Donald Trump & the Inevitability of Now … the Fiction of Border Policy & the Truth of Our Humanitarian Failures
This isn't your fault. But you are responsible for it.
And the worst thing is: it works in reverse, too.
In 1996 the Olympics came to Atlanta. I was a freshman in college, in South Carolina, and rounded up a few friends to make the road trip. We got baseball tickets to see Cuba play Australia, but what stands out most from that day is the insane heat and the crowds and the suffocating, damp thickness of the air.
Cuba beat Australia 18-9 in one of the highest scoring Olympic baseball games ever. But we didn't see more than the first couple of innings. Instead, we wandered the streets of downtown Atlanta, soaking in the freakshow-carnival atmosphere of a glorious and revolting homage to greed. A McDonald's franchise near Olympic stadium raised its “Golden Nutbags” an extra 75 feet so they would dominate the background of photos and videos. Bottles of water sold at buck-suckingly evil prices, and the streets were littered with plastic cups and trinkets, all branded with the Olympic rings or the city's name.
And lining the streets for miles, brightly colored but hanging heavy with humidity and impatience, were a million t-shirts, all available THREE FOR $20! ... so long as you wear an extra extra large and don't mind that OLIMPICS is misspelled.
It seemed all of capitalism's wretched masses had descended on Atlanta. It was madness, but if one thing held constant it was that everything had a price.
And then a week later, the bomb went off.
We stayed up watching the news well into the night. I fell asleep at some point but at 5 a.m. my friend was still sitting upright in his chair, two feet from the television, unable to tear himself away from news coverage that provided no answers.
Afterward, when it was all over, the Olympic committee president in his traditional closing speech called the Atlanta Olympics exceptional and among the greatest ever – which was actually quite an insult, because the president typically, almost by rote, calls each "the greatest in Olympic history."
But the Atlanta games were not the greatest ever--and we knew it. But they were inevitable. ... As a nation, in the months of reckoning that came after, America collectively settled on “Well, what did you expect?” as the big excuse for it all.
What did anyone expect? Crass commercialism is just the way of America and if you don't want that then don't invite us to your fucking cookout, OK?
Each moment delivers us and arrives us
as our true self. As a nation, the United States is AS SEEN ON TV crossed with the creepy DR LOUTZ'S CURE-ALL MEDI-RITE TONIC … The fuck we aren't. Just a bunch of monkeys with dollar bills glued to our foreheads and asses and then lit on fire (the dollars, not the monkeys …. at least not at first) ... all running around in circles screaming and hissing.
Look, I've got some bad news for you. Uncle Lou is dead. You didn't kill him, so you gotta plan the funeral.
This moment, this one right here, this is 1996 all over again. Perhaps they all are, but just like the Olympics were inevitable, so was this. This. THIS.
You know what I'm talking about. Just nod. Blink twice. Cool.
Alright, so Lou is dead. … Who is this Lou fella, you ask? You never had an Uncle Lou? Fuck you. Lou is the government, the zeitgeist, the moment, the beast, the awful intestinal bile we barf up like a slot machine belching quarters. Not hope—but aspiration run amok.
Something important in America is vanishing.
What I'm trying to say is, the cat crawled up on the roof. It's done. He's gone. Not your fault, but you gotta deal with the body.
But don't worry, there's no smell anymore, we bleach that out so as not to disturb your shopping.
Donald Trump was inevitable. The way his grotesque features are made more craven by his loathsome self-love, as though he exists in a masturbatory vortex in which his face turns a deeper shade of orange the more often his name is spoken … Donald Trump was always us. Perhaps he could have manifested in other ways … Sam Walton's ghost could have returned and pulled us all into weekend jobs as a greeter at the gates of a time share outside Hell … but this was always going to happen.
This is the land of Shop 'til You Drop, and it doesn't matter what you just have to buy something. Donald Trump has been a a public figure for almost five decades now. He's slapped his name on anything he thought might sell, run businesses into the ground, refused to pay his debts, was outed as a racist landlord and admitted to sexual assault on Access Hollywood.
But the important thing is: He was on Access Hollywood. And the Apprentice. And any television show or movie cameo that would have him.
Look, we all know the United States has a thing with fame. … people get famous for nothing but being famous, which sounds about right since fame itself is the goal.
As Oscar Wilde put it, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."
