D.J. Bettencourt: Calvin Coolidge deserves better from Burns’ documentary

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Published: 10/10/2022 1:32:46 PM
Modified: 10/10/2022 1:32:35 PM

Fellow Granite Stater Ken Burns’ latest PBS documentary, chronicling America’s attitude towards Jews fleeing the Holocaust, tells a captivatingly tragic story. Sadly, it is reminiscent of the Biden administration’s negligence toward Afghan refugees following our disgraceful withdrawal from Afghanistan.

While undeniable that Burns is a great documentarian, his liberal bias regarding President Calvin Coolidge’s immigration views demand refutation. While Coolidge signed the immigration restricting Johnson-Reed Immigration Act, he deplored several provisions. Particularly, an exclusion of Japanese immigrants, saying, “If the exclusion provision stood alone I [would veto] it.” However, it passed with congressional majorities too overwhelming for a veto to overcome. Burns excludes these facts.

Further, Burns’ suggestion that Coolidge was antisemitic or xenophobic is meritless. The predominant motivation behind Johnson-Reed was to counteract the proliferation of communist and dictatorial sentiments in America. Debate over that law’s approach is fair, but it was not driven by prejudice. Coolidge rejected prejudices that sometimes colored our immigration debates. Speaking in 1925, he said: “Whether one traces his Americanism back three centuries to the Mayflower or three years of the steerage, is not half so important as whether his Americanism of today is genuine. No matter by what various crafts we came here, we are all now in the same boat.”

Burns is perpetuating a longtime campaign by liberal historians to distort Coolidge’s legacy. While a conservative, I believe progressives can boost their ideology without dishonesty. President Coolidge was not antisemitic or xenophobic. He deserves better from Burns and many others.

D.J. Bettencourt

Salem, N.H


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