A Greek immigrant who was knocked on the head by a brick thrown through the window of his candy store in the South Omaha, Nebraska, anti-Greek riots of 1909, and who finally awoke last November 12 to read the National Herald’s editorial congratulating Donald Trump on his election, might ask himself, “since when did Greeks in America become white?” But in fact in the 107 years since the South Omaha riots, Greeks in this country have become “white,” as have the Irish before them and there is no reason to expect that, if given half a chance, the Somalis, Syrians and Iraqis fleeing the chaos of their homelands will not become full participants in American life. Greeks in this country no longer need to huddle behind the walls of Greek Town for protection, no longer need to bribe a cop to get justice or deliver a bottle of bootleg wine to a straw boss to get a job, or fawn over some ward heeler to get a hearing at City Hall. The editors of the National Herald, whose Greek-language sister has been publishing since 1915 in this country, should know this as well as anyone. Therefore the sudden about face of the National Herald on Donald Trump and its fawning congratulations to him on his election victory are both retrograde and servile.
It is especially shocking that a newspaper, guardian of our right of free speech and guarantor of an informed electorate, should offer such congratulations. For this was an election like no other. The impulses behind the coded racism, the exaggerations and misrepresentations of previous Republican campaigns came out of the closet, and the airwaves and internet sites like Breitbart News were swollen with unchecked allegations, blatant xenophobia, fake news, misogyny and conspiracy theories, while an unending tweetstorm of bullying and flimflam came from candidate Donald Trump himself. It was the same kind of mob mentality that led to the burning of Greek Town in South Omaha and the displacement of its 3,000 Greeks.
There is no sign that any of this assault on reason will end with Trump’s inauguration. By offering its congratulations, then, The National Herald is doing its part to legitimize this politics – the very thing a free press must guard itself – and guard us – against. A final thought. From the paper’s brief list of important Greek American politicians I find one missing, who, rather than the political operative Reince Priebus, might serve as a model for the Greek American Republican: George Christopher, an immigrant himself, who as mayor between 1956 and 1964 led San Francisco in a time of great change and turbulence. His devotion to civil rights in this multi-ethnic city, so many of whose citizens were and continue to be immigrants and the children of immigrants, was exemplary. Christopher was pro-business, pro-development, pro-freeway and no liberal’s dream, but his impulse was always to build a citizenry, not to destroy it.
(first published in CHRONOS magazine, 30 Nov. 2016)