Opinion | Mike Littwin: What if it was Roseanne who had grabbed terrified kids from their parents?
Fair and unbalanced
It came early in the Twitterverse onslaught, but the most insightful comment I’ve seen on ABC’s decision to cancel Roseanne was that today, in 2018 America, we have higher standards for sitcom stars than we do for presidents.
Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet, though appalling, was hardly surprising to anyone who has paid minimal attention to her career. Disney, which owns ABC, had no choice but to cancel the show. Even in Trump’s America, you can’t do black-people-as-apes jokes without consequences. I mean, how long would it have taken for the social media campaign against the show’s sponsors, and the network, to begin?
I don’t know whether it was market forces at work in the Roseanne cancellation or the slight possibility of moral standards coming into play or just the obvious fact of how corporations now have to react in the case of caught-in-the-act racist employees. See Starbucks’ day of repentance for the modern guidelines.
But we know the president doesn’t play by those rules. And his followers — which I think is the right word — don’t play by those rules. Trump described it best himself when he famously said his voters wouldn’t desert him if he shot someone on 5th Avenue. And that’s exactly why he has been able to get away with the latest sordid report from TrumpWorld — the grabbing-of-traumatized-children-from-their-parents-at-the-border policy. It’s not shooting anyone, but it’s damn close.
It’s a fool’s game to compare the many lines that Trump has crossed in his life, but if there’s any line that’s unacceptable to cross, you’d think this would have to be it.
According to data revealed by the New York Times, 700 children have been taken from their parents at the border since October. And 100 — yes, 100 — of them were under 4 years old. Trump can talk all he wants about his absurd Spygate conspiracy theory, but this is definitely Toddlergate.
Taking a terrified kid from a mother’s arms is not just cruel — although it is definitely that— it is a message. Bring your kids to America, no matter what hell they’re trying to escape from, and we’ll introduce them to a new circle of hell. There has apparently been an uptick in people crossing the still-wall-free border. That’s why Trump was reportedly yelling at Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. That’s why Jeff Sessions and Nielsen announced a new zero-tolerance policy — that anyone who crosses the border illegally gets arrested.
If families cross the border together, the parents get sent to jail and the children to a Department of Health and Human Services shelter. The shelters are now apparently 95 percent full, sort of like our prisons. And as Sessions so generously put it, if you don’t want your kids taken away at the border, don’t bring them. “It’s not our fault,” he said. Here’s a clue for Sessions: It’s not the kids’ fault. You’re the one traumatizing them. You’re the one who requires begging and screaming kids to be taken away.
Here’s one story — there are many — of an 18-month-old Honduran toddler, as told in a civil rights class action case the ACLU is bringing. I saw it in a Catherine Rampell column.
“The immigration officers made me walk out with my son to a government vehicle and place my son in a car seat in the vehicle. My son was crying as I put him in the seat,” the boy’s mother said.
“I did not even have a chance to try to comfort my son, because the officers slammed the door shut as soon as he was in his seat. I was crying, too. I cry even now when I think about that moment when the border officers took my son away.”
Here’s the kicker. The mother was seeking asylum from political violence. She crossed an international bridge in Brownsville, Texas, in order to seek out immigration authorities, who took her child. It would take months before she finally got him back.
The reaction to the border separations came to full boil after the reports that HHS had misplaced, or lost, or whatever (as White House Chief of Staff John Kelly would say) 1,475 kids. This isn’t the same story, though the two have been conflated. The lost children is the story of unaccompanied minors who crossed the border, generally fleeing Central American violence, and had been placed with relatives or foster parents or whatever. It’s not even clear that it’s a bad thing that the government has lost track of them. At least they won’t be deported any time soon.
But it is about children and we care, or so we insist, about children.
And this story is an international bridge too far. Or isn’t it?
It’s difficult to know. Yes, Trump ended the DACA program, promised to fix the issue and ended up using the kids as bargaining chips for his wall obsession. Yes, he barred refugees from certain majority-Muslim countries despite the outrage. Yes, he ended protected status for immigrants from certain s***hole countries. This is all of a piece.
But maybe the pressure is building. Trump didn’t mention Roseanne at his rally in Nashville Tuesday night. And he has invented a lie that the Democrats passed a law which required him to grab these children and that Democrats now refuse to change it. The problem is there is no such law. Just as there is no Spygate. Just as Robert Mueller is not “meddling” in the 2018 midterms. This is a policy his team just announced. He can un-announce it if he wishes.
Here’s the offending tweet (OK, one in a long, neverending series): “Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there (sic) parents once they cross the Border into the U.S. Catch and Release, Lottery and Chain must also go with it and we MUST continue building the WALL! DEMOCRATS ARE PROTECTING MS-13 THUGS.”
Are the children MS-13 thugs? Are they not as innocent as they look, as Trump also has tweeted? Can’t he spell their?
Here’s one answer. The Washington Post recently wrote about a 2017 Oval Office meeting in which Trump reportedly bragged about how easy it is for him to rile up his rally crowds by accusing immigrants — he made up a few Hispanic names in making his point — of rape and murder and how they’d “roar when the criminals were thrown out of the country.” According to the Post, Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller laughed as Trump went into his act.
That’s the president, who can and does say anything, no matter how offensive. So let me ask you, do you think Roseanne could have gotten away with that?
Mike Littwin writes a column for the Colorado Independent.
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