You can hate or love Donald Trump but you can't avoid the fact that he is a grotesque caricature of the United States ethos run amok. That he just happens to be a racist monster is (almost) beside the point. He's a carnival barker, a con man … and we love a good bargain far more than we hate being lied to. In this country, it only has value in the public consciousness if you can wear it on a t-shirt or hat, or watch it on TV.
Think Old Yeller. We knew this was coming.
Deep down, did you think this ended another way? That we were heroes? There are none. No one is coming to save us, and the systems we built weren't strong enough to endure our misplaced hope.
Try to get us on the first shot.
Some nights, it takes me any number of substances to muscle through the evening news. It is both an act of self flagellation, and a ritual in the name of connected-ness. A duty to witness.
But with just the right cocktail, the anchors start to resemble slugs and the news stories seem connected.
Does it all make sense? No. . … but the people do look like slugs. Or just, maybe around the mouth, you can start to see how humans evolved from something primitive, many millions of years before we were apes. Maybe we were once bottom dwellers in the darkest oceans, planted in the sand, nothing but a mouth and tongue flapping around trying to catch plankton or whatever else is down there at the end of the world …
Once you start thinking about it, it's tough to stop looking at people's mouths. And it's television, so there is no end of big faces filling the screen, all talking about something … whether it's a new surgery doctors can perform or the humanitarian crisis Donald Fucking Trump created on the border, all the mouths start to look the same and other-worldy. … Not so much that it's crazy, though. Just so you can see that we, humans, are freakishly evolved from something that we, as humans now, would think hideous.
Fucking slugs that learned to talk and then to inflict pain, so we'd have something to talk about.
All these slugs … what do they want? Why do they do what they do? They writhe around but never seem to accomplish much.
But we are good at creating pain.
There's an argument that today, right now, this moment and this era, THIS is the most peaceful time in which humans have existed.
The argument looks at deaths per 100,000 people. Several researchers determined fewer people are dying violently, and hence concluded the Earth is more at peace than ever before.
This argument only works if you consider peace to be a zero-sum game, which is absurd. There is more misery today on Earth than there has been at any previous time.
Many, many people are doing very well. Billions of people exist somewhere along a continuum of barely making it to affluent. … but there are more people than ever before, hundreds of millions, living in poverty and in conflict zones.
There are almost 70 million refugees worldwide, more than half of which are displaced internationally.
Peace is not something which can be accumulated. Unfortunately, suffering can be.
In South Carolina, in 1994, Susan Smith made headlines when she reported her two children had been in the back seat when she was carjacked. The state and nation went into full-on pandemonium for more than a week, searching for her kids.
Susan Smith turned out to have killed both her children, drowned them by pushing the car into a lake, with them strapped in the back, and she now resides at Leath Correctional Institution, near Greenwood, S.C.
Her story ultimately fell apart, but for nine days the state and nation were riveted by the search for her children, who she claimed had been taken by a black man when she stopped at a red light.
Politicians will tell you that border policy is complicated. But have you ever tried to keep slugs out with a wall? … That's no crack on Mexicans, just an extended metaphor. Don't forget, we're all slugs … stuffing food into that opening so we can keep talking …
Border policy is not complicated; it is a fiction. All human beings should have the right of free movement.
When they took Susan Smith to jail, after the trial, a 50-foot walk turned into a gauntlet. Thousands of people—some from the local town of Union, which had been sucked into the awful drama—and others from across the nation, attracted by the wretched spectacle—thousands of people met Smith at the courthouse steps and the police had to forcibly hold back the crowd, which was out for blood. They hissed and screamed and spit, reached to grab her, clutching at hair, struggling to get their hands on her, screaming BITCH and CUNT and BURN IN HELL … one monster in human form; and another, a writhing mass of hate, desperate for vengeance.
They'd have killed her. Probably it would have been suffocation. Impossible to say what happens on the bottom a scrum, but with dozens of bodies on top of her, that's likely how she'd have died, had the police not held back the crowd.
But they got her from the courthouse to the jail, and decades passed. We forgot about Susan Smith and her awful crime. But we slugs can't ever forget, cannot leave behind, that animalistic response to protect a child.
We build societies and systems to remove Smith and others like them, in part to avoid crowd justice. So that those systems will act as a check on our most violent impulses. … but they can only be a check.
The Trump administration kidnapped more than 2,600 children this spring. Starting in April they separated families, they tortured children, all in the name of politics.
That will be the monster's undoing.
