A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. (Getty/John Moore)
The United States Constitution grants President Donald Trump many powers. They include being the Chief Executive, Chief Legislator and Commander-in-Chief of the military. Not to be content with such powers, Donald Trump has also taken on other roles as well. Donald Trump is the Sadist-in-Chief of the United States of America. Cruelty and meanness are his modus operandi.
In his role as Sadist-in-Chief he has been quite busy. As the leader of the Republican Party Trump has decided to take health insurance away from the at least 150 million Americans — including children and the elderly — who have preexisting health conditions. He also mocked and insulted the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico which is estimated to have killed at least 4,600 people.
Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have made it official United States government policy to break up and attempt to destroy the families of refugees, undocumented residents, and those others seeking to make a life in the country.
In this nefarious plan, children are to be separated from their families. These children are then to be sent to warehouses on military bases. It has even been proposed that thousands of children are to be put in prison camps — which have been dishonestly and benignly described by the Trump administration as “tent cities.” It would seem that Trump’s pardoning of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio — a man who bragged about running a “concentration camp” — was a signal of bigger plans. MSNBC reports that migrant children separated from their parents are currently “effectively being incarcerated” in a detention center in a former Walmart in Texas.
Trump and Sessions’ and the Republican Party’s assault on the human rights and dignity of nonwhite immigrants and refugees has already turned lethal. Marco Antonio Munoz, a Honduran man seeking sanctuary, killed himself after having his child taken away from him. A 19-year-old named Manuel Antonio Cano-Pacheco was killed in Mexico after being deported by ICE enforcers.
This is part of a larger strategy of “soft” ethnic cleansing where the ultimate goal is to prevent the United States from becoming a “majority minority” country.
Of course, separating children from their parents is not new in America. It was a horror afflicted on black people who were owned for centuries as human property. Native American children and young adults were also taken from their families and sent away to schools such as Dartmouth in order to be “whitened” as a means of committing cultural genocide.
Knowing Trump’s policy of separating children from families is not unprecedented does nothing to temper what should be outrage and moral abomination. On this I agree with Esquire magazine’s Charles Pierce. In response to a stomach churning and enraging report about the stress and trauma being experienced by children who have been torn from their families by the United States government, he wrote:
The New York Times had a story on Friday that should’ve brought shame and derision upon anyone who voted for the racist monster in the White House, and upon the racist monster that the other racist monster installed at the head of the Department of Justice. The United States government is now committing human rights atrocities within its own borders and against the most vulnerable people it can find. I don’t need to “understand,” much less take seriously, anyone who still supports this president* and his administration* because, if you do, you’ve taken the idea of America and run battery acid through its veins….
So, thanks to this president* and his 63 million enablers, and his acolytes in the media, and all the people who didn’t care enough to stop him in 2016, and all the people who don’t care enough to stop him now, we have our own American variations on the Tuam babies and the Magdalene Laundries.
Children are being punished, cruelly and mindlessly, for the perceived sins of their parents and, because we are a secular republic, it is not being done in the name of God but, rather, on the behalf of everybody in this country. That does not make this better. Not by a longshot.
I would go one step further.
Politics begins in the home with how children are taught lessons about right and wrong, obedience and freedom, and their responsibilities to other people usually first in the most immediate sense (parents and family) and then encompassing neighbors and community, and finally to humankind, other animals and the natural world more broadly.
Who we choose to include among our friends and associates — and yes, even kin — is a political statement because it reflects our values and beliefs. The personal is political in ways both obvious and subtle. This includes the quotidian as well as grand gestures and acts.
And so, a proposal.
This will not be easy. Doing what is right rarely is. But it is necessary.
Some will protest, saying that you can’t know what is in a person’s heart based on who they vote for. This is untrue. Voting and other types of political behavior are in many ways actions which are based more on emotion than they are reason. As such, a vote for Trump and continued support for him is a clear signal to a person’s deep and sincerely held values and beliefs.
Others will intervene by highlighting how American voters are unsophisticated and tribal, voting based on group identity and not really cognizant of the policy issues and their implications. My response: numerous very rigorous studies by the country’s leading social scientists have repeatedly shown that it was racism and nativism and authoritarianism which motivated Donald Trump’s voters. While many of his voters may have been supposedly “confused” or “unsure” about his policy specifics they most certainly understood and were attracted to his bigotry and racism.
What of party-line voters, who, for whatever reason support the Republican Party in every election regardless of the candidate? This too is neither an excuse or defense. Such a rationale provides no excuse for supporting a petit-fascist authoritarian in Donald Trump and all the social ills that he represents. Moreover, to support the Republican Party as a matter of habit and tradition means that one endorses an extreme revanchist political organization that for decades has been working against the common good and to subvert democracy.
And what about voters who support Trump because of a single issue such as taking away women’s reproductive rights or because they are rich and want more money from the government? They too are still culpable. They ignored the rot to take a bite from an apple — but said apple is still poisonous.
How about the argument that by cutting Trump’s supporters out of your life that you will actually make them support him even more? Thus removing any hope that they can be freed from his thrall? Because Trump’s supporters retreat into shadows like political Nosferatus when exposed to the light is no reason for decent and good people to keep such people in their lives.
And there are those people who would like to claim that somehow Donald Trump is anathema to their values and that they were tricked, bamboozled, or hoodwinked into supporting him. Such a defense is easily rebutted.
If there are Republicans and others who actually feel such a way they should in fact be the most vocal critics of Donald Trump because the betrayal would feel intensely personal. “Not in my name!” would be their battle cry. Moreover, they would be leading the resistance against Donald Trump. Instead Republicans have rallied around Donald Trump even as he undermines American democracy, engages in a coordinated campaign of cruelty, and likely coordinated with a foreign power to steal the 2016 presidential election.
The proof? Donald Trump is now the second most popular Republican president among his party in the history of modern public opinion polling. This is not a measure of tacit lazy support. It is full-throated and enthusiastic devotion from Republicans and right-leaning independents.
Writing in the June 28, 2018 edition of The New York Review of Books, philosopher Cass Sunstein reflects on the troubling similarities between how everyday “good Germans” supported the Nazis and an America in the grips of Trumpism.
Sunstein warns how:
In their different ways, Mayer, Haffner, and Jarausch show how habituation, confusion, distraction, self-interest, fear, rationalization, and a sense of personal powerlessness make terrible things possible. They call attention to the importance of individual actions of conscience both small and large, by people who never make it into the history books. Nearly two centuries ago, James Madison warned: “Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks—no form of government can render us secure.” Haffner offered something like a corollary, which is that the ultimate safeguard against aspiring authoritarians, and wolves of all kinds, lies in individual conscience: in “decisions taken individually and almost unconsciously by the population at large.”
We ignore these lessons of the past at our own peril. Everyday people must take a stand against Donald Trump and all that he represents.
In short, to save American democracy we must live our politics like we mean it.