Some things are just hard to explain or understand. I’ve been pondering two — one national and one state issue.

I was taught throughout school that the United States is a “nation of immigrants.” I frequently saw reproduced images of the Statue of Liberty on magazines and merchandise. Some portion of Emma Lazarus’ poem — written to raise money for the statue’s pedestal — was recognized by most of the people I knew.

“Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore .. . .”

Those words and an image of the Statue weren’t my first thoughts upon seeing the terrible photo of the young Hispanic man and his daughter who had drowned trying to cross the U.S-Mexican border. My first reactions were pretty much the same as most reading this column: shock, dismay and then perhaps some anger.

But I am also confident from experience that some reacted differently, rationalizing the man tried to get into this country illegally.

That awful photo re-focused attention on the detainment of families and individuals who’ve been stopped or arrested at the border, including children taken from their families, some literally pulled from their mothers’ arms. Journalists aren’t usually allowed into the children’s detention facilities, but what video I’ve seen broadcast shows the children literally fenced in, sleeping on the floor.

We are better than this.

Or maybe we’re not.

After all, we permitted human slavery in this country, even providing it recognition and protection in the Constitution. It took a bloody civil war to end it and it was replaced by a share-cropper, Jim Crow and segregationist society in the South which more or less replicated the plantation slave system. Free (black) men, convicted of even minor crimes were often imprisoned and then rented out as indentured laborers to local plantation owners.

In the decade prior to the civil war, there sprang up the “Native American Party,” a nativist, xenophobic group opposed to Catholics and immigration. It apparently began as sort of secret society whose members answered questions from outsiders by replying, “I know nothing.” Hence the Know Nothing name. Fortunately, the party never gained wide acceptance and died out.

There was a similar antagonism toward Irish immigrants on the east coast and Asian immigrants on the west coast, many of the latter actually recruited as workers. During World War II, American citizens of Japanese heritage were sent to internment camps.

I know this country can’t admit every aspiring immigrant, legal or illegal. But many of the current wave are fleeing oppression or hunger and looking for better lives, many wishing to become U.S. citizens. We used to celebrate their wishing to be part of us.

Immigration has also become a key political issue with both major parties trying to exploit it, especially President Trump and many Republicans. In defense of most Republicans (a defense which is also an indictment), many in that party follow Trump’s positions not because they actually agree with him but out of fear of retribution by their party’s primary voters.

Closer to home, it befuddles me that Gov. Matt Bevin and Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton still enjoy a “great” relationship. According Bevin, they remain friends even after he dumped her from his ticket and his chief of staff fired two of Hampton’s staff without cause and without consulting her. The word officially came from the Finance and Administration Cabinet but Bevin’s Chief of Staff, Blake Brickman, subsequently told reporters he was responsible for the staff terminations. Bevin claims to have known nothing about either firing, something which is bit hard to swallow.

Regardless of who ordered the dismissals they prompted Hampton to solicit prayers from her supporters as she confronts “dark forces” in the Capitol. Having worked on an almost daily basis in the building for 13 years, I’m surprised it took her so long to discover the “dark forces” which shape much of state policy.

Ronnie Ellis is the former statehouse reporter for CNHI Kentucky and writes a weekly column. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.

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