Suffocated at the ballot box. Millions voting in righteous anger. Standing at the gates, hissing and spitting and grasping at clothes and hair and dignity, desperate to rip the genitals right off every last one of the motherfuckers.
If our ability as huma-slugs to organize and do-si-do a half step out of the muck means anything … if this concept of America we have visualized and made real, if that is to mean anything … there will need to be a reckoning. No pardoning of Nixon here. No, “it's better for the country.”
Susan Smith is eligible for parole in six years. Multiple members of this White House ought to die behind bars.
Alright. Immigration. So what are we talking about? Here's some numbers.
The United States has about 325 million residents. We are a large country—the third most populous. We also have the world's largest economy.
If it weren't so selfish and misguided, it would almost be humorous for anyone to suggest that the United States cannot care for people who need help. … We don't lack the capacity to help, we lack the will. If we can't, then who can?
Worldwide, there are 68.5 million refugees, according to the UN Refugee Agency. That's slightly more people than live in the United Kingdom. A problem of this scale requires radical solutions and re-thinking, not tweaks of policy and excuses why we are impotent to do anything.
But first off, let's set one thing straight: The United States has a moral obligation to help the people arriving at our borders. All of them. The ones who have arrived legally, and the ones who enter surreptitiously.
We have a moral obligation--period, full stop. These refugees are humans (or huma-slugs) exactly the same as us, and that ought to be the end of it. We don't have to help them all in the same way, but we do have to help.
That idea, of course, angers many people in this country—particularly those who think the United States government should be helping Americans first. … It's such an entitled view, like children shouting for candy.
Guess what, you little bastards … you gotta learn to share.
Immigration policy in the United States is a sick hypocrisy in many ways, but you can't get much more fundamental than the Declaration of Independence.
While the opening "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” is well known, less-so are the grievances against King George III, which stood as justification for the United States' independence.
The Declaration included 27 grievances … (which by today's standards doesn't really seem so bad) … This one seems relevant to the immigration debate:
"He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”
King George had been limiting and slowing immigration to the colonies, and limited their further expansion, which became part of the justification for revolt.
It's vital to remember that the 2,600 children that the Trump administration kidnapped are the most visible and heart-wrenching atrocity here—but by far they are not the only crime against humanity and decency committed by the administration.
But against all of this, it's also important to note than no President has ever gotten border policy right. Some of this is politics, some is the slow evolution of our human knowledge and understanding.
It is true that President Obama separated some families, for instance, and deported more than 2 million in his eight years in the White House. It is also true that comparing Trump's and Obama's border policies is wholly disingenuous.
Obama faced an actual, significant spike in border crossings in 2014. Trump instituted his “zero-tolerance” policy as border crossing numbers returned to their average, near historic lows.
Obama's family separations were the exception, rather than rule, and were ultimately halted.
But that's no excuse—they were still the wrong decision.
Trump's separations were policy, and resulted in more than 2,600 separated families in a little over a month—a plan executed with a clumsy and malignant calculus.
The Trump administration also ignored clear warnings from its own people about the harm that would be caused.
Commander Jonathan White works for the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. On July 31 he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that his office and the Office of Refugee Resettlement had warned the administration against such a policy.
“Separation of children from their parents entails significant harm to children,” White told Senators, testifying that he informed the White House “there’s no question that separation of children from parents entails significant potential for traumatic psychological injury to the child.”
But they did it anyway.
No President has ever gotten border policy right. But Donald Trump is the only one to use cruelty towards children in a fucked up attempt to get his way.
And make no mistake, this policy was set in place as a deterrent—a threat, that if people fleeing violence tried to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, their children would be taken from them.
Administration officials only changed their tune on the “deterrent” plan once the shit hit the fan.
There are numerous instances where officials admitted this, some more explicit than others, but here's what White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said when asked about the policy:
“They’re coming here for a reason … And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws. But a big name of the game is deterrence.”
What a slimy piece of shit. … So, you sympathize, you understand what they're fleeing and why, BUT DO NOT COME HERE ….
You know how many people the U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement agency keeps in detention, on average? While border crossings are at historically low levels, the number held by ICE continues to rise.
ICE has requested funding for 47,000 beds—which would be a 23.5% rise over ICE's 2017 average daily detention population of about 38,100, according to the National Immigration Forum.
It's easy to understand why: Money. Many of the ICE detention centers are owned and/or operated by private companies.
