By Martin Kidston
The past week in Missoula was one for the history books, a week where the post-election tidal wave and its debris provoked several demonstrations and rallies, advertising blunders and the birth of new campaigns.
As one would guess, it all stemmed from the election of Donald Trump as our nation’s leader.
Three days removed from this year’s unprecedented vote, Rep. Ellie Hill Smith, D-Missoula, announced her intention to introduce a bill to the state Legislature that would replace the Electoral College with a popular vote – a move that gained its share of comments across a number of social media platforms.
The very next day – a Saturday – a group of Missoula residents gathered in Caras Park on a frigid morning to urge unity over the division they fear may follow Trump’s inauguration. As organizer Ilana McCloud said, “I need to bring some kind of peace into the current situation. Emotions are running way too high.
Her observation proved correct and the fallout played like a steady drumbeat throughout the week. A Billings business owner and Trump supporter was obligated to apologize after a scathing, racist-laden tirade on Facebook. That same weekend, a Missoula resident claimed to have been assaulted because he supported Trump.
Jump to Monday’s Missoula City Council meeting where Geoff Easton announced his campaign to enlist Missoula among the nation’s ranks of sanctuary cities. His intent – to head off Trump’s threatened mass deportations.
As one would expect, given today’s climate and lack of civil discourse, Easton’s constitutionally protected participation in government drew sharp criticism, with one man calling him a “fucking liberal idiot.”
By Tuesday, City Council chairperson and acting Missoula mayor Marilyn Marler had penned a letter calling for calm. She’d also called Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, as well as Rep. Ryan Zinke, to voice her concern over Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as his chief policy adviser.
When asked about the call, Marler said, “I’m really troubled that someone like (Bannon), with such a printed history of being racist and anti-Semitic, is going to have an advisory role in the White House.”
She wasn’t alone in her concerns. On Wednesday, students at the University of Montana gathered to express similar fears. One man – Jameel Chaudhry – raised the unspeakable possibility that Trump’s stand against immigrants of certain ethnic backgrounds would see the reopening of the nation’s internment camps, like that at Fort Missoula and Heart Mountain, Wyoming.
I say unspeakable because, really, who would think we as a nation would go back down that road, committing the same sins our ancestors committed in the 1940s? But on Thursday, the Missoulian ran a Google ad asking readers to take a survey, which suddenly didn’t make Chaudhry’s fears seem so implausible.
The survey’s question?
“Would you support or oppose placing Muslims living in America in temporary internment camps?” Readers had two options. “I would support internment camps” and “I would oppose internment camps.”
A snapshot of the survey was posted by Matthew Koehler, who seemed somewhat shocked that one of the local newspapers would ask such a question. One of his commentators stated the obvious in saying, “Just asking the question normalizes the possibility.”
The Missoulian, which ran a full-page house ad just days earlier calling for unity, quickly removed the offensive ad. On Friday, it posted the following statement: “The question that appeared Thursday … sparked angry emails and calls from readers who saw it on the website or read it after it was shared on social media. The Missoulian moved quickly to have the question taken down and has apologized to readers who objected to it.”
This occurred at the same time a Trump supporter appeared on Fox News and said that the Japanese-American internment camps from the 1940s set a “precedent” for a possible immigration registry, which had already been suggested by a member of Trump’s transition team.
“He was referring to a suggestion by Kris Kobach, a member of Mr. Trump’s transition team, that the new administration could reinstate a national registry for immigrants from countries where terrorist groups were active,” the New York Times reported.
If that is Kobach’s true concern, then it must also pertain to some American citizens, so long as one considers the armed takeover of public lands and the bombing of federal buildings a terrorist act. Or perhaps – as suspected – Kobach is narrowing his focus to the same people mentioned in the Missoulians’s errant Google ad.
Back when I worked for the Billings Gazette and its Wyoming Bureau, I had the chance to meet a number of aging Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned at the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp in the 1940s.
In opening the center’s new museum, they didn’t use scissors to cut a ribbon. Rather, they held pliers to cut a strand of barbed wire. The dignitaries included Norman Mineta, a former internee who became a U.S. congressman and Cabinet member, and Sen. Daniel Inouye who, despite serving in the U.S. Army in World War II, was shunned when he returned home due to his Japanese ancestry.
Inouye would later win a seat in the U.S. Senate, where he helped pass the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 – a law that established reparations and acknowledged the injustice of imprisoning Americans of Japanese ancestry during the war.
“It wasn’t easy for America or any country to come out and say it did something wrong,” Inouye said at the ceremony. “Very few nations are strong enough to admit wrong. America is strong enough, and we did so.”
Perhaps, especially now, we should take time to remember that apology.
Martin Kidston is the founding editor of the Missoula Current. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org