforcement moved rapidly to discover the twisted mind behind the pipe bombs mailed to Democrat party Trump critics, I overheard a woman in a burkha with a cockney accent remark, “Thank God. Not a Muslim. The Americans do more than any other nation to keep us out, but it’s always their own who seem to commit the terrorism.” I listened to the President dutifully read from prepared remarks to properly condemn the alleged bomber and the hate behind his actions…only to undo the effect by tweeting (yet again) against the Fake News Media’s coverage of his peripheral role in the sad episode.

As I followed the President’s decision to deploy 5,200 military service members (upon landing to learn he’d upped the ante to 15,000!) to the Southwest border to stop bedraggled asylum seekers, I saw commentary comparing that figure to the 2,600 we have deployed to fight ISIS in Syria. I also noted that Border Patrol statistics indicated the average agent apprehended an estimated 23 migrants in fiscal year 2018. As Univision’s Jorge Ramos tweeted, “This is your invasion, Mr. President?”

This historically low level of undocumented migration – down from 352 apprehensions per agent in 1992 - requires such a significant military deployment to support border patrol and CBP agents? Of course, it’s more than ironic that these patriotic military members cannot statutorily do the real job that is needed, and which U.S. law compels: to process, in a humanitarian and orderly fashion, the hundreds, possibly few thousand caravan migrants who will eventually arrive.

As a Marine veteran, I recalled there was nothing worse than a non-productive mission. You do it because you are disciplined and swore an oath to follow legal orders. But you wished you were doing the real work of protecting the nation against real enemies, not participating in a politically-inspired, media show designed to reject the 21 st century’s tired, poor, huddled masses. Most of these soldiers, I bet, would choose to fight ISIS in Syria than observe exhausted migrants submissively turn themselves in at our border.

While the President inveighed against a bogus invasion from the south, I recoiled at the news of a genuine attack on the American heartland from within our own borders. Like most Americans, I am sickened by the shooting in Pittsburgh, and fatigued by the immediate default on social media to a paralyzed gun control debate, frozen in the granite of uncompromising politics.

I said the Catholic version of kaddish for my dead Jewish brethren. I grieved for them and their families, and again, I waited for the President’s scripted remarks, hoping for a Presidential epiphany.

Perhaps, this time, he might read his staff’s words and then not touch his Twitter account. Within hours I saw that was too much to hope for. One Republican candidate called it “political malfeasance.” I call it a soulless narcissism that drives out all empathy and compassion for one’s fellow citizens.

It is impossible not to remark upon the irony of the synagogue shooter’s own statements before embarking on his hate-filled mission. He launched a verbal assault on the Hebrew Immigration Advocacy Society (HIAS), and in so doing effectively linked two seemingly unrelated aspects of the current American moment; weaponized anti-Semitism and the American tradition of the fortunate assisting less fortunate new arrivals, regardless of race, color or creed.

Slightly numb from the incessant pace of bad news from home, a final irony elicited in me not the sorrow that had accompanied me throughout my time in England, but rather, hope.

As I deplaned in New York and checked my phone, the headline simply read: “Pittsburgh Muslims raise $180,000 for Jewish community in Pittsburgh.”

I return to America, and specifically to Florida, to vote. To vote for candidates who promise tolerance, compromise and mostly…hope.