On Wednesday morning, an 80-something-year-old man who lives somewhere in Northern California called my colleague to complain: So what if kids are being thrown in cages?
The president is just enforcing the law, he said. The Democrats just want open borders. Those migrants committed a crime by entering the U.S. Their parents were just bringing them up here to get American welfare. If they didn’t want their kids taken from them, then they shouldn’t have brought them here in the first place. What kind of parent would drag their kid through that danger, anyway?
His words were callous and cold for someone with grandkids. And yet, he's far from alone in his views.
This week, a Quinnipiac University Poll found that while 66 percent of all voters disagreed with Trump’s policy of separating families at the border — a policy he sort of overturned on Wednesday with a dog-and-pony show to sign an unnecessary executive order — 55 percent of self-identified Republicans agreed with it. A CNN poll turned up similar findings.
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That means there are millions of Americans — many right here in liberal California — who think it’s perfectly fine to keep innocent children in cages. This should alarm every person of good conscience, regardless of partisan affiliation.
Because it’s one thing to argue over trade policy. It’s quite another to argue over whether it’s fundamentally OK for the U.S. government to engage in state-sanctioned child abuse by ripping infants and toddlers away from their parents and locking them up in old Walmarts. To shrug off reports of children so traumatized that they’ve stopped speaking as a justifiable consequence of their parents crossing the border to flee a violent homeland.
So far, the response from most of us has been to lash out at President Donald Trump and members of his administration, including the despicable Santa Monica native Stephen Miller. Congressional Republicans, most of them far too eager to follow their morally bankrupt leader off a cliff, have taken heat, too.
On Wednesday, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock riled everyone up when he told The Bee a bunch of lies: "There is a simple protection from being separated from one’s family: Don’t break the law. Family separation is not the president’s fault for arresting and prosecuting lawbreakers.”
But complaining isn't enough.
Trump is only as powerful as the voters who put him into office. As powerful as the 80-something-year-old man who called up The Bee on Wednesday morning. To truly put an end to the kind of casual cruelty the president has wielded over the past few weeks, it's up to Americans of good conscience to have the hard conversations with our friends and relatives that we've been avoiding.
With people like the man from Orangevale who wrote The Bee: ”Any parent who breaks the law and gets caught will be separated from their family.” Or the guy from Citrus Heights, who insists that "protesting the separation of children from their mothers who illegally enter our country is really just a ruse for open borders. "
It's up to those of us who know better to cut through the fake news and drop some knowledge. Or at least challenge their misconceptions.
Because this isn't over. While Border Patrol agents can no longer separate migrant parents from their children, the "zero tolerance" policy of detaining everyone who crosses the border is still in effect. That means families who have, at most, committed a civil infraction will be held in cages together for what could be months or even years because immigration courts are so backed up.
We live in a representative democracy — for the moment anyway. It's time to use it.
Erika D. Smith: 916-321-1185, @Erika_D_Smith.