I lost my mother when I was a young boy, barely 9 years old. It was traumatic, sending me initially into a state of shock and denial. And that was followed by sadness, melancholy, and depression for a long time thereafter.
Even now more than 6 decades from that life changing moment, it’s still with me; it’s there, lodged in my psyche and still doing its mischief.
Time, it is said, heals all wounds. There is a grain of truth here, but it also contains an element of wishful thinking. In my case, time did offer some respite from the trauma of my sense of loss at so young an age. But what allowed me to metabolize my trauma (to the degree possible) was sustained and sensitive help from my family and neighbors in the first place, but even more from people trained to treat such trauma. In other words, therapy. My only regret is that it took me so long to seek out such help.
Which brings me to the children at the border who have been torn away from the mothers and fathers. What they are experiencing is unspeakable trauma, far worse than I did in so many ways. Not only are they terrified by the fear at this moment that they will never see their mother or father again.
But they also find themselves in an unfamiliar and unfriendly place, steel cages in some instances. And they are alone. No relatives or neighbors are at their side to comfort and assure them that things will get better, that their separation from their parents and family is only temporary. Instead they are in the hands of people, most of whom neither share their country of origin nor are of the same color. Who knows how many speak Spanish.
In short, these children and babies can’t help but feel a deep sense of isolation, alienation, powerlessness, fear, betrayal, sadness, and pain.
Even if these children are returned — and that isn’t a sure thing — to their mothers and fathers and receive professional help, the damage has been done and will likely be with them for a long time to come.
As one Catholic priest said yesterday, Trump’s policy fits the definition of evil in every way. I would only underscore that it’s an evil that’s indifferent to the terrible harm that it’s doing to thousands of children as well as steeped in racism and nativism and calculated to turn babies and children into bargaining chips to gin up his base for the fall elections.
It isn’t, as some suggest, to force through Congress a draconian immigration bill this week. My belief is that Trump and his quislings understand that that isn’t in the cards. Indeed, they want to keep the border and immigration on the table and in the news cycle for the fall elections. It’s a winning issue in their sordid calculus against Democrats who advocate, they claim, “open and porous borders.”
Finally, I would add that Trump aspires to be a strongman, much like the other strongmen in the world that he heaps praise on. And in turning children into fodder and thumbing his nose at the widespread opposition, including in his own party, to what he is doing at the border, he’s demonstrating in plain sight to the country and the world that, even in the most unfavorable of political circumstances, he is boss, that he isn’t bound by any restraints other than his own desires, that he can do whatever he wants. In this sense the border crisis is, in Trump’s eyes, an opportunity to assert his dominance over friend and foe, not a miscalculation. It’s something to be seized and unrelenting pushed. Blowback? Bring it on!
Our response can only be sustained resistance until this policy is changed and the children are returned to their mothers and fathers. it’s a test of our resolve.