Adding lying insult to traumatic injury

June 21, 2018

Elizabeth Terzakis examines the administration’s enraging justifications for its family separation policy — and argues why collective action is the best antidote for despair.

IT IS difficult to decide which of the Trump administration’s lackeys involved in the sickening new “zero tolerance” policy for the is the most hypocritical and deserves the most ire.

Maybe it’s Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen, who, whatever else you might want to say about her, knows how to stay on point, up to and including answering a reporter’s question “How is this not child abuse?” with the brilliantly evasive “Can you be more specific?”

Neilsen also had the gall to utter the words, “We are a country of compassion,” as a witness told the Associated Press about a four-year-old girl lying curled up on a mat on the floor of a detention center in McAllen, Texas, “so traumatized that she wasn’t talking.”

Clockwise from top left: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, Donald Trump, Kristjen Nielsen and Stephen Miller
Clockwise from top left: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, Donald Trump, Kristjen Nielsen and Stephen Miller

It could be Chief of Staff John Kelly, who answered a similar question with the memorable “The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.” Which would be unfeeling enough even if it didn’t occur in the context of reports that nearly 1,500 migrant children have been lost — yes, lost — by federal agencies.

Then there’s Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, defending the policy by citing a Bible verse calling on critics “to obey the laws of government because God has ordained the government for his purpose,” which is kind of like claiming that God would take sides in a football game, only obviously much worse.

The big question here is whether Sessions knew before he said it that this verse was also used to defend the British monarchy and slavery.

Or should the prize for cruelty, hypocrisy, and fecklessness go to Donald Trump himself, who claimed: “I hate the children being taken away. The Democrats have to change their law — that’s their law.”

It’s difficult to determine which of these statements is more untrue: that Trump’s administration isn’t responsible for the current situation in which children sob in cages, taunted by Border Patrol agents who, according to Nielsen, are there to protect them; or that Trump’s hatred is directed anywhere other than at the children themselves — children of people whom Trump has gone to great pains to dehumanize, referring to them repeatedly as “animals,” “aliens” and “infestations.”

A FEW days before Trump retreated somewhat and signed an executive order supposedly reversing the family separation policy, Joy Behar of The View said, “You can’t enjoy your life right now, when you know that this is happening.” She was speaking for millions of people. A pall has fallen over all people of good conscience, heightening the sense that something must be done.

But what? How should we address this wrong? How do we counter these monsters? According to Behar — we wait. Until the next election: “It’s really abusive. And I hope you remember that in November.”

This is the big promise of mainstream politics right now: If we can just vote for enough Democrats, they’ll gain a majority in one or both houses of Congress, and then, then, just watch them stand up to Trump!

Just like they did back in January, when they shut down the government for three whole days before caving and selling out “the 800,000 young immigrants who nine out of 10 Americans don’t want to see deported.”

Just like when they blocked the appointment of anti-worker Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch with the same vigor with which the Republicans blocked the appointment of Garland Merrick before Gorsuch could be the deciding vote on robbing workers of their rights to collectively defend themselves against wage theft.

Oh, wait. Right. The Democrats didn’t do that. Gorsuch is on the court and penned the ruling. Whoops.

If it has taught us nothing else, the first year and a half of the Trump administration has made clear that if we want any respite from Trump’s cruelty, his callous disregard for humanity and the truth, and his autocratic tendencies, we have nowhere to look besides ourselves.

As a Socialist Worker editorial put it earlier this week, “The mismatch between the massive disgust and anger people feel about Trump and the actual scale of active resistance can be corrosive to the spirit. But this is the situation that the left must confront.”

WHICH BRINGS me to the death of Anthony Bourdain and the newly reported suicide epidemic.

I was thinking about this article when a friend asked me how I had reacted to Bourdain’s suicide. Initially, my response was more focused on the report on the suicide crisis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was released almost simultaneously with the news of Bourdain’s death.

According to the report, suicides have increased in all 50 states in the last two decades, by as much as 30 percent in 25 states, with suicides “accounting for 45,000 deaths in 2016 alone.”

Like the opioid epidemic — which, you probably won’t be surprised to know, Kirstjen Nielsen blames on immigration — the suicide epidemic seems like a fairly direct response to a society that offers so little to so many.

Both epidemics are signs of how very sick the U.S. has been made by neoliberal capitalism — which under the Trump administration sails dangerously close to the tropes and practices of fascists past. Even those who have managed to succeed, like Bourdain and Behar, can’t “enjoy their lives right now.”

Of course, I can’t account for Bourdain’s suicide. I am sure there were multiple, complex factors that led to him taking his own life. But as I read article after article about who he was, I have to say that I would not be surprised if part of his despair was the result of seeing a two-year-old child weeping as her mother is apprehended by border agents.

Bourdain was eulogized after his death as definitively sensitive and someone who reveled in the sharing of food and humanity. He went to Israel and came away with an appreciation of the plight of the Palestinians. He went to Iran and presented a portrait of that country’s people that was entirely human and completely at odds with the ways in which they are represented in the mainstream news of his country.

Bourdain recognized that immigrants, many of them undocumented, are the ones mostly responsible for bringing food from American fields to American tables.

How would someone whose life work consisted of forging deep connections around the globe respond to the fact that so many of the people with whom he shared meals, recipes, stories and kitchen techniques are in the crosshairs of the U.S. government? And that there is nothing to be done about it but vote in an election that won’t happen for almost five months?

Despair is not the only response. But it is not an unreasonable one.

LET’S BE clear. The separation of children from their parents, and their internment in former Walmarts and desert tent cities, is not a situation that can be tolerated for five months. Waiting for the actions of political actors who repeatedly fail to act is not a viable strategy.

We also cannot accept whatever slightly less atrocious immigration “solution” is cobbled together by Trump and his spineless confederates in the Republican Party. We must stop them and demand immigration policy that looks just to us.

We have seen what stops Trump, and it is not the Democrats. It is mass and targeted protest attached to specific demands, like the airport protests that delayed the Muslim ban, the protests against gun violence that followed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and the strikes and protests of educators from West Virginia to Arizona that led — immediately — to better wages and classroom conditions.

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In this instance, there is a clear and noncontroversial (at least to anyone outside the Trump administration and their most loyal base) demand: Reunite children and parents NOW! That demand seems to have pressured Trump to back down somewhat, but there is much more we must do.

One way to start getting involved in the struggle is just by talking about it with like-minded people. The first step to all organizing is talking, and the best way to combat despair is working with others to undo its causes. I can’t think of a better way to honor Anthony Bourdain’s life than by fighting to get some of the people he loved out from under Trump’s boot.

Further Reading

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