While I don’t often speak out directly on political current events on this blog, today is an exception. I’m going to make this as blunt, succinct and clear as possible: the Trump Administration’s policy of tearing children away from their parents, and imprisoning them in cage facilities near the border, is cruel, immoral, wrong, and disastrous. It’s a moral stain on the United States of America, and on Americans as a people, which will not soon be washed away. And if we don’t stop and reverse course right now, it’s going to get worse.
A lot of ink has been spilled over the last few days about what to call the monstrous thing happening down there in the Southwest, whether children are being put in “cages” or what conditions the children are or are not being subjected to. I don’t hesitate to call these facilities what they are: concentration camps. I am a historian, I’ve studied the Holocaust, and I also happen to be Jewish. It is not a slight or an outrage to call the border detainment facilities concentration camps, or to compare the Trump administration policy to actions of the Nazis. In fact, we must call these things what they are.
Anyone who defends this heinous policy out of political tribalism shares the moral guilt of the perpetrators. I never want to see an image like this again.
Trump’s concentration camps are already filling up; CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) has already confirmed that they’re building a “tent city” in the desert to house even more children who are being torn away from their parents, in some cases by trickery and deception–like telling parents their kids are just being taken for a few minutes so they can take showers. (Does that sound familiar?) In a few days, a child will die at one of these facilities, probably of heat stroke. Then others will follow. The administration will, as they’ve already done previously, cluck about how unfortunate this is. They’ll try to blame Democrats, and they’ll blame the kids’ parents for supposedly trying to cross the border illegally. But children will die. And then we’ve crossed a moral line we can never come back from.
Indeed, the deaths on Trump’s watch have already begun. Many thousands of Americans died in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, a disaster–exacerbated by climate change that Trump denies–about which Trump did nothing of any substance. Why he chose not to lift a finger is very clear, and it’s the same reason why he has established concentration camps on the U.S.-Mexico border: because he believes that only white people are worthy Americans, and his twisted conception of white “Americanness” must be protected from contamination by non-white people. History has shown us that state power undergirded by racism always leads to atrocity. Whether it’s black men hanging from trees in the American South in the early 20th century or piles of corpses in European hell camps in 1945, state power plus racism always leads somewhere dark. The fact that the racists who wield this power never actually achieve what they think they want–and succeed only in wasting their own and many other people’s lives–is small comfort given the scale of the disasters they often cause.
Between 1942 and 1945, hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans, most of them U.S. citizens, were imprisoned in rooms like this one, at an internment camp that’s been preserved as a museum. This can never be OK.
The terrible immigration policy of the Trump regime is not just a partisan tussle, and it’s not just another political football that the news cycle is focused on this week. It’s a moral judgment. It’s a sin. This policy must be stopped now.
Some future President of the United States (assuming there is one after Trump) will eventually apologize for what’s happening now. Future taxpayers will eventually pay reparations to the families being harmed this week, just as today we play reparations to survivors of Japanese-American internment during World War II. Those things will happen, but they won’t wipe away the moral stain that will exist as long as America does. The moral judgment is not merely on the head of the heinously immoral man who thought up this terrible thing and who takes obvious glee in watching it unfold. It’s on all of us because we allowed this to happen. It’s too late to prevent this stain from attaching to us, but let us stop the slide into further atrocities while we still can.
Silence is consent. I do not consent.