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Business Casual: Is This Who We Are?

Immigration bans, religious intolerance, late-night firings, disdain for distinguished public servants, disregard for the right to speak one’s mind – all in the early days of the new administration.

Is this what we want? Regardless of party affiliation, political leanings or convenient labels: Is this who we are?

Do we discriminate against people because of their religion? Do we close our doors to immigrants seeking the protections and opportunities our forbears sought and gained? Do we dismiss and disparage those who speak out in opposition to those in power?

All this, to me, goes way beyond political positions or how you voted. It cuts much deeper than how you feel about the Affordable Care Act or the Keystone XL pipeline.

It goes right to the heart and soul of America as a country.

The president’s executive order – subsequently blocked by the courts – banning travel from seven largely Muslim countries and its clumsy rollout doesn’t even have much to do with security. We are not going after known terrorists; we are assuming that anyone from those seven countries wants to do us harm.

The order was issued without consultation with the very agencies that would have to enforce and defend it – creating near-chaos at several international airports, Atlanta’s among them. It affected legal greencard holders, foreign students, young children, even individuals who have risked their lives to serve as interpreters for our military and intelligence officers in foreign lands. It was chilling.

Then when the acting attorney general of the United States, Sally Yates – a woman, a native Georgian and an Obama appointee – announced she would not enforce the order because she had serious doubts about its legality, she was not just fired, but vilified.

A White House statement called her “weak” and said she had “betrayed” the Department of Justice by her stand. Pretty strong words for any civil servant who has served her country for more than 25 years and successfully prosecuted Eric Robert Rudolph, the domestic terrorist who bombed Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, women’s clinics in Atlanta and Birmingham and a nightclub in Atlanta.

Yates was pretty tough on corrupt public officials, too – Democrats like former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell and Republicans like former State School Superintendent Linda Schrenko. Yates fought hard and effectively for their convictions.

Georgia’s U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson had glowing words for Yates in 2015 when she was nominated for deputy attorney general, the post she held through the 2016 election. She was asked to stay on as acting AG until President Trump’s nominee was confirmed.

Isakson called her “a great human being” and said, “She has been an equal opportunity prosecutor. She’s prosecuted ... anybody that violated the public trust, any abuse of power.”

Ironically, Yates was grilled during her own confirmation hearing by Alabama’s Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s choice for attorney general. He asked if she would stand up to a president she believed to be in the wrong.

Her response: “Senator, I believe that the attorney general or deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution and to give their independent legal advice to the president.”

It's worth noting that Yates told the White House that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had in fact discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the Obama Administration, despite his denials.

I understand that individuals view these matters through their own lenses, influenced by their experiences, beliefs and perceptions; but can’t we all agree that a fine, well-respected public employee got much less than she deserved? Wasn’t she simply doing her job in the way those who confirmed her appointment to that job expected her to do?

Apparently, the idea of loyal opposition or even expressing a view contrary to the official line is out of favor in Washington. Department of the Interior employees’ Twitter accounts were shut down for two days following the inauguration-crowd-size flap, and Trump’s Press Secretary Sean Spicer has suggested that State Department officials who are critical of the immigration ban should resign.

Speaking up, speaking out and living up to one’s principles are pretty basic and important American characteristics. So is upholding the tradition of welcoming immigrants seeking shelter and opportunity.

We had better not forget who we are or where we came from.

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