America will never heal from Trump

July 11, 2018 Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 235

I’d ask you to begin by reading Hector Acosta’s account of applying for citizenship after the 2016 Election. Full disclosure, Hector is a personal friend and co-organizer of the writer’s group I run. The short version is that Hector, a Mexican immigrant, lived in the US for 20 years as a resident alien. After Trump’s election, suddenly worried that he might not be welcome, he applied for citizenship and spent 15 months sweating when he saw police, lying awake at night, and wondering whether his next appointment would end in deportation.

Hector’s story ends happily, in that he did finally attain citizenship. But the consequences of that experience will stay with him for a long time, maybe forever. One day he was an American, who never doubted his place in his adopted home country. The next he was an immigrant, different and unwelcome, and even as a citizen that feeling will always linger.

And that is the truth of Trump: As focused as many of us are on opposing him, on stopping his racist, fascist-light policies, and even possibly removing him from office, America will never fully recover from Trump. We will always wear the scars of his election.

As of this writing, thousands of immigrant children remain separated from their families, kidnapped and held for ransom so Trump could demand his wall. Yes, a court has ordered the reunification of those families, which may feel like victory to some–but those children, some as young as infants, will suffer very literal psychological damage that will affect their entire lives.

Experts in child development say the experience of being torn from their families and held in cages may cause permanent psychological and even physical change to the brain development of these children. Something as simple as being denied human contact during vital developmental stages can lead to depression, isolation, and diminished health later in life. Even if we return every child to their family, even if we pay settlements for our crimes, those children are permanently and irrevocably harmed.

So, of course, is our nation. The US will always be the nation that put children in cages on the border. Nothing can undo that. Add it to the long list of shameful, hypocritical betrayals of the values we claim to hold dear.

These scars will never heal

The election of Donald Trump revealed the ugly side of America: Just how many Americans are racist, nationalist zealots who would fall in line behind a dictator if he promised to protect white supremacy. It’s very true that many Americans already knew this, and many of us (especially white Americans) are better for seeing it laid out in all its ugliness.

For other people, however, ignorance was bliss. Young Black and brown children are entitled to their innocence. Adult immigrants deserve to feel like full Americans, even if they know deep down there are people here who hate them. No one deserves the daily stress and trauma of being told you aren’t equal, being made to feel like an outsider.

There’s little doubt that the racists among us have been emboldened by Trump’s rise. We see new evidence almost daily: A white Manhattanite shouting because he heard Spanish in the salad line, a white man assaulting a woman who proudly wore the flag of her US territory, a seemingly endless parade of white people calling the police because Black people are having fun. We’ve seen the marchers chanting racist and antisemitic slogans in Charlottesville and elsewhere, and the constant presence of symbols of hate in our daily lives.

That genie will never return to its bottle. Long after Trump is gone from office, these racists will still feel empowered. And even if their rhetoric is muted, American immigrants, people of color, Jews, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized groups, will always retain the memory and the trauma of this era. They will always feel unwelcome, they will always feel other. Those scars may fade, but they cannot be erased.

So what can we do?

This is all pretty bleak, I know. It’s a bleak time, and I don’t believe in papering over the truth with “positivity.” And part of Trumpism is to overwhelm decent Americans with an onslaught of attacks, putting us into a sort of emergency room triage. Our most immediate priorities, of course, are to protect vulnerable people from immediate harm by opposing and undoing the worst policies: Get children out of cages. Reunite families. Stop deportations. Protect the rights of women.

To the subtler, less tangible consequences, I don’t know if there is a solution. I suspect the best we can do is act locally–do what we can to help people in our own communities feel like they belong.

In 2015, in my own neighborhood in Queens, a convenience store teller from Bangladesh was assaulted by a stranger who told him “I kill Muslims.” After the story made the news, community members held rallies, and posted signs, and made a point to shop in his store, many telling him outright that yes, he was welcome. Not every action needs to be this dramatic, and I certainly hope people aren’t attacked first, but there are small things you can do to help people feel that the racists are the outliers, and their neighbors appreciate them.

You can learn a little Spanish–something as simple as hearing “gracias” from white Americans sends a signal to Spanish-speakers that their language is not seen as other. You can make a point to greet Muslim Americans, who are often met with suspicion by white people–although I’d be cautious you aren’t intruding in someone’s day just to make yourself feel good. Oh, and for god’s sake, you can stop calling the police when you see Black people (or anyone else with brown skin) just having a good time and not harming anyone.

