Recently, Sen. Lindsey Graham has worked hard to keep his name socially relevant by engaging in a Twitter spat with congressperson-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over the migrant caravan. Ocasio-Cortez compared the caravan to well-documented historic refugees in Syria, Rwanda, and Germany. But it was the reference to Jewish families fleeing Nazi Germany that prompted Graham to respond to Ocasio-Cortez, suggesting she should tour the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington to better understand the differences.
There are a few important truths we should glean from this exchange. First is the Holocaust comparison — a world event from which lessons should be learned. Was this a fair comparison? The second idea we should examine is the context with which we should properly view this caravan. Finally, we should realize the type of America we want is nuanced in these exchanges.
At first glance, it would be easy to suggest Ocasio-Cortez's comparison of the caravan to the Holocaust is a bit extreme. Inside the museum Graham referred her to, exhibits detail how at least six million Jews were killed as part of the Nazi genocide. That number balloons by millions more when you include additional Holocaust-related victims. Realistically, the group of 5,000-10,000 migrants camped at the U.S.-Mexico border does not begin to compare. Additionally, since the Holocaust was a strategic extermination by the Nazi regime, it's certainly hard to view Trump's approach to the caravan as genocide. Of course, this was not Ocasio-Cortez's point.
The newly elected congresswoman was attempting to point out the fact that migrants and refugees seeking asylum are not criminals as the president and conservatives have attempted to frame them. Jews and Tutsis fleeing genocidal violence and Syrians fleeing civil war are not criminals for seeking a safer place to live. Likewise, migrants approaching the American border who are fleeing murder and violence are not criminals.
But the similarities don't end there. Before there was a Holocaust, there was a propaganda campaign designed to prepare the population for the final solution. This is where comparisons are scary. Hitler's view of Jews is appalling when laid bare. However, that propaganda was a calculated effort to make the German population look down on their Jewish countrymen. There was the criminal log which focused only on Jews who committed crimes. It showed their pictures and identified their crimes. Today, Trump's "VOICE" program, which solicits accounts of violence by immigrants, is eerily similar (despite statistics that suggest immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than American citizens.) Most recently, a TV ad featuring Trump ahead of the midterm election highlighted an immigrant who murdered an American. Now, many people likely saw through this propaganda and seen it as an attempt to instill fear and hate for immigrants, using emotion where reality falls short of the political narrative.
We could go on in regard to the propaganda, but let's consider some context of this "caravan." First, understand that immigrants fleeing violence from the "Northern Triangle" of Central America, which consists of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, is not new. It's just the size of this particular group that became newsworthy. These three countries account for some of the highest national murder rates of women in the world, where violent gangs run amok, and rape and kidnapping are common forms of control. This is what these people are fleeing.
Most importantly, though, is the United States' role in that violence. The U.S. has supported a military junta in Guatemala, helping stage a coup to overthrow a democratically elected government. The regime that rose up has been documented as having carried out human rights violations for decades. America has had a similar role in El Salvador and Honduras since the Reagan administration. The point is that the United States is largely responsible for the destabilization of these areas and the violence, drugs, murder, and rape that has turned these civilians into refugees at our border.
Finally, let's recognize that this caravan didn't show up overnight. This group has been traveling for weeks. They are fleeing situations the U.S. helped create. We could have prepared for a few thousand refugees seeking asylum with temporary space to process the claims made by every one of these weary travelers. Instead, under President Trump (with Sen. Graham's encouragement), America decided to prepare with heavily armed soldiers, barbed wire, and tear gas.
This speaks volumes about the America we are becoming. Who are we?
Will we be a compassionate country that cleans up its own mess? Graham and Ocasio-Cortez represent two paths.
I'll close with Ocasio-Cortez's response to Graham's Twittersplaining:
"The point of such a treasured museum is to bring its lessons to the present day," she said. "This administration has jailed children and violated human rights. Perhaps we should stop pretending that authoritarianism + violence is a historical event instead of a growing force."