I want to write about Legion (it’s all about an abusive dad, guys!!) and Ursula Le Guin (she hates technology, guys!!) But there is nothing to say, really, while babies, toddlers, kids, and their parents are victims of this spectacle of political cruelty.
- These families are seeking asylum, which is legal
- They seek asylum because they are already traumatized by violent conditions in their homes
- They enter a country expecting kindness–or at least a stable fucking legal process–and instead face horror perhaps equal to what they tried to escape.
I used to think that racist and misogynist cruelty depended on the abuser having already dehumanized their* victim. This conception of abuse was the only way I could make sense of my own trauma: my abuser must not have seen me as human, because what human could hurt another human so much, so often, so deeply, so intentionally, if they were fully immersed in that person’s humanity?
Then this article, which has haunted me since November, has transformed how I think about cruelty.
A victim’s humanity is the point. If an abuser did not engage with the rich, beautiful humanness of their victim, their cruelty would be less there’s-really-no-other-way-to-put-this meaningful. From the article outlining this transformative model of cruelty:
Timothy Snyder offers a haunting description in “Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning”:
The next morning the “scrubbing parties” began. Members of the Austrian SA, working from lists, from personal knowledge, and from the knowledge of passersby, identified Jews and forced them to kneel and clean the streets with brushes. This was a ritual humiliation. Jews, often doctors and lawyers or other professionals, were suddenly on their knees performing menial labor in front of jeering crowds. Ernest P. remembered the spectacle of the “scrubbing parties” as “amusement for the Austrian population.” A journalist described “the fluffy Viennese blondes, fighting one another to get closer to the elevating spectacle of the ashen-faced Jewish surgeon on hands and knees before a half-dozen young hooligans with Swastika armlets and dog-whips.” Meanwhile, Jewish girls were sexually abused, and older Jewish men were forced to perform public physical exercise.
The Jews who were forced to scrub the streets—not to mention those subjected to far worse degradations—were not thought of as lacking human emotions. Indeed, if the Jews had been thought to be indifferent to their treatment, there would have been nothing to watch here; the crowd had gathered because it wanted to see them suffer.
I read and click out and re-open and skim and shut down so many reports of the cruelty imposed on these children and families. I don’t need to rehearse any of that here. Nonetheless, every time I think about those kids, which is often, I return to this image of the Jewish surgeons crawling on the ground in their suits. I think of white people bringing picnics to lynchings.
And I return to what we knew from the first day of this administration: cruelty is its foundation. Mocking, defiling, fracturing the humanity of others (people with disabilities, black people engaging in free speech, women, immigrants from the Global South, people with expertise, etc etc etc) is the base upon which they construct every action.
We can shout at them all the ways this policy will destroy lives. We can list out the long long list of what we know about attachment, trauma, the deep need children have for a loving, attentive caregiver. We can throw the entire fucking UCLA med school curriculum at his head. That would only encourage him and his goons.
Our facts, our passion, our desperation about the lives these policies destroy are like cans of hairspray thrown onto the bonfire. Destroying lives is the point. Enflaming liberal ire is the point. Spreading hate is the point.
Sure, the US has destroyed families for white supremacist political expediency since its founding–Black families, native families, immigrant families. Even Obama wasn’t cool about migrant family reunification.
We now have an opportunity now to repudiate all of that disgusting history.
Let’s each one of us do a little more than we think we can to stop this horror.
*Post script/announcement, speaking of the ennobled humanity of our beautiful allies: Thinker for Hire now embraces the gender-agnostic singular them. It took me too long. Thanks.