I don’t think you should be stopping strangers to tell them they belong here, but a smile and wave go a long way. As to your friends and neighbors, who might be justifiably suspicious of their white friends’ true feelings, it doesn’t hurt to tell them what I told Hector: A person isn’t American because of a document, or religion, or language, or any other quality–a person is American because they live in America. And I don’t care if you’ve been here five generations or five minutes. We’re all equally American.

That’s what Trump is taking away from us, and that’s what we need to defend.

The AMAZING cartoon that serves as a banner image is by DonkeyHotey on Flickr, and used under creative commons license.

Continue Reading

Is America Great Again?

June 19, 2018 Civil Rights, Featured, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 160

I want you to listen to this recording. It’s seven-and-a-half minutes long, but I doubt many people could bear the full length. This recording, made and released by Pro Publica, contains the cries of children, separated from their parents and thrown in cages by U.S. government agents. Again and again they cry for their mothers and fathers, the adults they trust, for comfort. But their mothers and fathers won’t come to comfort them, because the U.S. government has thrown them in other cages. The former head of ICE sayssome of these children will never see their parents again.

Listen to this audio, and answer a question for me:

Is America Great Again?

There is no law, state or federal, that requires undocumented immigrant families to be divided. The President claims there is, but that is a lie. Even his administration officials know it’s a lie — you can watch Attorney General Jeff Sessions, just a few weeks ago, boasting about the tough new policy separating detained parents from their children.

In Texas, federal officials stole an infant from a mother while she was breastfeeding, and then handcuffed her when she protested. Another woman, an ACLU client, reports the government has kept her from her son for eight months. Another family, also in Texas, has not seen their 8-month old baby in 4 months, except via Skype. The child’s father was deported, but the child has now spent half of its life in custody of federal immigration officials.

It is not a crime to seek asylum —in fact, the right to seek asylum is protected under international law, affirmed multiple times in the 20th century by the United Nations, and further protected in the United States by federal law. And yet the Trump administration has established a new policy that prosecutes every person who seeks asylum as a criminal. They say this is not a new policy, but that is a lie.

Is America Great Again?

Numerous members of the Trump Administration have stated that the new policy is intended to deter people from coming to seek asylum in the United States. The President himself denies this, but he also declares that the United States will not become a “migrant camp” or “refugee holding facility,” and describes immigrants as “infesting” our country.

The President blames the Democrats, again lying about existing law, but also says he will not release the children unless he gets funding for his border wall. That’s the one Mexico was going to pay for, according to Trump the candidate. Maybe he meant with the blood of their children? But I digress.

Meanwhile, ICE officials have been kidnapping children from their parents by lying that they were “taking the children away for baths,” which is, you know, the same thing guards at concentration camps told Jewish people to get them into gas chambers. This, while Trump tweets racist fears about how immigration in Europe “changed the culture,” virtually paraphrasing the “14 words” used as a slogan by the neo-Nazi movement.

The rhetoric has become so bad, the policy so ugly, that the Attorney General had to appear on Fox News to try and point out ways current U.S. policy is different from that of Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find any.

I ask you: Is America Great Again?

It’s an honest question, not just rhetoric. I genuinely want an answer. Because I want to know if the people who put Trump in the White House — and 55 percent of Republican voters apparently say they support this policy — consider this great. I want to be clear, so we don’t hear in the future about how ICE agents were “just following orders,” or how voters didn’t know who they were electing.

This is, after all, the same Donald Trump who spent $85,000 in 1989 to demand the execution of five innocent children.

Is this great? Children, locked in cages on bare floors beneath lights that never go out, crying for comfort from parents they may never see again? Children,stripped of their belts and shoelaces so they can’t commit suicide, before being locked away like criminals? A U.S. government that receives applications for political asylum not with compassion or respect for human dignity, but with the kinds of human rights abuses that draw condemnation from Amnesty International, the Mormon Church, former First Lady Laura Bush, and the UN Human Rights Commissioner?

Is this what you wanted? Is this who you’d like us to be? Is this the America you envisioned when you cast your ballot?

Is this what you voted for?

Is America Great Again?

The photo in the header is from and used with permission under Creative Commons license. Please note it is NOT an image of a migrant child currently detained under U.S. policy; my intent is not to deceive, but to avoid using images without permission of copyright holders or violating the privacy rights of minors.

Continue Reading