The Other Boat

The main set piece in one of Christopher Nolan’s movies revolves around two boats in a river. One boat is loaded with prisoners being transferred, the other with townspeople. The antagonist has wired both boats with enough explosives to kill everyone on board, but has put the firing mechanism for each on the opposite boat. (In other words, the prisoners can blow up the townspeople, and the townspeople can blow up the prisoners.) The antagonist tells both boats they have ten minutes to push the button; if they do, their boat will go free, but if neither have done so at the end of the ten minutes, he will blow them both up.

The piece is foreshadowed in an earlier conversation between the antagonist and protagonist. You can guess which one is talking.

You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other.

In the film, there’s a lot of discussion and arguing on both boats, but ultimately, neither boat pushes the button. Nolan’s point was that the antagonist was wrong, that civilization isn’t a veneer, that when it comes down to it, we won’t actually eat each other.

I wonder what he thinks ten years later?

One of the things I heard during the lead-up to the last election was that putting up with Trump was worth the judges. It was all about the Supreme Court judges. If we (the people talking) got “our” Supreme Court judges, then it would all be worth it. Mark Thiessen agrees. In his piece published in the Washington Post this week, the headline reads, “Congrats Trump voters. You’ve been vindicated.”

Have they? Let’s see what they’ve had to tolerate, to defend, to ignore, in order to be “vindicated.”

  • Bragging, on camera, that he assaults women and gets away with it.
  • Too many lies to list. He is not a man who lies, he is a liar. (Duck it; you’ll find plenty of documentation.)
  • Belittling a Gold Star family.
  • Making fun of a former POW.
  • Putting a white nationalist on his staff.
  • Cutting the number of refugees entering the country by three-fourths. (See the “Refugee Admissions Report” here.)
  • Instituting policies that separated adults seeking asylum from their children and treating them as criminals.
  • Passing decisions that make it orders of magnitude more difficult to get asylum.

Be sure and read that last link. It’s always good to read the source documents. Pay special attention to #4 and #7.

Now, the big issue that has the conservatives so worked up about Supreme Court judges is Roe v. Wade. And rightly so—60 million dead babies are worth getting worked up about. (I just lost the half of the audience that was to this point yelling, “You tell ’em!” Today I’m going to make everyone mad.) Here’s the thing, though.

Blowing up the other boat isn’t the way we want to be saving babies.

Emma Lazarus was a well-known nineteenth-century poet. She was also Jewish. She spent most of her thirties advocating for Jewish refugees, especially after the Russian pogroms of the early 1880’s. She helped establish organizations so the refugees could become self-sufficient. She died at only 38.

That might be the only thing you’ve ever read about Emma Lazarus, but you are probably familiar with one of her works. Or, more accurately, a part of one of her works.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Ms. Lazarus wrote those lines for an auction that was raising money for the pedestal that would hold the Statue of Liberty. The poem was largely forgotten for twenty-five years, until some friends started a posthumous1 campaign to recognize her and the poem. As a result of those friends, the text is now mounted on a plaque inside that pedestal.

In today’s United States, every line of it is a lie.

Two things prompted this post. It was already percolating, but this morning I read an article by an immigrant attorney who talked about those last two bullet-points above, what it’s meant to his clients, and how much more devastating to asylum-seekers those are than anything related to separating children.

What really kicked it off, though, was a World Relief event we went to last weekend. We heard from several refugee families: how they came to be refugees, how some of them lived in refugee camps for over a decade, how it took years for them to be vetted to enter the US, how they had successfully integrated into their communities, and how grateful they were to everyone involved in helping them resettle here.

And all I could think of the whole time was how fortunate they were to enter when they did, because today we’d push the button as fast as we could find it.

At that World Relief event, one of the event organizers said they loved us too much to leave us without some actions we can take. Ditto.

Here are a few:

  1. Pray. This is bigger than me, bigger than you, bigger than all of us. It’s not bigger than God. He gave us the Holy Spirit for just such a purpose. If you think it’s too big to solve, let me remind you of this.
  2. Contact your congresspeople—representatives, senators. Tell them, nicely, what you think about our government’s policies and that you want their help to change them. That you’re willing to change them if they don’t help. And that “help” means action on their part, not words.
  3. Support the organizations that support refugees: World Relief, Catholic Charities, Seek the Peace, and many others.
  4. Use your voice. You’re welcome to link to this post, but use your own voice, too. The voice most effective amongst your friends and acquaintances is yours. Make sure it’s heard.

Let’s live like we’re as civilized as Nolan thought we were.

  1. Her, not the friends, smarty-pants.

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