(Above) BIG ARTS’ Phillips Gallery hosts the Current Events forum each week. (Below) Attendee Corky Boyd addresses the Currents Events crowd. SC photos by Jan Holly
(Above) BIG ARTS’ Phillips Gallery hosts the Current Events forum each week. (Below) Attendee Corky Boyd addresses the Currents Events crowd. SC photos by Jan Holly

Actions taken by President Trump in the last week were on the minds of attendees at the Current Events forum that took place on Monday, May 14, in BIG ARTS’s Phillips Gallery. Moderator Mike Derechin began the discussion with Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran Nuclear Agreement. Derechin’s question, “Who benefits?”, prompted lively debate.

The first respondent pointed a finger directly at Israel. “Netanyahu is a major influence on Trump. There’s a tremendous amount of influence coming from Israel, which is unfortunate,” he said.

Participant Ken Rhodes put forward Trump’s motives. “He was clear about his intent when he was running for office—that he would pull out. It is no surprise. He thinks he can get more concessions,” Rhodes said.

Attendee Corky Boyd took a more expansive view on the question. “The world benefits,” he said. “It was a very bad deal. It did not allow inspectors to inspect military bases. We will not have any sort of treaty, without full inspection capability.”

Bob Holder, countering Boyd’s statement, pointed to the agreement’s “snap inspections. The International Atomic Energy Agency has done two dozen inspections at secure military sites,” he said. “If we are going to criticize the agreement for lack of inspections, we need to be sure that we have our facts straight.”

“Trump has pulled out in order to limit Iran, which is good,” another attendee added. “But if they build a nuclear weapon now, it will backfire on us, and we will be sorry.”

Some attendees voiced concern about America’s deteriorating relationship with its allies. “As the U.S. separates unilaterally, Russia will move to fill the vacuum in Europe,” one warned. “Sanctioning European countries will further divide us from Europe. Putin benefits. His influence will increase.”

The final word on the subject came from Jan Smith. “The two great achievements of the Pax Americana are our influence on free trade and our success in altering nuclear proliferation,” he said. “Both are now in jeopardy. Bibi [Netanyahu] will benefit, and the head of Iran’s revolutionary guard will benefit. [Iranian president Hassan] Rouhani, the moderate force, will lose.”

Derechin segued from Iran to Israel with the American Embassy’s relocation to Jerusalem. “Today is the Embassy’s opening, and tomorrow is [Palestine’s] right of return day,” he said. “It may not be peaceful. What will we see in the headlines in the coming weeks?”

The first responder quickly condemned Palestine’s motives. “The Palestinians have one goal, the destruction of Israel,” he said. “Their political leaders have no interest in a peace settlement. They are focused on digging tunnels and creating havoc. The Arab world has backed them fully, but now they are seen as a hindrance.”

“The Embassy opening sets up the idea that America will force action,” another said. “Trump’s approach is to break it and see how it comes back together.”

A Trump sceptic remarked that the president “doesn’t give a damn. He cares only about pandering to his base. He wants his bass to come out strongly in the fall elections. It’s just another of his manipulations,” she said.

Participant Al Hann reminded the group that “on this day, May 14, 1947, Israel declared its independence. That was 71 years ago, and nothing has worked,” he said. “Israel want to remain a Jewish state, but the country is too small. One answer is a Jewish state that gives Palestinians all rights but one—the right to vote. Maybe a democracy is just not possible,” he concluded.

Illegal immigration inevitably surfaced during the forum. Derechin framed the question, by citing the administration’s policy of separating children from parents. “Does this make humanistic sense? Are you proud of what this represents?” he said.

“It’s inhumane,” one attendee said. “It is not a new policy. But in this administration it has been aggressive. It’s an example of a level of inhumanity by some in our country.”

Another connected the immigration issue with the labor market. “This problem represents the failure of our government to address our labor shortages,” he said. “Immigrants are here, because they can get jobs, and they get jobs, because they are needed.

“We need a guest worker program and an Immigration system that makes sense. Trump refuses to deal with the issue, and he is not dealing with Dreamers. It’s fundamentally wrong and unfair. A wall doesn’t solve the problem,” he added.

Participant and Current Events co-chair Gary Chesley rounded out the discussion with the now-famous reference to America as “A Shining City Upon a Hill.” “We haven’t done very well with immigrants, whether they are from Ireland, Italy, Eastern Europe or Africa,” Chesley said. “We treat immigrants as an alternative life form. They are not rapists or murderers. We need a system to manage immigration. We don’t need to build a wall.”

“Current Events” meets Mondays, 10 a.m., at BIG ARTS. The session on May 21 features Gary Chesley as moderator. Islanders are invited to join the discussion. Admission is $3.