In the days before Donad Trump “caved” and issued an executive order (which he previously claimed he couldn’t do) at least theoretically ending the forced separation of parents and children at the border, the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said of the policy, “This is not who we are and it must end now.” Former Vice President Joe Biden agreed. “This is not who we are,” he insisted. “America is better than this.” More than 20 state attorneys general called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the same forced separation policy, writing, “This is not who we are as a country, and our coalition of attorneys general will continue to act to protect the people we serve and the rule of law.” Michigan Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee issued a similar statement, saying in part, “It makes me sick to my stomach seeing children being torn away from their parents and being detained in cages. This is not who we are as a country.” Illinois candidate for attorney general, Kwame Raoul, the son of Haitian immigrants, responded to audio of children inside a detention facility this way: “This is almost too painful for me as a father to bear, but we can’t look away. We have a responsibility to stand up and declare firmly: This is wrong. This is not who we are, and it must stop.” At a protest in San Antonio, Texas, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro said, “This is not who we are as Americans.” In an interview on a local Fox morning show, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo similarly said, “Who wants to treat people like this? We’re better than this. This is not who we are. And it is that simple.”
This is not who we are: it was a mantra, repeated endlessly by those who, in these last weeks, opposed the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” and forced-separation border policies. And it seems like such an obvious, on-target point to make. But perhaps it’s worth stopping for a second and asking whether another possibility exists in Donald Trump’s America. Perhaps this is who we are, or at least, to be a little more accurate, who we are becoming. TomDispatch regular Karen Greenberg, author of The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo’s First 100 Days, raises just that possibility. She points out that an American experiment in creating a Bermuda Triangle of injustice at a base in Cuba beyond the reach of American courts (and at various CIA “black sites” across the planet, as well as in U.S.-controlled prisons like Iraq’s Abu Ghraib) in the years of George W. Bush’s presidency only recently came home to roost along our southern border. If you are what you continue to do, then perhaps this is indeed just who we are becoming.