25 Jun Pressure
The United States has withdrawn from the United Nations Human Rights Council, the world’s most important human rights body.
The US did so ostensibly to protest the Council’s frequent criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians—although Israel itself still participates. The US now joins Iran, North Korea, and Eritrea as the only countries refusing to participate. Perhaps, given the events of this past week, on top of events of these past months, the withdrawal is tragically apt. We no longer deserve to be there.
Trump’s so-called executive order reuniting immigrant families was a photo op in response to pressure, an attempt to staunch the chaos his administration bleeds in all directions; an attempt to address the rising fury of most Americans at acts he commits in our name.
The “executive order” is not retroactive. There are no plans to reunite the illegally incarcerated asylum-seeking parents—for which read “mothers”—with the now almost 2500 children already scattered across the US. Furthermore, there is no effective tracing system for even locating them. On the contrary, Trump is ordering so called “tender age facilities” to be opened for infant inmates, including babies under one year old who have literally been seized from their mothers’ nursing breasts. Make no mistake. We are seeing only the tip of the horror to come. Most of these children are under the care of untrained, unlicensed caregivers who have not, for example, been vetted for pedophilia.
But here’s what happens when whistleblowers drown out dog whistles. Here’s what happens when a great free press does its job. The smuggled-out pictures of children kept in cages and audiotapes of their sobbing for their mothers woke up a nation.
So, after fulminating for days that he would never back down and be “weak,” after the Trumpists even cited the same Bible passage used during the Civil War to justify slavery, after insisting an executive order couldn’t overturn a “law” that actually didn’t exist, Trump capitulated. He bluffed his way through a signing ceremony, claiming his “personal compassion” had overridden others’ counsel. But he was still strong you understand, tough, still for zero tolerance. He hunched at a cabinet meeting in his familiar, fortress position: arms folded tight across his chest, body language reeking defensiveness and fear. He has reason to fear. He’s feeling the pressure. Pressure works.
His own party is in an uproar, with both House and Senate Republicans finally joining Democrats in protesting his policy. Starting with American Airlines, other carriers began refusing to fly children to facilities around the country since those along the border were already so crowded. Hundreds of employees at Microsoft demanded that the company sever its data-mining relationship with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). Employees and TV and film creators at 21st Century Fox publicly denounced their corporate cousin, Fox News, for its deliberate lies in covering the border crisis. Governors—mostly Democrats but some Republicans as well—from at least eight states (and growing) announced they would withhold or recall National Guard troops from efforts to secure the border. Pediatricians, psychologists, nurses’ associations, teachers’ groups, and numerous other organizations began planning major demonstrations across the country and in Washington DC for this weekend.
We learned how to start, encourage, and join this snowball effect from the #MeToo Movement. A dazed nation is waking up. Pressure works. The more pressure, the more it works.
Still, a vast tent detention camp has been constructed in the desert, since the usual migrants-shelter hub in America—the four-county Rio Grande Valley region of South Texas—is jam-packed. Hey, it’s good for business! Or didn’t you know that the business of housing, transporting, and detaining migrant children along the southwest border is a billion-dollar business? BCFS, a global network of religiously affiliated nonprofit groups, has received at least $179 million in federal contracts in the last two years; one recipient is Catholic Charities, which sees its work as “nonprofit and humanitarian.” Several large defense contractors and security firms are also in the system, including General Dynamics and MVM INC., which, having previously contracted with the government to supply guards in Iraq, recently put up job postings “seeking bilingual travel youth care workers” in South Texas, to accompany the children as they are being scattered around the nation. The migrant shelter industry is booming.
Four American military bases in Texas and Arkansas have been ordered to prepare beds for sheltering as many as 20,000 “unaccompanied alien children,” which is what the kids are called after having been ripped from those who were in fact accompanying them. This is according to a Pentagon spokesman—though other federal agencies offered conflicting explanations about who would be housed there, e.g. detained families together.
The rules keep shifting; there is chaos on the ground. Volunteer lawyers are combing the system in search of migrant children, trying to reunite them with their parents. As for the rule of law, Trump is pumping up the prosecution while eviscerating the defense: He had Sessions secretly shave the budget for immigration public defenders before announcing this policy in the first place; and now he’s ordered the Pentagon to send 200 JAG lawyers (Judge Advocate General’s Corps, the legal branch or specialty of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, and Navy) as prosecutors, though immigration prosecution is not their specialty. Is Defense Secretary Mattis going to act like the independently thinking “grownup” he was hyped to be, and join the governors in taking a stand that they won’t permit their National Guards to participate in this cruel, chaotic catastrophe? Will he dare say No, the job of American soldiers is not to build detention camps and prosecute immigrants? Don’t hold your breath.
But all is fine and dandy, since immigrant Melania Trump flew to Texas, had her photo op, visited with children catatonic with trauma, and was back on her plane within 75 minutes, wearing a jacket printed with white capital letters “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” Well, I don’t care whether this was stupidity, coarseness, oversight, a gross let-them-eat-cake moment, or a sadistic jab at those of us who do care. It puts her beyond pity.
We feel it. The tension building, the pressure. We yearn for November and the elections, yearn for Special Counsel Mueller to lower the boom, desperately yearn for this long national nightmare to be over. But we also dread facing each day with the knowledge that it will get worse before it gets better. Myself, I cling to both past and future in this hideous present.
I cling to the past because it helps us understand. Because history not only repeats itself, it stutters. The U.S. government tore Indigenous children from their homes and families, severed communication between them, and sent them to dreaded Government Indian Schools where they were forbidden to speak their own languages and observe the belief systems of their peoples and nations. African children in the new America were often born of rape, born into enslavement, and were sold off separately from their parents at auctions and in private deals between plantation owners. The cries of women reaching for their children as those children, straining back, arms outstretched, screaming, are borne away—none of that is new, here in the New World, the land of the free.
I cling to the past because I can’t forget the famous quote from the Old World, during the Holocaust, the Shoah, from a nameless little boy maybe 10 years old, as he was being hauled away during mass arrests after the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto. The child looked back over his frail shoulder and cried, “You won’t be forgiven. Not any of you. Not ever.”
Which is why I cling to the future. Because they won’t be forgiven. We, a free people, can see to that. We can refuse to despair, we can transfer the pressure that is suffocating us outward, into energy, into every demonstration and action we can think of and create. Pressure. More pressure. More pressure. Because pressure works.