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The Politics of Cruelty

C. Gourgey, Ph.D.

Shortly before this writing President Trump (through his amanuensis Jeff Sessions) announced the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program. The administration advanced a number of legalistic rationalizations to justify this decision: President Obama had no authority to issue the order establishing DACA; it was an “illegal” use of executive power; it will lead to “open borders,” which this country cannot afford; President Trump had to act to restore the rule of law.

This is completely disingenuous. No court has ever declared Obama’s order illegal. And no President has used the power of the executive order more freely and capriciously than Donald Trump. As to open borders, that was never a consideration. People must apply to be accepted into the DACA program, and there are guidelines for processing those applications. In any case, we have several thousand people who are here now and are affected by the Presidential decree. These are real human lives. They are not statistics in a law text.

But they came here “illegally,” the opponents of DACA insist. Did they? None of them made a deliberate decision to come here. They were brought here very young, some before they could even speak. They have no memories of the countries Trump wants to send them to, and some do not even speak the language. Many have already established productive lives here and are enriching our society. Ninety-one percent are employed. Many are studying for professions in which they are badly needed. Yet our President wants to uproot them from the lives they have established here in the only home they have ever known. He would ruin those lives, sending these unprepared individuals to uncertain and perilous futures in countries where they face potentially mortal danger from gang violence or political retaliation in cultures they have not learned to survive. And now some Republicans want to hold DACA hostage for money to fund the separation wall. They are treating people’s lives like pieces on some gameboard to be moved at will just to frustrate political opponents and to gratify a base that is screaming for these immigrants’ blood.

Giving a craven Congress six months to fix this is no solution. If Trump were serious about a legislative fix he would have directed Congress to act first, before traumatizing and upsetting the life plans of thousands of young adults. Among the latter are many productive workers, budding professionals, people who helped save victims of Hurricane Harvey, much finer human beings than those who want to expel them because of their color or their language and the President who tries to make political capital on it. A Congress that could not pass the Dream Act that President Obama proposed and could not solve this problem during two previous four-year terms is not likely to fix it in six months. And Donald Trump surely knows this.

To call this terrorizing of innocent people and their families “love” and “compassion” is a particularly hypocritical and insidious way of attacking and insulting the supposed objects of that love. The only “big heart” Trump has is towards his own political ambition built upon gratifying the most hate-ridden strata of American society, whom Hillary Clinton rightly called “deplorable.” That “deplorability” has been demonstrated repeatedly by the policies, statements, and tweets that Trump has produced and that they cheer.

The recision of DACA must not be seen in isolation. It is part of a pattern, and the breadcrumbs are not hard to follow:

It is not hard to see what is really happening. Donald Trump is consolidating his power by galvanizing his base against a hated minority and convenient scapegoat: people from Spanish-speaking countries. Trump’s rancid base already dehumanizes them. Trump is no political genius, but he can read people and he knows how to capitalize on their passions to his greatest benefit. And he has been making overt expressions of hatred towards Latinos acceptable.

This offense against basic human decency should transcend political parties. Yet the Republican Party has supported, enabled, and in many cases encouraged Trump because it served their own interests over the welfare of the country. But the day may come when even Republican leaders will become sickened by what they helped create.

We cannot wait for that day. We have to speak out now. We have seen too many examples in history of the consequences of remaining silent when some group other than our own is victimized. The Schadenfreude one derives from scapegoating somebody else’s group is one of the basest aspects of human nature, one that spiritual values must be called upon to heal.

And this presents both a moral obligation and a dilemma to our religious institutions. Our churches, synagogues, and mosques have a calling to become moral leaders. But some are apathetic, and too many are afraid of offending those who support these racist policies. Churches should remain nonpartisan, and should open their doors to people of varieties of political convictions. But singling out a particular ethnic group as a target for the pent-up resentment of a frustrated electorate should not be a partisan issue. There are ways to address it, to speak out against it, without defining the particular congregation as Democrat or Republican. The alternative is to wait on the sidelines watching what happens, and realizing after it is too late that one might have been able to make a difference.

The Christian world faces a particularly pointed conflict since evangelical Christians have heavily supported Trump and his policies, have probably provided his margin of victory, and continue to support those policies. Denouncing such misguided forms of Christianity is a moral imperative, no less than the common demand that Muslim congregations denounce the terrorist element that hides behind them and uses them. We cannot ask of another religion what we are unwilling to do ourselves.

Evangelical Christianity has a serious problem. A religion that calls itself Christianity but supports those who target minorities and exploit the poor cannot legitimately claim to be a representative of Christ on earth. A religion that supports exclusivism by defining the saved against the damned, and that has no problem with the ethnic exclusivism instigated by the party now in power, betrays the spirit of Christ. It defames Christ by associating the movement that bears his name with policies expressing precisely the opposite of what he taught. Christ instructed us to welcome and feed the stranger, to honor and serve the poor, to reach out in love to the one who is different. I cannot see Jesus making sense of a religion that is OK with cutting health care to the poor to enrich the wealthy, with proclaiming “family values” while tearing immigrant families apart, and with galvanizing resentment towards people who look different and speak a different language. Who is my neighbor? How many of us today would respond positively to a “Parable of the Good Latino”?

We need to look hard at ourselves, and even those of us who do not support these harmful policies must look with astonishment at what this country has become. We are an object of contempt for the entire world. Our Commander in Chief has told so many lies that international leaders no longer take him seriously. Kim Jong Un toys with him, intentionally instigates him, and no doubt has fun doing it (just look at his satisfied smile). Other world leaders are more polite. But listen to the citizens of their countries and we will know what our image in the world has become.

I only fear what the next move will be in this accelerating progression of exploiting ethnic hatred for political ends. We need to speak now, before that move is made.

September 2017