I usually don’t see much point in revisiting the he-said, she-said moments of political campaigns, but the words coming out of south Texas and that other wasteland, Washington, this week took me back to the moment when Hillary Clinton probably put one too many nails in the coffin of her run for the presidency.
She said something about “deplorables.”
“You talkin’ about me?” asked a surly conservative nation.
Well, yes. She was.
It was the worst thing she said during the campaign, almost conciliatory compared to the rhetoric exchanged between Republican contestants, and it was ill-advised, elitist, and lousy strategy, but it was also too close to the truth, and therein lies the resonating sounds of justifications for using children and the lives of the most helpless people — refugees — to play political poker.
Some of the quotes coming over the reports about kids being separated from parents and being kept in cages and sleeping on mattresses on the floors of a former big box store included words like “cruel” and “heartless” and “cold-blooded.”
Observers of all backgrounds call what is happening to children there unconscionable, traumatizing, devastating and toxic. The former head of the border patrol called it immoral. A Texas congressman said it is government-sanctioned child abuse.
Then you have the other side, most chillingly represented by the head of a relatively new American agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the regal, articulate Kirstjen Nielson, unflappable and calculating her words, defending the actions of a bureaucratic government agency as necessary enforcement of the law.
Others on the right can shrug it off as the necessary tool for order and government control.
“If those people didn’t want to have their kids taken, they shouldn’t have brought them here,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions, offering an easy quote to be repeated by the faithful followers of the idea of cleansing the country of immigrants, illegal or otherwise.
The hard-cases said the actions are required by law. The president spins the falsehood that the laws were written by the Democrats (“It’s not our fault”) and the Democrats could fix it if they agreed to build Trump’s wall on the border.
The president can commute prison sentences for felons but cannot free children to remain with their parents.
Not that he is holding children hostage for leverage. That would be deplorable.
And even if it is true, so what? Sacrifices must be made for the security of the homeland.
That may be the most deplorable thought of all: That we have people who support that dark path.
If this is justice, what is tyranny?
If this is America, what happened?
Well, if you look deep into the dark mirror of American history, you will see a reflection of our true heritage.
This is a nation built on conquest of lands taken from native inhabitants, presided over by the wealthy land barons, business moguls and industrial barons who built a nation on a foundation of slavery and working-class poor.
The lawlessness of our western borders provided opportunity for those who would take what they wanted and peril for those too weak to hold on to what they had scraped together. Out of that was born the ideal of American exceptionalism.
It was just another version of the law of the jungle: Survival of the fittest. Our legacy.
After you’re finished saluting the flag and singing the anthem, add a verse in your heart, if not your head.
The land of the free, protected by a wall of indifference to those not of our kind.