The outrage over Trump’s heartless family separation policy provides an opportunity to reverse the bipartisan consensus that has long victimized immigrants.
The photos seemed to speak for themselves, perfectly capturing the heartbreaking brutality of the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown. In one, two girls, likely Central American, detained at a US Customs and Border Protection center in Nogales, Arizona, sleep face down on the floor of a cage.
Jon Favreau, a former Obama speechwriter and host of the liberal “Pod Save America” podcast, tweeted: “Look at these pictures. This is happening right now, and the only debate that matters is how we force our government to get these kids back to their families as fast as humanly possible.”
It turned out, however, that the photos were from 2014. Favreau’s boss, President Barack Obama, was engaged in his own harsh crackdown on Central American asylum seekers — an error Trump was unsurprisingly quick to point out on Twitter: “Democrats mistakenly tweet 2014 pictures from Obama’s term showing children from the Border in steel cages. They thought it was recent pictures in order to make us look bad, but backfires. Dems must agree to Wall and new Border Protection for good of country…Bipartisan Bill!”
What neither Favreau nor Trump likely grasped was how perfectly the imbroglio encapsulated the confusion and amnesia that pervade mainstream debate over Trump’s immigration policies.
On the one hand, Favreau’s error is a hopeful one: liberals, politicians and ordinary Americans alike, are outraged at Trump’s unbridled racism and cruelty, rallying to the cause of DREAMers threatened with losing their legal authorization to remain in the United States, mobilizing at airports in defense of those targeted by the Muslim ban, and pushing their elected officials to resist deportations through state and local sanctuary measures.
But most every horrific measure taken by Trump has a policy precedent in similar, if less breathtakingly inhumane, actions taken by his establishment predecessors — predecessors who, alongside the nativist right and their mouthpieces on Fox News and talk radio, helped move the conservative Overton Windowon immigration so far to the right that by November 2016 it perfectly framed Donald Trump.
The images and stories that have captured headlines in recent days depict a barbarically cruel anti-immigrant agenda from Trump, rightfully moving many to grief and anger and perhaps to action. But if we want to stop Trump’s deportation machine, we have to confront the key role Democrats played alongside establishment Republicans in creating it. It’s the only way to halt the spiral of anti-immigrant cruelty that brought us to the horrific images of family separation we see today.