The further the nation moved from 1965, the more natural it has become to expect American immigration laws to be blind to race and religion, that maybe that was the way it always had been.
It’s tempting to believe that the period from 1882 to 1965 was simply an exception, a deviation from true American values. Progressives as well as conservatives tend to make a god of American nationalism and proclaim themselves defenders of the one true church. This is not American. This is not who we are.
The problem, of course, is that this is precisely who we are: a nation built on white nationalism and democracy, slavery and civil liberties, exclusion and inclusion, sin and grace. A nation that boldly declared a principle of radical equality while steadily constructing an architecture of discrimination.
This matters, because it is another reminder that our constitutional system can bear a tremendous amount of illiberalism. The Constitution, Supreme Court, and checks and balances were all in place when the country slammed shut its doors in the 1880s and again in the 1920s. They were still there three months ago when Trump won the election, and two weeks ago when he was sworn into office, and yesterday — when he did whatever insane thing he did the day before you’re reading this. None of those safeguards are self-executing; none will automatically protect “American values,” because “American values” include both America at its best and America at its very worst.
For now, that means the Muslim ban and the mass protests to stop it are both American. The battle between the two, not its outcome, is who we are.