I will holler “Amen!” with the choir of much of the nation whenever President Trump is called a big fat meanie. He is. He’s an awful person. But that sentence might have been written the same way, minus President, if we are back in 1990 “Trump is a meanie who makes children cry unnecessarily” seems an axiomatic narrative truth. But how about: “Barack Obama is a meanie who also mades children cry unnecessarily?” True as it is, the argument skates on thin ice with most people.

Trump’s policy towards illegal immigrant children is a degree more aggressive in practice, but not in principle. A superficial consideration of any law enforcement policy would reveal the conclusion: “parents who violate the law take risks their children will bear if caught.” This is the human condition, and nothing but an argument for good parenting whether Trump is a meanie in 1990 or 2018, irrespective of whether we also agree that President Obama a meanie. This would be true in North Korea and Scandinavia alike.

For the record, I say President Obama is not a meanie. But we can know that if he followed anything resembling US laws, he too separated child from parent “unnecessarily.” True, whether enforcing immigration law or any of the other galaxy of laws that makes us the world’s most prolific incarcerator of people. We are the nation that most strips children from parents, we are the ones most often inflicting unnecessary trauma on he offenders’ children. Any American Executive in law enforcement would do the same, to one degree or the other.

This is the reality of our universe of inflicting unnecessary trauma on children, and it has been true since the Clinton administration ratcheted up incarceration in the mid nineties. For that matter, we could have a useful conversation on children traumatized through the killing of their parents in all of our destabilizing Middle Eastern wars and proxy wars. Examining that would fill a book.

Obama is good, Trump is a meanie, yet the policy has the same outcome: unnecessary trauma to children, irrespective of the motives of the policy implementer. After all, our President is inaugurated by swearing on his immortal soul that he will faithfully execute the laws of the Constitution of the United States of America. That those laws are a thicket of contradictions and dysfunction is a drum I beat in these pages always, but the conclusion from that premise cannot be that oaths mean nothing, laws mean nothing. Consider this website that ICE agents launched, wherein they complain that immigration policy in the Obama era required their officers to break their oaths by NOT enforcing existing immigration law, and Trump’s current policies do too little to restore their confidence in the fealty to their oaths.

Using wisdom to inform law enforcement will certainly get applause from me, but wisdom cannot always, and certainly not reliably, trump a thicket of dysfunctional law. Especially since so much of our incarceration whimsies were the result of putting law-giving on auto-pilot back in the Clinton era, with its mandatory jailing minimums. Moral considerations and empathy were designed out of the system, and these are the consequences.

It should seem grotesque that we are the world’s largest incarcerators, on the premise of being a nation of laws, yet we increasingly cannot implement, or even understand, our own laws, for their reflecting our own lawmakers’ dysfunction. Another steady drumbeat of this scribbler is: if you make laws, especially ones that net more of your populace than all the rest of the civilized world combined (especially when our political system is seemingly un-reformable in its ability to adapt and adjust to the terrible consequences), you’d better be right (Government getting things right, LOL), because the cost is always paid down the generations.

Policy can remove morality and motivation (and wisdom) from the individual. We know this because we see a mean man and a good man have the same, or very similar, (the difference seems to be about 2,500 children affected) outcomes with their policies. To a large degree that is what law is: a blindfolded Goddess and her scale, weighing only what is placed there. Philosophers and lawmakers are the people who define the good the law wants to achieve. The implementers, on the other hand, should be the last people we want interpreting laws, based on their personal definitions as to what the laws should mean or do. In this regard, President Trump is on very solid ground as it pertains to the American system: he is the chief federal law implementer, and he got a mandate from his electorate to reform immigration law. I, as a blog-scribbler (aka philosopher) can call the policy unwise, unnecessary, and cruel. Those literate in the immigration debate know that the number of illegals is going down, not up, and those remaining here are not problem enough to need addressing, but Trump’s approach is far, far from “Hitler-like,” nor is it an outlier to what most nations do to control their borders. Clearly, and obviously, the children of criminals must be removed from their custody. Incidentally, Trump is right to point out that Mexico allows caravans of illegals to pass through their borders and into ours. Those very same children making the cover of Time magazine endured a far more perilous journey than the outcome of them winding up parent-less in an American detention facility. This danger to children is the true moral hazard that should be considered, now that we are trying to transcend partisan tribal bickering. That Trump’s humane point (I’m moving away from my family in case I’m struck by a bolt of lightning) is lost in the strum und drang is yet another casualty of our bipartisan dysfunction.

Now (logically at least) we see how juvenile (and counter-productive to a solution) this “Trump is a meanie” phase of our long-dysfunctional immigration policy debate is. This issue is HARD. This issue is hard for good men, mean men, wise men, stupid men, honorable men and dishonorable men (pick your favorite partisan players to fill their faces into these caricature cutouts).

Our logic and wisdom, in seeking a solution to this quandary, and many others, should fix on the word “unnecessary.” If you will agree with the premise that government should imprison parents, and so put their children in peril, only when it is necessary, according to rational definitions of criminal liability flowing from intent, and only as a last resort, I bid you welcome to the Libertarian party (join here, we’d love to have you)!

North Korea punishes more children for the wrongs of their parents than liberal Scandinavia, but we can reasonably be certain Scandinavia has some wrong-headed policies that cause unnecessary separation from parent and child (though I couldn’t find any). In most of Scandinavia, they are loath to put anyone in jail, at all, but they have not seen a zombie horde of criminals unleashed. Pop your eyes with amazement when you do your own web searches on the broad success of Scandinavia’s incarceration reforms.

So, degrees clearly matter, and are not nothing. So, Trump acting out of meanness is a feature of who he is, and subsequently we have a policy that is less wise and meaner than the one we had before, and so Trump (and his feckless Party) are deserving of being burned by the firestorm he touched off. But Democrats crowing of their humanity, in the face of being half of the problem of worlds’s greatest (or worse) incarcerators, is a claim to be the tallest Pygmy. Our media focus on these few thousands, out of millions, caught up in our current round of unwise policy needs to be seen as crocodile tears, with Trump as a somewhat bigger crock.

Eugene Darden Nicholas

About Eugene Darden Nicholas

Eugene Darden (Ed) Nicholas is from Flushing Queens, where he grew up sheltered from the hard world, learning the true things after graduating college and becoming a paramedic in Harlem. School continues to inform and entertain in all its true, Shakespearean glory. It's a lot of fun, really. In that career, dozens of people walk the earth now who would not be otherwise. (The number depends on how literally or figuratively you choose to add). He added a beloved wife to his little family, which is healthy. He is also well blessed in friends and colleagues.


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