The law, the law, the law is the law.
Anybody who thinks the law is the law has never, ever studied law.
We dispense with this simple-minded approach to governance in my justice class the first day, in which we discuss the differences between law and justice. The readings we use include some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writing, Plato’s Crito, and Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, perhaps the last word on the subject we need. This distinction between law and justice is an important one not just for those who would study law, but for public administrators as well. As Donald Trump’s Zero Tolerance (blergh) policy demonstrates, bureaucratic discretion can be a big deal in the hands of a people who don’t feel constrained by norms or prior practices. Or decency.
We’ve had a little army of Donald Trump’s worshippers explaining to us liberals, with our faux outrage about separating parents and children, I mean child actors, that none of this atrocity would have happened had Their Parents Not Broken THE LAW.
My brother, who has grown into a kind gentleman despite what I am about to relate to you, used to take my own hand and hit me with it and say “Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!”
Power sets up the rules, controls the situation, and then blames the powerless for the wrongs power enacts.
These people set a toe over the border. For that, they can have their children taken away to be watched by whomever wherever. It’s an atrocity, plain and simple, and no, it was not Obama’s policy. (Obama’s administration, again using discretion, used family detention, and while it stunk, too, it’s not the same.) First-time border crossing is a misdemeanor.
So we are taking children away from families for the legal equivalent of public intoxication, trespassing, or first-time possession of a dime-bag.
These followers, however, will apparently make any excuse for Donald Trump’s unlawful behavior. Generously read, his legal record is dodgy. He’s a thief who screws over the small businesses he has contracted with. He patronizes prostitutes and hands out hush money like it’s Halloween candy. Less generously, he’s allegedly engaged in election fraud and money laundering–and I think the goods are there. He’s an admitted serial sexual abuser. Like Barack Obama, his policy in Yemen puts him in shady territory with international law and into war crime territory. At worst, evidence of treason looms.
Unlike Donald Trump, the border families are just breaking the Law. Sure, they can’t be struggling with some of the most vicious cartels and gangs operating in the world today. Nope. They are mere law-breakers. They have no back story, no context. There is no excuse for them, no grace, no mercy.
But white people? Oh, they have complicated back stories for why they do what they do, the mistakes they make, the problems they have. Sure, Donald Trump has taken a long time to come to Jesus, he’s a redeemed sinner, just like King David, and he’s beloved of God. So he’s made some mistakes. We’re saved by grace, not works.
(I am trying, really hard, to keep the sarcasm out of my tone here, but it’s hard for me granted the self-indulgent, self-important way some American Christians have come to practice their faith using cheap grace as a rationale.)
A white guy opens fire and kills women while after issuing misogynist rants online? Poor, mentally ill man. What a shame, what an unfortunate thing. He is an exception. We should try to understaaaaand him.
A Muslim religious extremist kills people on a plane? All Muslims everywhere are violent and out to get us they hate us for our freedom and it’s in their religion. That’s all you need to know.
A white woman gets addicted to painkillers? That’s so sad, she’s struggling. We should try to understaaaaaand her.
A black woman addicted to crack? Jail. She’s a threat to her children. She is weak.
White people unemployed or underemployed? They are victims, victims I tell you of an unjust system, immigrants who came and stole the jobs, and coastal elite with their confusing, fancy hams. We should try to understaaaaand them, and take them to lunch in places with less confusing menu items.
Unemployed black people? Lazy. Shiftless. Gold-bricking. Absent fathers who don’t instill discipline. Were better off under the yoke.
So no, asylum seekers aren’t people running from terrible conditions at home. Amid political violence and desperate poverty, a responsible asylum seeker would have gotten on a computer and Googled US border law before fleeing the soldiers destroying their villages. Or they would have well-developed social networks of people who can arrange asylum for them because it’s not like violence and forced immigration would have an effect on social networks or anything.
This is the logic of dehumanization. Strip people of their real lives, refuse to see their real lived conditions, and construct them as you need them to be to justify your treatment of them.