…it’s easier to set up and knock down the specter of mongrelizing hordes than to do the hard, boring work required for taking care of people.
As I watch what is unfolding at our southern border — the forced separation of families at the hands of an indifferent government — I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a parent and what it’s like to be a child; about misplaced faith and breach of trust.
Parents are supposed to protect their children. They don’t drag their children hundreds of miles across dangerous terrain, relying on dubious strangers and known criminals on a whim. They do it because they’ve concluded that it’s better to undertake one terrible journey risking murder, robbery, rape, and kidnapping than to subject their families to a lifetime of it at home. I have a sixteen-year-old son. I have no idea what I’d do if he were threatened, shot, or beaten for not joining a gang, having only corrupt police and authorities to appeal to.
But I can imagine it.
I can imagine children trusting their parents throughout the journey and getting to our border only to see those parents handcuffed and taken away, then finding themselves alone in shelters hundreds of miles away. We, in the United States of America, have deliberately placed thousands of children with living parents in foster care, children who trusted their parents to protect them, who now only know that they failed.
We have made failures of these parents and orphans of their children. Why? Because Donald Trump’s exercised base believes he is protecting them from the (nonexistent) threat of brown and black people overrunning the country. He is also protecting them from decent wages and health care, but it’s easier to set up and knock down the specter of mongrelizing hordes than to do the hard, boring work required for taking care of people. Like a parent should.
We’re also doing this because our country has had a long and terrible history of complicating other people’s parent-child relationships. We used to buy and sell black people’s children. We used to force Native children into boarding schools to educate their culture out of them. We stripped the livelihoods from and interred whole families of American citizens in camps during World War II. We allowed conversion camps to “cure” LGBT children. We’re still not entirely on board with women choosing when to have kids at all, which, as everyone knows, is awesome for unwanted children.
I was one of those pre-Roe children. My twenty-something mother was raising two girls by herself, working full time and finishing college in the late 1960s. But as the second child, the anchor, the underfoot, I was often the object of her wrath and resentment, such that it was clear to me by the time I was five that my mother was never going to be a source of protection or safety. And I was right! But I had my aunts, my uncle, my grandmother, and my sister. We are white and middle class. We speak the same language. I have been able to lead a good life with a loving family and have a fine, if complicated, relationship with my mother today.
But what is going to happen to these children we have imprisoned now? Who will be there to help them and keep them safe?
How easy it is to create policy for people whose real-world experiences mean nothing to you, when you are completely indifferent to the facts of their lives. You have the added advantage – when disinterest is tempered by animus against women, people of color, foreigners, queer folk — of racking up political points with the racists and incels who’ve always been a solid voting block for whiteness since the nation’s founding. Jeff Sessions has eliminated domestic violence as a qualification for asylum. Big points against “anchor babies.” Donald Trump is pretending that toddlers belong to MS-13 and is claiming that their terrified crying is “fake news” invented by triggered elites.
I admit, it is a bit triggering for me. It’s terrifying to be small and to feel completely unsafe. My life experience has made me wary of authority and critical of their promises; vigilant over government interference in people’s wombs and bedrooms; suspicious of laws that require good people to do terrible things, like carry out executions or imprison toddlers.
When I look at Donald Trump, I see a desperately unhappy man who has visited the same authoritarian parenting upon his children that he received at the hands of his own father: “Achieve this and I will notice you.” “Reflect poorly on me, and I will humiliate you.” Ivanka probably figured out how to manage her father as soon as he started objectifying her in public: Stay pretty and make money, preferably for me. Eric seems to have adopted the strategy of floating just under the radar, popping up occasionally to offer a sturdy defense when called upon. Don Jr. just tries too hard, which I’m certain his father views as weakness. And poor old Tiffany doesn’t even register, at 24 years old, as one of his “adult children.”
Is this the kind of parent his base relates to? A man who doesn’t like hard work? Who doesn’t admit mistakes? Who is proud of the fact that he never changed a diaper or otherwise tended to his own children? Donald Trump is indifferent to everything but praise, and like a spoiled child, lashes out when he doesn’t get what he wants. For now, he’s lashing out at the snowflake liberals, much to the delight of his followers. A careful observer might note that he likes to pit his children against each other and to turn on them when they disappoint.
Coal isn’t coming back. Retaliatory tariffs are heading for Red states. Maybe if they keep going to rallies and chanting, if they keep telling him he’s a genius, that he deserves the peace prize, that they don’t mind that their farms are failing, that they still have no jobs and have to pay more for goods and gas, maybe he’ll tell them how much he loves them.