Beth Driehaus is a U.S. history teacher and college counselor. She lives in Hyde Park.
As a high school teacher of American history, I have been profoundly disturbed by the ways in which the contemporary is seeping into the history I teach.
It used to be that when my students examined primary sources on the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which allowed President John Adams to deport non-citizens he deemed "dangerous," they’d decry what was an obvious violation of due process. Now, they want to understand the ways in which the immigration ban isn’t somehow in the same vein.
It used to be that when my students read Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which was the forerunner to the establishment clause in the Constitution, they’d scratch their heads and wonder why there was ever a controversy around creating a wall separating civil and religious life. Now they ask how the immigration ban isn't a violation of the First Amendment.
And it used to be when they learned about the worst, most shameful parts of our nation’s history, whether it be the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which halted immigration from China during the Industrial Revolution, or the Japanese internment camps of World War II, they were outraged by the xenophobia that seemed to speak to our deepest suspicions and our least generous selves.
But they are looking at a modern-day example of that very thing in the executive order issued under President Trump, and they want to know how their understanding of American values and ideals seems to have changed so much in so little time.
Indeed, it’s a truism that change is a constant, but what I can’t countenance is the change that I’m witnessing first-hand -- what I perceive to be the erosion of our constitutional liberties.
The truth is that an attack on anyone’s basic constitutional rights, such as due process or religious freedom, is an attack on us all.
I urge Senator Rob Portman to denounce, in the strongest language possible, the executive order calling for this immigration ban. His argument that the ban was "not properly vetted" is simply not enough.
And as for Congressman Wenstrup’s position, I would argue that what he calls "common sense security measures" should not come at the expense of our civil liberties. Surely, someone who has fought so valiantly on behalf of our country must know that our liberties have been hard-won and that we must be jealous of them and vigilant about protecting them. Otherwise, what’s the fight for?
In the end, I suppose I should thank President Trump. Thank you for making the argument that history matters, that it contextualizes the present and most importantly, that it can inform our way forward too.