When President Trump’s attorney general announced that the Justice Department would begin prosecuting all individuals crossing from Mexico into the United States illegally, the immediate question became, “What about the children?”
Jeff Sessions answered with little compassion, saying the immigrant minors would be taken from their parents and placed into the foster care system.
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. We don’t want to separate families, but we don't want families to come to the border illegally. This is just the way the world works.”
But is this “just the way the world works”? Or this simply the type of policy Americans can expect from an administration characterized by Trump’s penchant for cruelty?
“The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever,” White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told NPR in response to a question about whether it’s “cruel and heartless to take a mother away from her children.” …
It is, obviously, cruel to separate children from their mother and hand them over to strangers. It would be cruel even if it weren’t the case that more than 1,000 migrant children placed by the government last year went missing.
The reason we know it’s cruel — and the reason we know Kelly knows it’s cruel — is that the cruelty is the point. The question was about a new policy in the departments of Justice and Homeland Security that separates parents who arrive at the US-Mexico border with their children and no visa from their kids.
Sessions might be right about the law, but he would do well add a particular qualifier to his statement about the world: This is just the way Trump world works.
The president has showed his character time and again – certainly throughout his life, but particularly from the moment he began campaigning for the presidency.
Vox notes the following examples:
- As a candidate, he offered to cover the legal fees of Trump supporters who sucker-punched anti-Trump protesters.
- He gave a speech in Long Island, New York, urging police officers to “please don’t be too nice” to the “thugs” whom they arrest while slamming “laws ... made to protect the criminal.”
- He’s praised brutal dictators specifically for their brutality and publicly called to reinstitute torture, and is installing a known torturer at the head of the CIA. This impulse toward cruelty appears to come to the president in a quite natural, sincere, and unstudied way. This is a man who smacked his son in front of his college roommate for not wearing a suit to a baseball game, is said to have ripped hair out of his wife’s head during an argument, mocked a disabled reporter at a rally, and subjects his own Cabinet to lengthy tirades.
If such behavior is true of Trump, what might America expect from his rule, particularly as he has surrounded himself with like minded officials and few in his party are willing to stand up to his ways?
As Trump and his ilk set out “to narrow the definitions of who belongs, subjecting outsiders to a realm of cruelty and thus bolstering the favored status of the insiders”, the cruelty will necessarily extend beyond vulnerable immigrants.
From new Medicaid rules that hurt people with disabilities to rewriting bank regulations to favor predatory lenders to siding with Dow Chemical’s lobbyists over pediatricians to keep allowing the manufacture of a pesticide that poisons children’s brains, the circle of people who are subject to harm by a regime that practices the law of the jungle is ever widening.
Very few of us are as rich or powerful as Trump, his Cabinet, his circle of friends and family, or his major campaign contributors. All of us will lose out from an ethic that licenses the strong to oppress the weak. Foreign-born children are uniquely disempowered in the political system, so they bear the brunt for now. But almost all of us will need help or protection at some point.
And the answer we get from the current regime is clear: Whatever.