It’s June 18 and Father’s Day in America. Imagine the families with little children eating waffles and sharing crayon-scratched cards, a Best Dad coffee mug awkwardly wrapped as a gift. Imagine the babies brought into bed to snuggle between the parents. Imagine the visits to elder care centers where fathers may or may not remember their adult children’s names. Remember the people without a father’s presence due to abandonment, death or incarceration. Despite their longevity or quality, parental relationships matter whether they can be directly honored or not. Nothing is more fundamental to the development of a child than their parents or primary attachment figures. Nothing. Ask anyone who has been separated from their parent as a child, either short-term or permanently. It has a lifetime impact. With this in mind, let’s rewind a few weeks.
On May 7, two government initiatives were announced, both affecting children.
So today, I’m very excited to announce BE BEST, an awareness campaign dedicated to the most valuable and fragile among us –-our children.
… children deserve every opportunity to enjoy their innocence. — First Lady Melania Trump
“Today we’re here to send a message to the world that we are not going to let the country be overwhelmed. People are not going to caravan or otherwise stampede our border. … If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law. … If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.” — Attorney General, Jeff Sessions
In other words, May 7 was BE BEST meets “zero tolerance,” or another crazy-making, whiplash day in America. One moment, Melania Trump was rolling out her BE BEST Campaign focused on the social and emotional health of America’s children with emphasis on: preventing cyber-bullying, promoting respect, kindness and compassion; protecting children’s innocence, with an added dash of opiate addiction prevention. (Was the nod to opiate addiction an attempt to reassure Americans with family members dying at a rate of 175 per day that something is being done?) Was anyone else wondering if Mrs. Trump was stating publicly to her husband, her personal beliefs regarding appropriate social media behavior that she and others have been unable to impress upon him privately? Specifically from her speech: I do believe that children should be both seen and heard, and it is our responsibility as adults to educate and remind them that when they are using their voices, whether verbally or online, they must choose their words wisely and speak with respect and compassion. (Bold added.) To date, President Trump is one of the worst offenders of cyberbullying on Twitter, bested only recently by Roseanne Barr. Nonetheless, at the end of Melania Trump’s speech, she said “… And now, it is my pleasure to call my husband to the stage to sign a proclamation calling today, May 7, BE BEST Day.”
Meanwhile, across the country, Jeff Sessions, aka The Heartless Little Man, was announcing the implementation of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for immigrants attempting to cross the border illegally, with the clear intention of separating them from their children. Calling this “smuggling” helped to misdirect the relationship of these individuals, as parents with accompanying children. From April 18 to May 31, approximately 1,995 children were separated, with an average of 45 children being taken from their parents each day. Contrary to President Trump’s and Jeff Sessions’ insistent spin, “There is no law that requires immigrant families to be separated. The decision to charge everyone crossing the border with illegal entry — and the decision to charge asylum seekers in criminal court rather than waiting to see if they qualify for asylum — are both decisions the Trump administration has made.” (Lind, Vox) According to Seth Stodder, a former assistant secretary of Homeland Security in the Obama administration, who also served as policy director for Customs and Border Protection during the Bush administration, “Brutally separating young children from their parents is not a response worthy of a great and humane nation.” (Jordan and Nixon, New York Times)
Some may argue that comparing these initiatives is unfair. After all, American children who have the mere luck to be born in the United States are the targets of BE BEST, while “zero tolerance” is targeted for “other” children and their fathers and mothers without citizenship rights. But don’t all children deserve the most fundamental of human rights? Shouldn’t all children be allowed to stay in the care of their parents, unless those adults are unsafe or have been afforded valid due process and convicted of a crime with resulting incarceration?
For just a moment, can we forget about political party affiliations and fears of scarcity, and take a good long look at our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews? Let’s really notice the “most valuable and fragile among us,” as Mrs. Trump rightly described children. Surely this description applies to all children everywhere. So while we drink our Sunday coffee, write and/or open our Father’s Day cards, and share the freedom of another day, do we really want our tax dollars to pay for traumatically ripping children away from their parents? How BE BEST is that? Do we really want President Trump to make good on the possibility of expanding 400 beds for immigrant children in one Texas location to 4,000? What are we teaching our children who are old enough to observe the implementations of such policies? How does this fit with Mrs. Trump’s intentions for her program to help children to contribute positively to their “global communities?”
Describing his sense of invincibility as a politician, President Trump infamously stated during his campaign, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Since this hubris, there have been a long line of other alleged and observed outrageous behaviors and statements. Maybe it’s true. Maybe there is no ceiling for the evil that can be wrought without consequences. But the question isn’t really what will President Trump do besides his pro forma. The question is what will I do? What will you do? What kind of nation do we want to live in? Because the view from here suggests there is a long, tall wall of razor wire between BE BEST Day and “zero tolerance” immigration policy and the lives being torn and severed are innocent children’s, and their families that deserve humane treatment. Happy Father’s Day.