On June 15, Donald Trump denied that he possessed the authority as president to end his very own family separation policy on our southern border. Trump declared: “We can’t do it by executive order.”
On June 20, he reversed his position, signing an executive order to prohibit the practice of separating immigrant adults from their children.
Trump’s reversal of his policy, a man-made humanitarian crisis of horrific proportions, revealed his conclusion that he could not prevail on what he told supporters was a “cultural war issue,” akin to his exploitation for political purposes of NFL players taking a knee before the flag. Public pressure on this issue proved too great. He caved to it, particularly because Republicans seeking re-election complained about carrying the weight of the moral burden of Trump’s policy into the November election.
Trump’s reversal, indeed a direct contradiction of what he had publicly declared less than a week before abandoning his inhumane rule, revealed what our citizenry had come to assume about his policy: he was holding migrant children hostage to his goal of a congressionally funded wall along the Mexican border. This tactic, torn from the pages of Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” demonstrates once more that Trump’s prevailing governmental philosophy is “the ends justify the means.” Not one based on constitutional principles, not one grounded in democratic norms, but one designed to achieve his personal goals at whatever cost to the nation.
Trump believed that he could strong-arm Congress through the implementation of his policy, which required the forced removal of some 2,350 children from the arms of their parents. The poisonous fruits of his policy revealed to the world a humanitarian crisis of Trump’s design that is utterly discordant with the principles, reputation and image of the United States that we Americans still like to believe is a true representation of our national ideals. We may be fooling ourselves.
The cost to our nation of Trump’s family separation policy is very high. Trump has forsaken America’s conception of itself as a “shining city on the hill.” He has abandoned our status as a moral beacon. His policy has been widely condemned as morally repugnant by our closest allies, the Pope, and by international organizations that have long looked to the U.S. as a champion of human rights, defender of humanitarian causes and a foe of brutal, repressive and inhumane regimes and practices.
But no more. Not under Trump. Hear the voices of our former first ladies who, in recent days, have expressed moral outrage over Trump’s policy: cold, cruel, inhumane and immoral. Laura Bush, widely respected and beloved, spoke for tens of millions of Americans: “It breaks my heart.”
We wait to see if, how and when the Trump Administration will reunite the 2,350 children ripped from the arms of their mothers and fathers. Can they, in fact, be reunited? Immigration officials have expressed concerns that some never will be reunited. As yet, the Trump Administration has announced no policy to achieve a reunion. While Trump dithers, the parents of the children are being deported.
“All politics is personal,” Tip O’Neil, former Speaker of the House, wisely observed. Trump’s policy of separating parents from their children is surely personal for all of us. It should pull hard on the heartstrings of Americans.
Ask yourselves how deeply would you grieve if your children were ripped from your arms and you had utterly no idea where they were?
Look in the mirror when you ask yourselves that question. Take a long, hard look. Watch your face and listen to your heart.
Today, America must look in the mirror and ask itself, what have we become?
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David Adler is president of The Alturas Institute, created to advance the Constitution, civic education and gender equality.