I identify with the people at our borders who long to make a new and more hopeful life.
I recently read that Nancy Pelosi’s congressman father, Thomas D’Alesandro, a New Deal Democrat, took an unpopular stand in 1943 in fierce opposition to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s immigration policies. At risk of his own political standing, D’Alesandro publicly challenged his president to support Raoul Wallenberg’s rescue of 200,000 Holocaust Jews and the creation of Israel. I suddenly understood that Pelosi has been following in her father’s footsteps.
What examples did President Donald Trump’s father set for him? Fred C. Trump was a businessman who, under oath in 1954, admitted to the Senate’s Banking Committee that he had inflated the costs of his Federal Housing Administration-insured housing developments in New York by millions of dollars to reap windfall profits. After making his son Donald president of the company in 1971, they were sued by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in 1973 for repeated instances of racial discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The commission discovered that there were only seven African-American families living among 3,700 apartments in Trump Village in Brooklyn, finding that African Americans’ applications were marked with the letter “C” for colored and their applications denied.
To understand the meaning and motivations of politicians who debate the issues amid accusations of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” we should consider the family legacies of the politicians who would sway us to their ideas. In our culture, we tend to think of ourselves as independent actors; but I think of passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy as expressing key psychological principles: The traumas of parents are visited unto the third and fourth generation, but righteousness is passed on for a thousand.
We are all marked by the traumatic events that affected our parents and grandparents. For example, a grandmother who had lost her mother as a child lived with that grief all her life. While raising her children, she embraced them with nuances of grief. We may blunt the impact, but effects remain in our struggles and our strengths. When a parent does harm, the children must learn a better way. When a parent does right, children need only to follow the parent’s footsteps.
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In 1949, I came to this country as a child of Holocaust survivors after four years in a displaced person’s camp. My father had three years of school and no trade. My mother, a seamstress, had 10 years of school. When we arrived, we did not speak English and possessed $22, some photographs and some silverware. My parents struggled, but they worked hard. I am grateful to them and to the United States for taking us in, for giving me a shot.
We were exactly like the people today a wall is supposed to keep out: impoverished, uneducated and desperate to make a new life in America. I identify with the people at our borders who long to make a new and more hopeful life. Nancy Pelosi has her father’s example and an American promise to fulfill.