Can intentional cruelty to fellow human beings qualify as legitimate U.S. policy?
The answer appears to be yes, at least to the Trump administration and its supporters. The recent stories and video from detention centers on the U.S. border show conditions that are unimaginable for any country that purports to have any sense of humanity.
Most of us would be shocked to see livestock held in such horrific circumstances, packed into stench-filled cages, in unbearable heat, unable to sit or lie down on anything other than a concrete floor— denied showers or basic hygiene for weeks or even months on end.
But it isn’t livestock forced to suffer months of detention in such conditions. It is poor men, women, and children who President Trump seeks to dehumanize to win points with his political base. He believes such cruelty will impress his base and help pave his path to re-election. Instead, he’s leading all of us down the slippery slope to hell. The only question is whether Americans have grown so immune to the depravity of the current occupant of the White House that we allow such inhumanity to continue.
Let’s be perfectly clear— the Trump administration has suggested that such brutality is part of a strategy, meant to discourage desperate families fleeing deadly violence in Central America in hopes of a better life north of the border. As policy, it’s fiction on multiple fronts.
For one, the people streaming from Central America, in most cases, know little about what kind of conditions they’re likely to face when and if they ever reach the U.S. border. And even if they did understand the brutality they could face in the U.S., these are desperate people facing conditions in their home countries that are as dangerous as in any war zone. Many are legitimate refugees caught between the imminent dangers they face at home from violent gangs and corrupt governments and the inhumanity they face should they reach America.
As policy, it’s entirely ineffective, as the increase in the flow of refugees over the past year attests.
Sadly, it’s likely the policy was never intended to stanch the flow of refugees, but is more an effort to placate the most angry and xenophobic Trump supporters, who have been disappointed with the president’s inability to build a wall at the southern border. Reports and images of the conditions in these American detention facilities may well sicken most Americans, but they no doubt thrill some of the most mean-spirited among Trump’s base.
It was the same with Trump’s announcement of federal raids on undocumented residents in several major cities last weekend. No one in their right mind announces a law enforcement action like that ahead of time, since it reduces its effectiveness while increasing the risks to law enforcement personnel. To Trump, it’s all just political theater, designed to make it appear he’s taking action on an issue important to his supporters. It’s just one more episode of the ongoing reality TV show known as “The Trump Administration,” with the carnival-barker-in-chief providing the color commentary. In the end, the raids never materialized.
It’s far too easy for us to ignore the plight of those fleeing violence in Central America, or to comfort ourselves with the notion that somehow their own poor choices have left them in such circumstances. Yet these are people who had no choice about their countries of origin and have little to say about the structural violence they face day-to-day in their communities.
For those poor Central Americans, caught up in the awful reality of Trump’s political games, life is almost unbearable. We ignore their plight to our everlasting shame.