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On the brink / June 21, 2018
The fix we find ourselves in as citizens of America is also the moment many of us have been dreading — when the venality, incompetence and bad faith of the White House under Donald Trump would finally drag the country to the brink of crisis. Would the crisis take form as economic collapse? Trump was bequeathed a still-healing economy by Barack Obama, and it takes more than even the staggering greed and plutocrat-first policies of the Republican Party to sink that ship overnight. War? Always a possibility, but hot wars are thankfully rare in this day and age. Natural disaster? One actually happened and remains ongoing in Puerto Rico, but good luck coalescing public sentiment around a territory many don’t even recognize as being part of the U.S.

Considering the possibilities, we’ve been lucky. The country has been spared the trauma of hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs month-to-month (such as happened under the last Republican administration) or soldiers coming home in caskets (ditto). Instead, we’ve had to put up with the grinding, exhausting spectacle of Donald Trump’s daily outrage machine. But a moment of reckoning for America under this president and this White House was always inevitable, because that’s how reckonings work. They surface as the normal state of affairs totters on collapse.

Our current crisis is the one that we should have known was coming, the one most likely to expose our greatest national vulnerability in the Age of Trump — a crisis of conscience. America has a $19 trillion economy. Our military is the greatest fighting force ever known to mankind. It’s not easy to bring the country to its knees through conventional attacks on the bulwarks of our power. But our national dignity and decency — our soul to keep — is at dire risk from those who would defile it from within.

Conscience is kryptonite for Trump and his acolytes. Words fail at the task of conveying the full wretchedness of this president, although that hasn’t stopped people from trying. A short list would surely include: racist, reckless, corrupt, terminally dishonest, ignorant, mean-spirited, loud-mouthed, pathetically insecure. Yet it’s only in recent days that we’ve had inarguable basis for resorting to the one word, otherwise best used cautiously and sparingly, that covers it all: evil.

The paragraphs excerpted below begin a Tuesday story in The Washington Post titled, “What separation from parents does to children: ‘The effect is catastrophic’”:

This is what happens inside children when they are forcibly separated from their parents.

Their heart rate goes up. Their body releases a flood of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Those stress hormones can start killing off dendrites — the little branches in brain cells that transmit messages. In time, the stress can start killing off neurons and — especially in young children — wreaking dramatic and long-term damage, both psychologically and to the physical structure of the brain.

“The effect is catastrophic,” said Charles Nelson, a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School. “There’s so much research on this that if people paid attention at all to the science, they would never do this.”

That research on child-parent separation is driving pediatricians, psychologists and other health experts to vehemently oppose the Trump administration’s new border crossing policy, which has separated more than 2,000 immigrant children from their parents in recent weeks.

“To pretend that separated children do not grow up with the shrapnel of this traumatic experience embedded in their minds is to disregard everything we know about child development, the brain, and trauma,” the petition reads.

Go read the entire story.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider what is happening here. America has various shameful chapters in its brief history — genocide, human enslavement, mass incarceration, denial of civil rights and equal protection under the law — but we’ve always had the benefit of the (weak) defense that these wrongs were of a piece with the time, a.k.a. that’s how people thought way back then. What’s our excuse now? It has taken far too long for this to happen, but the media, with the obvious exceptions of rotten outlets like Fox News and, have finally shed the crippling strictures of false equivalency and journalism-as-stenography to openly call out the administration’s lies about why children are being torn away from their mothers and fathers at the border:

“The White House is on a campaign to falsely blame Democrats for the Trump administration’s own decision to separate children from their parents” — NBC News

“President Trump stood defiant Monday against a growing backlash over his administration’s ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy that since April has separated at least 2,000 children from their parents crossing the southern border, and he continued to falsely blame Democrats for the hard-line actions” — Los Angeles Times

“Trump has sought to use the widespread outrage over the family separations to push through other immigration priorities that have stalled in Congress, such as funding for his long-promised wall along the Mexican border. He has blamed Democrats for the impasse, even though his fellow Republicans control both chambers of Congress” — Reuters

Let’s talk about that last snippet from Reuters for a moment. In response to this ongoing human rights disaster perpetuated by the Trump Administration, some Republicans have distinguished themselves by standing up in opposition: probably none more so than former First Lady Laura Bush, who wrote an op-ed column in The Washington Post this weekend that seems to have opened the floodgates of opposition across the political spectrum: “I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart,” Mrs. Bush wrote.

She continued: “Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the internment camps for U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history …. Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation, on being the nation that sends humanitarian relief to places devastated by natural disasters or famine or war. We pride ourselves on believing that people should be seen for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. We pride ourselves on acceptance. If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place.”

This is a crisis brought on entirely by Trump and his apologists — maybe not a crisis that leaves people massed at the unemployment line or grieving the dead, but nonetheless one that strikes at the very heart of who were are, or conceive ourselves to be.

How should we respond? After all this, will supporters of Donald Trump finally acknowledge the depravity of the man and disavow his presidency? Will Republicans and evangelicals heed the compassionate words of Laura Bush, or abide the spew that emanates from Trump’s Twitter feed? Our system of governance spaces out the opportunities to change the direction of federal policy, and having to wait until the November mid-terms to render political judgment while little children are effectively kidnapped by the government that presides in our name is beyond an infuriating prospect. But there it is: your next chance to vote comes Nov. 6. Use your franchise wisely.

Meantime, smaller steps can matter: a good start is turning off Fox News, which appears to have a limitless yearning to kowtow to Donald Trump and hence bring disgrace upon themselves. Fifth District voters also can contact their congressman, Tom Garrett, who is exiting Washington after his current term to deal with the scourge of alcoholism. When Rep. Garrett revealed his problems to the public, fellow Republican officeholders were quick to praise his bravery. Does Garrett have the courage to forthrightly address the forced separations of parents and children, as one of only 435 members with a vote and a voice in the U.S. House of Representatives? As long as he holds office, Garrett has an obligation to let the public know where he stands. If that’s a duty he can no longer perform — if he cannot bring himself to be present amid this moment of moral crisis — he should resign.

And the next time members of the President’s party ask you for your vote, please consider asking them where they, too, stand. Denver Riggleman? Corey Stewart? Press them for answers on why America would be tearing children away from their parents, and don’t accept the lies that Donald Trump and his sycophants tell to justify this horrific policy. This disgrace is on them.

Rep. Garrett maintains three offices as constituent points-of-contact. You’ll probably get a recording, but someone is listening to those calls. Here’s the rundown:

Washington, DC Office
415 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: 202-225-4711
Fax: 202-225-5681

Charlottesville Office
686 Berkmar Circle
2nd Floor
Charlottesville, VA 22901
Phone: 434-973-9631
Fax: (434) 973-9635

Danville Office
308 Craghead Street
Suite 102D
Danville, VA 24541
Phone: 434-791-2596
Fax: (434) 791-4619

Every voice raised in protest helps to make a difference.

LATE UPDATE: On the list of Donald Trump’s most deplorable personality traits, there’s one I forgot — his cowardice, revealed once again Wednesday as he retreated from his policy of forced family separations at the border. So much for Trump’s lies that only Congress could fix this issue. Still, the White House has not put this crisis to rest, as it could do if it were so inclined. Same goes for Congress. Keep those calls up.

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