Trump and the Migrant Children — what’s happening and why

Photo by Arwan Sutanto on Unsplash

I am writing this only as a response to the stream of social media I’m seeing in which it seems very few people are seeing past the smokescreen of outrage surrounding the separation of children from their parents on the Mexican border.

Here’s what I think is happening, in very simple terms. (Links below go into more depth; I may be wrong but at least I’m trying to make sense of it.)

There was always a legal scenario in which children could be separated from their parents by law enforcement officers working on the border. This law does indeed predate Trump. However, these laws were interpreted and enforced so that children were not separated from their parents. Just because a law is in place, it doesn’t mean it has to be enforced to the fullest extent, or literally. Both the Bush and Obama administrations chose not to pursue this policy. It is a choice, and one made by Trump.

Jeff Sessions instructed that the law should now be interpreted and enforced so that children end up being separated from their parents when their parents are arrested for illegally crossing the border. This was a policy decision, partly based on Trump declaring a zero-tolerance to border crossings, and as a negotiation tactic.

Trump’s negotiation technique, which he feels he just proved with North Korea, and which he is pursuing with his trade wars, is to push a situation to an extreme and terrible position until the other side folds and compromises. This was his deal-making technique as a businessman, and one he’s brought into politics. It’s bullying instead of diplomacy.

Trump wants Congress to pass GOP immigration bills. Democrats don’t want to pass them. He has therefore engineered a situation that is so extreme that he hopes to force the Democrats in Congress into passing his laws.

By blaming existing legislation for the child separations Trump can then put the burden for the child separations on any Democrats (or Republicans) who don’t vote to change the existing legislation. His hope is that they will cave in and vote for his bill, or that he can blame them if his legislation fails to pass. However, his claim is simply not true.

So what you see is outrage at the child separations; lots of noise, lots of anger and accusations flying around, a lot of mis-representing of the situation in the right-wing media. As is the intention with such propaganda exercises, the truth has quickly become buried in a morass of bullshit and emotions. Trump can now position himself as the saviour of these children, even encouraging his wife to speak out on the subject; only his legislation can save them from the cruelty of bad laws formed and supported by the Democrats. If the Democrats block his legislation, then it’s all their fault.

But this is not true. He has engineered the situation. The easiest way for Trump and Sessions to stop these children from being separated from their parents is to reverse the instruction they just gave that caused it. No need to change laws or pass new laws.

Anyone in America who claims that these children are being separated from their parents because the law says it has to be that way and the law has to be obeyed need to remember the trials at Nuremburg. Creating laws that lead to bad actions, then blaming the laws for those bad actions is not a defence. It is the same as saying ‘I was just following orders,’ and simply isn’t an acceptable argument. When something is morally wrong, it remains wrong even if a law says it should be so. This is why, until now, the law was not interpreted or enforced in this way. People using the law, or even the bible, as justification for something that is clearly just wrong are themselves wrong.

Basically this is a combination of hardcore electioneering, institutional incompetence, callousness, and political manoeuvring. Trump and his media megaphones are lying and manipulating the truth to create enough confusion that Trump can then position himself as the arbiter of a solution.

When I was a boy, something got stolen from a pupil in my class. The teacher said we couldn’t go to lunch until it was found and returned. After the whole class had searched for 15 minutes, one boy found it. He was praised by everyone for putting right an evident wrong, and for liberating us all from the classroom. Later on, it turned out he had stolen it and hidden it in the first place. That boy is Trump now.

Trump and Sessions are guilty of political trickery to force through an unpopular piece of legislation, and to appeal to a core base of voters in the lead up to the Primaries. They have caused 2000 children to be separated from their parents by men in uniforms with guns in order to meet their political aims. That is shameful and unforgivable.

You can read more here: Vox, and at BBC Reality Check

June 21st, update: Trump has now signed an order to stop the child migration. So I was right, and he was just caught lying. More here:

Writing about politics, history, and society. An outsider's view on the USA, insider's view on the UK, and cautious optimist. @ts_writing

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