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Reshaping America

C. Gourgey, Ph.D.

Trump hugs American flag
Trump hugs American flag
after addressing business leaders

“Democrats are the problem. They donít care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13.” - Donald Trump tweet, June 19, 2018.

This was Trump’s response to why it is necessary to rip babies from their mothers’ arms. To teach these people a lesson. And according to Trump in this new tweet, it’s OK because:

  1. All of these immigrants are violent thugs like MS13.

  2. They are not even human, but “infest” the country like vermin.

  3. It’s all the Democrats’ fault anyway, even though Trump started the policy and now supposedly ended it (as of 6/20/2018).

Trump has been preaching this line with the fervency of religious conviction. But now he has backtracked. Perhaps. He signed an executive order reportedly stopping his policy of family separation - after repeatedly insisting that only Democrats could do it. Some have been lauding his great humanitarianism and “heart,” including Trump himself: “I think the word ‘compassion’ comes into it,” he said.

It is not compassionate to inflict a lasting wound and then put a bandaid on it. It is not compassionate to start a bonfire and pour a glass of water on it. And then to expect credit for it.

Here is what won’t happen:

  1. The “zero tolerance” policy does not end. Now whole families, including the children, will be detained indefinitely in refugee-camp conditions.

  2. No adequate effort will be made to reunite the thousands of children who have already been separated from their parents. In many cases it may no longer even be possible, and many of these children will likely not see their parents again.

  3. The scapegoating of migrant families will not stop.

Parents and children who show up at the border seeking asylum are now being prosecuted like violent gang members. The Trump apparatus cannot - actually will not - tell the difference. And families may still be separated after spending time, as little as 20 days, in these prison camps. We should not be fooled into thinking Trump’s executive order accomplishes much beyond giving him a photo op to quell a justified moral outcry in anticipation of the midterm elections.

So why don’t those people seeking asylum show up at specially designated border crossings? They have tried. They are all turned away. Or sometimes detained as criminals. When your only choice is risking having your child separated at the American border or killed, raped, or inducted into a gang in your home country, which would you choose?

Family incarceration is not the answer. Monitoring devices such as ankle bracelets have been used successfully in the past to keep track of immigrant applicants and ensure that they make their court appearances. But Trump will not accept a solution that does not inflict pain on these people. There is a reason.

There is a reason Trump runs successfully on a platform of hatred and cruelty towards immigrants. There is a reason he believes it will get him votes and win elections in spite of outcries from the “elites.” It is what his core voters want. It is what the people want who cheer him on, who are convinced that immigrants are stealing their jobs and poisoning their culture, who blame changes in the world economy on people who never had any power to make any change. Trump appeals to these voters through incitement, intentionally inflaming passions. An angry voter is a Trump voter. Nobody knows this better than Trump. Therefore Trump will always keep his followers on edge, will keep sabotaging bipartisan efforts to resolve the immigration problem and blame it on Democrats, and will never support a solution to the immigrant issue that does not gratify his voters by making miserable the lives of the people they hate.

How many Trump voters actually belong to the core base who think this way? I don’t have a figure. But a recent Quinnipiac poll reported that 55% of Republican voters support the family separation policy. So it certainly apears that most Trump voters belong to this core. They portray themselves as victims, “disrespected” by the “coastal elites,” misunderstood but with no obligation to understand others. Their resentment justifies everything, including atrocities committed against infants and young children in the name of the “law.” Trump supporters who do not belong to this core group, who may still have any feeling for people who don’t look like them, need to ask themselves what they are enabling.

In possibly the most frightening move yet, Trump has significantly raised the stakes of the debate. He is now pitting asylum-seeking families against so-called “angel families,” victims of gang violence, as if the former were enemies of the latter. The “real” and “permanent family separation,” he now says, happened to victims of gang members who crossed our border. In an act of linguistic violence he delegitimizes the suffering of the parents and children he has been traumatizing, many of whom very likely will also never see each other again, by taking from them the language that describes their condition. And in the same stroke he encourages the public to think of all of them as violent gang members. “They are not sending their best,” he is saying once again. They are sending MS13 disguised as mothers and young children. These immigrants are not even human; they are “infesting” and polluting the country. Trump perpetuates this lie in spite of numerous studies showing that immigrants, both legal and illegal, commit less crime than native-born Americans.

We need to call this what it is. This is hate speech. The same kind of dehumanizing rhetoric preceded the Bosnian genocide. It preceded the Rwandan genocide. And it preceded the Nazi Holocaust. We may not have reached the point of genocide; we may not have gas chambers and death camps - no deaths reported in the detention centers, yet - but we are embarked on something truly horrific. We are using the same tactics - demagogic speech, incitement, dehumanization, psychological manipulation, family separation, and detention camps - that those countries implemented who did commit those atrocities. The psychology is identical: single out a group of people whom we can blame for our misery, rob them of their humanity, portray them as a monstrous threat to our national security, spread fear of them throughout the land, and so justify treating them sadistically. We have not seen the end of this. Hitler, also democratically elected, implemented his program by degrees, one indignity and outrage at a time, until the full extent of his program revealed itself when it was too late to stop. We do not yet know where Trump’s program will end. We do know that he is intensifying his vilification of immigrants, both because he believes it will win his party votes and because that is who he is. And now he is going even further: fomenting hatred against the press that reports what he does, calling them “enemy of the people.” In supposedly the world’s flagship country for democracy the President cannot stand the existence of dissent, calling it “fake news.” Trump is changing the complexion of our society. He is refashioning the United States to make it resemble him.

Therefore we now face a challenge we cannot escape. We cannot use the excuse of some Germans under the Reich: “We didn’t know.” We do know. We see it every day on the news. This is beyond politics: even if one is a conservative Republican there is no justification for allowing our country to fall into the kind of depravity that in other times and places destroyed both innocent people and the societies who abused them. This must be spoken by every concerned politician with a conscience, and in every house of religion where people go to hear the word of God. It is no longer acceptable for churches, synagogues, and mosques to remain silent while this is happening to us, or to avoid the issue because it is “too political.” We should follow the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Martin Niemöller, and Paul Tillich, who made their voices heard when it mattered. To their credit many religious groups have spoken. Unfortunately the response from Evangelicals has been muted, some condemning the policy of family separations, some blaming it on the Democrats, and some defending Trump, with most of the community still continuing to support and enable him, apparently undisturbed by the atrocious treatment of defenseless people. That must come to an end if any credible claim is left to being faithful followers of Christ. Our national character is being tested: how will we each respond, as long as we still possess the freedom to speak out?

Our people are now divided between those whose souls ache at witnessing their country committng crimes against humanity, and those who tolerate or actively support it. Animosity between groups of Americans, actively encouraged by Trump, is reaching levels not felt since the Civil War. Conventions of civility are dissolving, and more people feel free to take liberties openly expressing their hatred of minority ethnic and religious groups. The resentment in Trump’s core base is reshaping the country in its image. America now lionizes tyrants and denigrates democratic leaders. We are marginalizing ourselves, because we (or at least the people now in charge, with the support of many) value anger and domination over diplomacy and cooperation. We are disrupting the international order that has kept the peace since the end of the last World War, in favor of creating a bullying nation that believes it can flex its will and dominate others with impunity: a projection on a grandiose scale of what we are doing right now to people who cannot defend themselves.

This fantasy of “America First,” America tyrannizing the world in a spiteful and vengeful crusade, is bound to end in disappointment if not in disaster. Resentment was never a good basis for policy. Even if you call it “winning.”

June 2018