Zinke, Daines and Rosendale have forgotten Montana’s history, and embarrassed us in the process

November 9, 2023 4:29 am

U.S. Rep.-elect Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, attends the member-elect class photo on the East Front Steps of the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 15, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Newly elected House members are in Washington this week for new member orientation. (Photo by Alex Wong | Getty Images)

It’s bad enough that Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Ryan Zinke are bullies.

It’s even worse that Montana gets to be judged in some part by their actions.

That’s the situation we now face: That two Republican politicians who live about as far away from Gaza as you can get are now the face of intolerance as they tripped over each other to see who could sponsor legislation the fastest that would amount to rounding up any Palestinian in the United States – whether they’re here legally or not – and deport them.

Put another way: Palestinians, whose lives and homes have been upended by virtue of being from a war zone, will be profiled, targeted and deported simply by accident of birth. We’re not talking about targeting the terrorists who attacked Israel in October, but rather anyone who just happens to be Palestinian.

So much for all that talk of poor, huddled masses. Or innocent until proven guilty.

And don’t forget that Rep. Matt Rosendale plans to sign onto the legislation as well making the state appear to be inhabited by a bunch of xenophobic, paranoid wannabe cowboys who likely couldn’t find the Gaza Strip on a map but are absolutely convinced Palestinians are a danger to our way of life. Frankly, we’re doing a pretty good job of making enemies out of each other in our domestic politics, we should maybe leave the Palestinians alone.

I would love to say that Zinke, Daines and Rosendale don’t speak for the rest of us, except, as three-quarters of our Congressional delegation, they do. So, that leaves it to the rest of us to say: Nope, that’s not what Montana stands for. Our informal state motto has always been live-and-let-live, not deport without cause.

To be fair, Daines only wants to shut out Palestinians, according to the language of his legislation. But whether you want to kick people out of the country, or bar their entry just because of where they’re from, it has the same effect: Treating them like they’re enemies, threats and terrorists.

Not so far away at Heart Mountain, just across the border in Wyoming, we have created a national memorial to what happens when we start rounding up people solely on the basis of nationality.

Sadly, though, this isn’t the first time Montana has been unable to avoid the shadow of its own history.

After all, Montana’s ignominious history includes rounding up mostly German-speaking immigrants during and after World War I and imprisoning them for sedition. Those horrible, illegal acts destroyed the lives and families of people who just happened to speak the wrong language and have the wrong last name.

If any state should know better than to round-up those who are different, it should be Montana.

Then again, ask any community in Indian Country what happened to children and families who were seen as hostile to Washington, D.C. That resulted in boarding schools and economic desolation so profound that it can still be seen while driving around Montana today.

Deporting Palestinians presents a challenge that illustrates how cruel this wrong-headed legislation is: Sending Palestinians back means returning them when they literally have no country. And that doesn’t even begin to consider the ethics of sending many of these people back to a war zone, which lacks food, water, electricity and fuel.

Believing that Palestinians are somehow connected to Hamas is racial profiling based on ignorance and a lack of nuance.

Frankly, Palestinians are an easy target: Who will defend them when they don’t even have their own country? So the legislation to expel them takes on an even more craven shade as Zinke and Daines appear to be picking on those who are already defeated and weak.

For Republicans who like to crow so much about their religion and a sort of super-strong Christian nationalism, I would suggest caution: If there’s one thing that the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, condemns, it’s being hostile to a stranger. And sending a stranger back to a war zone seems pretty hostile to me.

While most political experts agree the legislation is a mirage meant to appease to a staunchly conservative base, this isn’t a matter of political theater. It could be a matter of life and death for some.

Surely, Daines and Zinke know that the legislation faces doom in the Senate, and should it pass there, President Joe Biden would certainly veto it, making it a farce, not to mention raising serious legal questions on its own.

But this is even worse than political spectacle.

It sends the message that all of those lofty notions that we use to soothe ourselves and salve our bruised democracy are nothing more than hollow rhetoric.

Some of the best American thought was tied to the idea, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said, that we will judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Or where they happened to be born.

And if we are no longer the kind of place that welcomes the refuge who has been driven from their home by war, hunger, violence and intolerance, then this country isn’t worth being deported from.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming.