This Is Not Our Country

We are losing our heart and our soul as a nation.  I hope that we can recover.

With the Trump Administration policy of “zero tolerance” we are experiencing the full depth of depravity that his leadership instills.  And make no mistake about it, it is a policy, not a law.

Repeat after me:  There is no law that requires separating children from their parents at the border.

There are so many lies surrounding the implementation of this policy and the explanations for its continuance that is hard to know where to begin.  Let’s start with the rationale for it.

Mr. Trump and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security state that it is simply the enforcement of the law.  (All together now:  There is no law!).  However, the Attorney General and high ranking presidential advisers say that the policy is an attempt to deter further immigrants from coming to the border either illegally or for the purpose of claiming asylum – of which the Attorney General changed the criteria for what we will accept under that claim.

Other presidential advisers, including the president himself, basically argued that it was a political gambit to get the Congress to pass legislation to fund his “big beautiful border wall.”  You know, the one he promised that Mexico would pay for.

Taking the second argument first, it is totally despicable and un-American to use children, including babies and toddlers, as political bargaining chips.  The mere sight of these internment camps should be enough for Americans — regardless of one’s views on immigration — to say “not in my America!”

The argument that it is a deterrent is short-sighted and won’t work.  Here is the fallacy in their reasoning.  People that are fleeing unspeakable crimes, persecution and fear will risk whatever lies at the end of a very long road because it cannot be any worse than what they are experiencing and there is a chance that it could be better.  Desperate people do desperate things.  Think Sophie’s Choice (either the book or the movie with Meryl Streep.)

As many of you know I experienced this first hand in the early 1980’s off the coast of Viet Nam.  On several Navy deployments we rescued refugees at sea fleeing the oppressive communist regime of the time.  Note this — we were not there for that mission.  No US Navy ships were there for that mission.  We were merely transiting from one mission to another and happened to be there — far off the coast in regular shipping lanes.  Unimaginably rickety wooden boats of 40 or 50 feet loaded with about 50 people of all ages — babies to grandmothers — on board would head to sea hoping that a US Navy ship would see them (not a sure thing — small boat, big ocean), stop, and pick them up to take them to a refugee camp.  If they missed the US Navy, perhaps some friendly merchant ship would pick them up (some did, but not all).  If they weren’t lucky, they were lost at sea.  Unknown numbers were never rescued.  I should point out that there was no specific government policy to pick them up.  It was our duty as mariners to help those in peril on the sea and our duty as human beings not to let them perish.

Those experiences over about three years have made a lasting impression on me ever since.  I could not and can not imagine what it would take to put my entire family at risk of perishing at sea in the hope — the hope — that there might be something better for us.  And if there wasn’t, well maybe we would still be better off perishing together than losing family members to evil forces.

That is why those people come to our borders.  They won’t stop until the conditions in their home countries change.

Additionally may I add that on numerous occasions over the decades, I have read about a senior military officer, politician, public servant, fireman, successful business person, and others that were among those rescued during that period.  I have no idea whether any of them were among those on the boats that we saved.  I do know that if we had not exercised our obligations as human beings we would have never known about them because they would never have lived to be the proud and productive Americans that they are today.

Some of those in the child internment camps will have similar stories in a few decades.  If we let them.

As I write this, the president just announced that later today he will “sign something” to alleviate the situation at the border regarding the removal of children from their parents.  I hope it is meaningful.  The damage is already done, however, to our standing as a moral leader in the world and in our communal sense of what it means to be an American.

Mr. Trump is using the most vile, scare mongering rhetoric imaginable to demonize these potential contributors to the USA.  It is on purpose.  When he tweets that they “pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13” he brings out the very worst in our nature. Pour? Infest?  What?  Sound familiar?

“From the rostrum of the Reichstag, I prophesied to Jewry that, in the event of war’s proving inevitable, the Jew would disappear from Europe. That race of criminals has on its conscience the two million dead of the First World War, and now already hundreds and thousands more. Let nobody tell me that all the same we can’t park them in the marshy parts of Russia! Who’s worrying about our troops? It’s not a bad idea, by the way, that public rumor attributes to us a plan to exterminate the Jews. Terror is a salutary thing.”  — Adolf Hitler October, 1941

“You see what happens with MS-13, where your sons and daughters are attacked violently.  Kids that never even heard of such a thing are being attacked violently, not with guns, but with knives because it’s much more painful.  Inconceivable — here we are talking about business — inconceivable that we even have to talk about MS-13 and other gangs.  They attack violently, the most painful way possible.  And a bullet is too quick.  And we’re allowing these people into our country?  Not with me.  We’re taking them out by the thousands.  We’re taking them out by the thousands.”  Donald J. Trump, 19 June 2018

There are so many more references from Mr. Trump where he demonized those of color.  There is a reason that to date, the only pictures, still or video, from inside the child internment camps are from the US government.  What do they show?  Only teenage boys of color shuffling along and kept in cages (or as one DHS official claimed that they aren’t cages, they are just walls made of chain link that go from floor to ceiling).  As Mr. Trump rails against “MS-13” — is the president really saying that every man woman and child seeking entry from the south is a gang member — the video subtly reinforces his vitriol.

The president is trying to create a vision of a nation at war.  That we are under attack from the south and the refugees at our borders are enemy combatants.  With that psychology, of course we “capture” them and put them in POW camps.  It is an artificial war and a created crisis.  Created for political purposes.  The president is trying to create an issue that he thinks he and the GOP can win on in November 2018.  Truth is trampled in the process.

Look it up.  The numbers apprehended at the border have plummeted between 2000 and now.  For example in March, 2000 about 220,000 people crossed the border.  In March of this year, when the “crisis” resulted in the zero tolerance policy, about 40,000 were apprehended trying to cross illegally.  Looking at yearly totals since 1960, apprehensions increased steadily until peaking in the late 1990’s at roughly 1.6 million people.  Since then the trend has been downward, hovering around 300,000 to 400,000 during President Obama’s second term and about 300,000 last year. Hardly “unheard of” or “the most in history” or “unprecedented”.  By the way, part of the reason was that there were dramatic new hires in Border Patrol officers begun under President George W. Bush and expanded further under President Obama.  As a side note, one should be aware that the historic rate of crimes for illegal immigrants is half of that of natural born citizens and the rate for legal immigrants is about a quarter of that for natural born Americans.

The current condition is a cruel manufactured crisis for crass political purposes.  We are a nation of immigrants.  We are better than this.  Or at least I thought so.

Despite Mr. Trump’s fake claims that the Democrats want “open borders” to get more criminals, drug dealers and future voters into the country, the vast majority of Americans understand that immigration must be controlled and that laws must be the rule of the land.  That said, it is possible to have and execute immigration laws with compassion.

Let’s hope that when Mr. Trump “signs something” today, he solves this problem.  Whatever that something is, however, we have already seen clearly what is in his heart.  What is now happening on the border is evil.  It does not represent the values of the United States of America that I know.

In truth, I do not believe that Mr. Trump really cares one way or the other about immigration and the welfare of children on the border.  It just makes a good wedge issue to enhance his own power.  We have seen that Mr. Trump will stop at nothing to exploit fear and to promote his personal gain.  Wake up America!  This is what the future holds if we do not begin to demand more from our elected officials.  Now.

In Search Of Evil

Please forgive me while I muse out loud about the nature of evil.  This piece is not meant to be about, for, or against, any particular religious view.  Most religions address the nature of evil and the human dimension of fighting it off.  In many religions, Satan, or a similar being, is the embodiment of evil. While I will muse about Satan, this is not intended to be a religious discussion.  Or at least I think not. Non-religious people certainly recognize and ponder the nature of evil.  It is more than just a religious concept.  Spoiler alert:  That said, I will write about God and Satan, among other approaches to trying to understand evil.  Stop reading if this is not your thing and you would rather not get into it.

With the nearly constant bombardment of video images depicting the actions of the Islamic State (or ISIS, or ISIL — all the same entity), one immediately thinks of that group as evil.  Adolf Hitler and his Nazi supporters were evil.  Josef Stalin was evil.  Pol Pot was evil.  Narco-terrorists are evil. The list could go on and on.

However, I wonder why, or perhaps more accurately, how, people become evil.  I do not think that it is in the nature of humankind to be evil.  My premise has been and continues to be that, given a chance, people are inherently good and will do the right thing.  Although this premise is tested daily, I still consider the vast majority of people to be good.  So what happens to the others?  I do not think that they were born evil.  Although there are psycho-paths and people lacking any empathy what-so-ever, I see their actions as more a matter for psychiatrists than necessarily a manifestation of the existence of evil, which still leaves some of their actions clearly defined as evil.  Nor do I excuse their behavior in any way, shape or form.  However, I do not think that most of what we see today, or historically, as evil actions in the name of nations or dictators is coming purely from mental disorders. Perhaps some, but not many.  It is too facile to say that they are all psychopaths.

On a Judeo-Christian religious level, most believe that God is the Supreme Being.  God knows all and as the Creator, by definition, created everything in the universe.  God would not create Satan.  In the Old Testament (such as in the Book of Job) God sometimes sends Satan to do his bidding — in this case to test Job. If Satan exists, it is not as an equal to God.  How can there be an equal competition between good and evil — manifested as God versus Satan — for the souls of mankind?  There cannot.  God is all-powerful. He is not going to lose to Satan in any endeavor.

To me, Satan stands as a symbol of free will.  We have the curse and the gift of determining our own destiny.  It is a human decision as to whether or not to do the right thing.  When humans choose the wrong path, evil deeds occur.  So do our historical evil doers choose to be evil or are they on some other path?  I am not sure.  To some degree, it depends on which side of history one sits.  As has been written many times, the winner dictates the history.  In war, evil things happen on both sides. From other cultures’ perspectives the United States has done evil things.  Did we choose to do evil?  I say no we did not.  Either we were ignorant of the consequences of certain actions, or as a nation we decided that certain actions were necessary to achieve our goals.  Is it possible that Hitler, Stalin, and others, including the current leaders of the Islamic State were not born evil?  Is it possible that their actions were, and are, in the pursuit of what they consider to be a greater good and thereby necessary? If they wrote the history would they depict their actions as evil?  Are people evil or are their actions evil?  Does it matter?  I am no expert.  And I am no apologist for those that do evil things — there are no moral equivalencies here.  I am merely trying to find my way through a troubling problem.  Why does evil exist and how is it manifested?

How do good people go bad?  Nature or nurture?  I am not the first to ponder these questions, nor will I be the last.  The world is a fearsome and complicated place.  Perhaps the answer to what constitutes evil lies somewhere near Justice Potter Stewart’s opinion on hard-core pornography — that it is hard to define but “I know it when I see it.”  (An opinion he later professed to regret.)

This is not to say that evil is in the eye of the beholder.  It is to say that some things are universally considered evil and other things may be subject to motivation and context.  Some profess that all war is evil.  Evil things happen in war, but the necessary aspect of many wars (not all) does not inherently make them evil.

I have grappled with this for a long time and have no good conclusion.  I hold to my basic premise that humans are born good and want to do the right things with their lives.  I am challenged in resolving that outlook with the day-to-day evidence to the contrary in our lives.