Fabiola Santiago

Ms. Sanders, I’m thankful that Trump wasn’t president when I came to this country

Sarah Sanders asks press to say what they’re thankful before taking questions

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders required the press corps to say what they’re thankful fore before taking questions ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday on Nov. 20.
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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders required the press corps to say what they’re thankful fore before taking questions ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday on Nov. 20.

In President Donald Trump’s first Thanksgiving in the White House, the Pilgrims are expendable — and so is the media’s dignity.

Clad in cheerful holiday red, his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, walked up to the White House press corps podium Monday and ran through the reasons she’s thankful this Thanksgiving.

Her list was basically a rundown of President Trump’s so-called “law and order” and “America First” policies, and she thanked the protagonists tasked with defending the country, our borders and our streets.

The moment might have gone down as another superficial delivery of rhetoric versus substance, but then Sanders did something none of us have seen in decades of practicing journalism.

She literally strong-armed White House reporters into marking the holiday, too.

She would not take questions, she said, unless reporters listed what they’re thankful for this season.

She wasn’t kidding.

Read more: “Thanksgiving, my holiday of dislocation”

Earlier, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stood at the same podium and announced more sanctions on North Korea. Now, if you didn’t play Sanders’ game, you wouldn’t get to ask that precious question you needed answered in this last press conference before Thanksgiving. Or, as it turned out, disobedience meant you missed the opportunity to not have answers for those questions self-respecting journalists nevertheless ask.

Yes, the spectacle amounted to forced gratitude — very Trumpian — and a show of how, on a press conference airing live on C-SPAN, the mighty media could be corralled into compliance.

One by one, reporters obliged Sanders with expressions of gratitude for the wife, the kids, health, a baby due, etc. One reporter tested her resolve and started to ask a question. Nope, Sanders interrupted, she wouldn’t entertain it until he played by her rules. He did. She said nothing useful.

I watched waiting for someone to have the fortitude to push back and say what some of us were thinking — and Cecilia Vega of ABC News delivered.

“I am thankful,” she said, “for the First Amendment.”

To which I only have one more thing to add: Ms. Sanders, I’m thankful that Trump wasn’t president when I came to this country.

This presidency, with no heart or humanity, is an affront to the values of generosity and goodwill, plentiful when this Cuban refugee arrived in the autumn of 1969. As has been the case during the last 11 months, this is no ordinary Thanksgiving. It’s a hollow one marked by pettiness, scandal and an anti-immigrant spirit in the White House that runs contrary to the American story of arrival the holiday celebrates.

As Sanders’ gratitude charade played, the real and unaddressed news: The Trump administration ended temporary protective status (TPS) for Haitians, giving 59,000 people who suffered through a devastating earthquake that took 300,000 lives and found refuge in the United States 18 months to leave the country.

This inhumane decision, despite pleas even from conservatives, comes on the heels of Trump’s hasty and cruel end to DACA, the program that protected from deportation young people brought to this country as children — Americans by all definitions except legal status — and so accomplished and involved in their communities they’ve well-earned their nickname, Dreamers.

A call to Congress to pass a Dream Act this year might have made for a good news Thanksgiving. A call to Congress to find a permanent solution to the plight of Haitians who’ve made their home here and birthed U.S. citizens might have made ours a truly grateful community.

But grace isn’t with us this year.

Instead, we’ve got a president spending his Thanksgiving at his posh Palm Beach estate Mar-a-Lago, where an inordinate amount of staffers are imported foreign workers, neither native-born Americans nor immigrants. The standards he sets for others never apply to this classic Narcissist-in-Chief.

And in addition to making a mockery of the spirit of the holiday, this peculiar Thanksgiving we’re also treated to a staged tragicomedy that trampled on one of the nation’s sacred tenets, a free and independent media.

I don’t remember the details of my first Thanksgiving in this country a month after arrival. But my 10-year-old heart easily embraced with gratitude a grand country that had sent a man to the moon and given my family refuge.

To our shame, pilgrims in the time of Trump only face rejection.

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