SAN DIEGO – It’s not often that President Trump finds the courage to do the right thing when it comes to immigrants and refugees. In fact, he usually does the wrong thing – and sometimes for a ghastly reason.
That’s what happens when you spend your days pandering to the racist sliver of America worried that immigration threatens the culture, demographics, identity, and language of the United States.
Everyone covers their backside, and no one admits fault. It’s not enough to attack the other camp, you’ve got to portray your side as pure and innocent of any wrongdoing. It’s a dishonest mess.
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So it is worth taking a moment to note Trump’s wise decision this week to sign an executive order that is supposed to keep immigrant families at the border together.
But how the Department of Homeland Security handles families – something it was never designed to do – isn’t the only thing that is broken. After a couple of weeks of hearing Americans talk about this issue, in ways that were either hyperbolic or hateful, it’s clear that the national conversation is also badly in need of repair.
Liberal Democrats have been on an emotional roller coaster. One minute, they’re weeping at images of families being divided in a way they never did four or five years ago when President Obama was the one doing the dividing. The next minute, they’re flying into a rage at the mere insinuation that they’re not as bighearted as they pretend to be, because where is the fun in being a liberal if you can’t feel morally superior to others?
Conservative Republicans have spent the last several days reflexively circling the wagons in defense of the Trump administration. They should simply say: “We support the president, and he has done a great job cutting unemployment, reconfiguring trade and handling North Korea. But he was wrong to separate immigrant families at the border.” Instead, their instinct is to downplay the negative impact of the policy.
Although the president made clear at the signing ceremony that his administration would continue its “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting everyone who crosses the border illegally, Trump also said he didn’t like seeing families separated.
“Anybody with a heart would feel this way,” he insisted
Of course, when it comes to brown-skinned foreigners trying to gain entry to the United States, there are many Trump supporters out there – camped out in the GOP’s “Tin Man” wing – who don’t have hearts. They’re too busy being afraid of immigrants, or looking down on them, to muster any compassion.
Conservative commentator Ann Coulter accused the toddlers who cried for their mommies of being “child actors,” while Fox News host Laura Ingraham glibly described the horror these kids were put through as being like “summer camp.”
And when it comes to immigrants and refugees, there are also more than a few right-wingers – in the Republican Party’s “Scarecrow” wing – who don’t have a brain. Even with polls showing up to two-thirds of Americans opposing the idea of separating refugee families at the border, some conservatives tried to defend this indefensible policy of government-orchestrated kidnapping by doing something that wasn’t smart: blaming the parents for putting their kids at risk.
Here’s a fact of life: Desperate parents do desperate things. During the Cold War, when parents in East Germany helped their children cross the Berlin Wall so that they could live free even if it meant never seeing them again, was that a form of child abuse? I don’t think so. In fact, even 60 years later, we applaud their sacrifice and marvel at their strength.
Maybe those mothers from Central America need a better publicist so they can tell their story.
Or maybe we just shouldn’t judge people until we’ve carried on our shoulders the burden they must carry on theirs.
Still, even as he signed the executive order to keep families together, Trump vowed to “maintain toughness” so that the country is not “overrun by people, by crime, by all of the things that we don’t stand for, that we don’t want.”
If we’re making a list of things Americans don’t stand for and don’t want, I would include a few lines about the dysfunctional way in which we talk about a crisis like this: Everyone covers their backside, and no one admits fault. It’s not enough to attack the other camp, you’ve got to portray your side as pure and innocent of any wrongdoing. It’s a dishonest mess.
Unfortunately, our defective national dialogue cannot be fixed with the stroke of a pen.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group