Private prisons, where corporate profits are derived from incarceration, are a despicable concept that illustrates how capitalism run amok turns people into commodities. The idea is rotten at its core, and President Obama had determined the federal government would no longer use them--a decision Trump reversed.
Just before the 2016 election, shares of GEO Group, the largest private prison contractor, traded around $14 per share. Now it's $25 per share. Same for CoreCivic, whose stock has almost doubled to $25.50 per share from $13.50 in October 2016.
GEO recently reported its earnings, tallying almost $600 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2018. And the company has a rosy outlook. Here's what CEO George Zoley told analysts in the company's earnings call:
“There are several active procurements, which we are participating in, which total approximately 12,000 beds and could result in the opening of some of our idle or underutilized facilities. We are pleased that we've already begun to reactivate some of our idle capacity with the activation of our Folkston, Georgia Annex in the Eagle Pass, Texas facility.”
The fucker sounds like he's talking about oil refineries, instead of people.
Private operators are responsible for about three-quarters of ICE detainees, and GEO and CoreCivic have about a quarter just between themselves.
The United States has a greater portion of its population behind bars than any other country in the world. We've got about 4.5% of the world's population but more than 20% of its prisoners.
How can we develop systems and ideas that move away from incarceration, when the underlying economic system puts corporations in a position to lobby the opposite? … Well. You can't.
Border crossings are near historic lows, yet we're locking up more people than ever before—and spending more to do it, since private prison beds cost about $150/day compared with just under a hundred bucks at a municipal facility.
This shit isn't subtle.
As of this writing, the Trump administration has been directed by a judge to reunite all the families it tore apart. Except the administration had no plan for reunification and the process has been a disaster.
More than 500 remain separated; many parents were deported without their children, without understanding the process, without any regard for their humanity.
More than 500 kids, and the government can't find the parents.
Our government did this.
So what's the long-term solution? It's not complicated: Recognizing our humanitarian responsibilities and separating them from today's tribalistic politics-as-a-game environment.
The simple fact is, this isn't new. And most of it is already baked into the cake. Yes, thousands of people come here illegally. Thousands also leave. … Immigrants are a vital part of the economy in the United States, both documented and working under-the-table, whether we admit it or not. … So let's admit it already and stop acting like monsters.
But between a sane and human immigration policy, and Now, this moment …. that seems like an eternity. It will require not just a rethinking of policy, but also of how individuals view themselves and others, and the responsibilities we have.
So, it doesn't seem likely. I'm not getting my hopes up. … but in the meantime, the United States can at least stop acting like a caricature villain—IF voters respond to the administration's blatant contempt for those most vulnerable.
Donald Trump's decision to separate families--holding kids hostage in an attempt at political gain, uninterested in the human damage being wrought … if this country has any shot at achieving its aspirational ideals, the American people will reject this morally bankrupt son of a bitch and let justice for the entire administration play out in a way that leaves no doubt that we reject their vicious and corrupt actions and ideas.
Government tortures kids, ACLU lawsuit reveals
Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of asylum seekers, as it also has to reunite the separated families.
These suits have led to numerous filings and exchanges with the government, which in turn has led to some horrifying revelations.
ICE tortures the children in its facilities. Unfortunately, this is not an overstatement. There are reports of psychotropic drugs widely administered with little oversight and no parental contact; children kept in isolation; children crammed into cages with insufficient beds; and the use of punishment and restraint techniques which one MIGHT argue were appropriate for adults, but which are absolutely wrong in a situation involving vulnerable children.
There is plenty at which to be horrified. … the government never prepared for the ramifications or repercussions of caring for the THOUSANDS OF KIDS it was taking. The result has been a disaster, and more than likely will mean some number of permanent orphans.
In the following pages, read the declaration filed by the ACLU for an immigrant identified as R.B. He was taken by ICE when he could not provide identification during a traffic stop where he was a passenger. The agency then incarcerated him in its byzantine system of detention facilities.
There is little oversight. A report from the Office of the Inspector General concluded inspections and monitoring of ICE detention facilities do not lead to improvements.
R.B.'s story is heart-wrenching and is proof positive of a broken system. That these actions are taken in the name of America should haunt all of us; that that they occur at all is an atrocity.
If this essay resonated and you would like to help spread its message, considering supporting the Kickstarter, ending Aug. 22, 2018. -Yuri