In the chaos theory of governance of the Trump administration, so much craziness happens every day that it is easy to overlook important events in the din of noise. Which is really the whole point of chaos theory. Trump wants to overwhelm the senses with the vast volume of his craziness every day so that no one thing he does can hold the attention of the public or the media for long in what used to be a normal news cycle, and the public eventually becomes numb to the sheer volume of his craziness and stops paying attention. This has led to the warning not to normalize Trump’s chaotic behavior (which the media has to a large degree).
Charles Pierce of Esquire describes the latest moral outrage with exactly the right amount of opprobrium. Once Upon a Time, These Photos Would Have Sent the Whole Country Aflame:
Time was when information as damning as that released on Tuesday by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security—whether an official government report, or testimony by a whistleblower, or by the dogged work of investigative journalists—would set the country aflame. It’s what Upton Sinclair did with meat-packing and Ida Tarbell did with Standard Oil. It was what happened when Life published the photos of one week’s worth of American dead in Vietnam, and when the first photos of the slaughter at My Lai appeared. You could see through the country as though it were one of those transparent figures from high-school biology. You could stare into its viscera and find it unrecognizable as the body of the country in which you thought you’d been living.
The IG’s report, complete with pictures, is unsparing in its conclusion and brutal in its truth. We are running along our southern border a desert-bound gulag of what are indeed concentration camps, if that phrase has any meaning at all. From the IG’s Report:
“For example, children at three of the five Border Patrol facilities we visited had no access to showers, despite the TEDS standards requiring that “reasonable efforts” be made to provide showers to children approaching 48 hours in detention.’ At these facilities, children had limited access to a change of clothes; Border Patrol had few spare clothes and no laundry facilities. While all facilities had infant formula, diapers, baby wipes, and juice and snacks for children, we observed that two facilities had not provided children access to hot meals— as is required by the TEDS standards? — until the week we arrived. Instead, the children were fed sandwiches and snacks for their meals.
Additionally, while Border Patrol tried to provide the least restrictive setting available for children (e.g., by leaving holding room doors open}, the limited space for medical isolation resulted in some UACs and families being held in closed cells.
“In the Border Patrol facilities we visited, we also observed serious overcrowding and prolonged detention among adult detainees. TEDS provides that “under no circumstances should the maximum [cell ]occupancy rate, as set by the fire marshal, be exceeded.” However, at one facility, some single adults were held in standing room only conditions for a week and at another, some single adults were held more than a month in overcrowded cells…
In addition, over the past week, thanks to ProPublica, we discovered that the Border Patrol is shot through with armed officers who believe the people in their charge to be less than human. Members of Congress have been roughed up trying to inspect these hellholes, and they have been greeted by well-organized hecklers when they emerged. There are parallels in history.
The dungeon was a strongly barred room, and was not intended for the confinement of more than two or three men at a time. There were only two windows, and a projecting veranda outside, and thick iron bars within impeded the ventilation, while fires, raging in different parts of the fort, suggested an atmosphere of further oppressiveness. The prisoners were packed so tightly that the door was difficult to close…
By nine o’clock several had died, and many more were delirious. A frantic cry for water now became general, and one of the guards, more compassionate than his fellows, caused some [water] to be brought to the bars, where Mr. Holwell and two or three others received it in their hats, and passed it on to the men behind. In their impatience to secure it nearly all was spilt, and the little they drank seemed only to increase their thirst. Self-control was soon lost; those in remote parts of the room struggled to reach the window, and a fearful tumult ensued, in which the weakest were trampled or pressed to death. They raved, fought, prayed, blasphemed, and many then fell exhausted on the floor, where suffocation put an end to their torments.
That is an account from 1756, written by a man named John Zephaniah Holwell, and describing an awful night he’d spent in an overcrowded prison in a place called Fort William. It comes down to us through history by another name: The Black Hole of Calcutta.
The people running the facilities on the border told the IG’s inspectors that these camps are “ticking time bombs.” I’d take their word for it.
It’s the week of the Fourth of July, which means that Founder Worship is going to be at high tide for a few days. One thing of which the Founders were sure was that America was going to be such a beacon of freedom that people from all over the world were going to want to come here. The Declaration of Independence cited as one part of its bill of indictment against George III that he’d restricted immigration to the American colonies. The Constitution specifically forbade the passage of any law restricting immigration for the first 20 years of the country’s existence. Pick a Founder. They all talked about it.
Thomas Jefferson: “The present desire of America is to produce rapid population by as great importations of foreigners as possible.”
Alexander Hamilton: “Immigrants exhibit a large proportion of ingenious and valuable workmen who, by expatriating from Europe improved their own condition, and added to the industry and wealth of the United States.”
Thomas Paine: “This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe.”
James Madison: “Freedom of emigration is due to the general interests of humanity. The course of emigrations being always, from places where living is more difficult, to places where it is less difficult, the happiness of the emigrant is promoted by the change: and as a more numerous progeny is another effect of the same cause, human life is at once made a greater blessing, and more individuals are created to partake of it.”
As always, neither these guys, nor the government they devised for the country they created, wholly lived up to these high-flown sentiments, and god only knows what they would have made of the people who are flooding the southern border at the moment. (I’d count Paine as probably their only unwavering advocate.) But the fact is that the rest of the world believed them, and still believes them. And what’s going on in those camps and warehouses is decidedly not what they had in mind. Of course, this president* is decidedly not what they had in mind for a “chief magistrate,” either.
Subsequent scholarship has cast doubt on J.Z. Holwell’s account of his night in the Black Hole of Calcutta. (Almost everyone believes that Holwell inflated the number of people held in the cell, as well as the number of people who died there. Some scholars doubt whether the episode ever happened at all.) Nevertheless, as will happen in the chronicles of empire, the tale carried sufficient confirmation of what the British believed about the people of India that the phrase, “Black Hole of Calcutta,” still hangs heavy with doom and horror.
McAllen and Clint are going to live in the memory of the people confined there, and of their descendants, for decade upon decade. Sooner or later, of course, this country will decide even more firmly than it does now that these people brought these horrors on themselves by “breaking the law.” That is the way empires think, especially dying ones.
This Fourth of July should require examination of conscience and introspection from every American about what kind of country we are becoming under the crypto-fascist anti-immigrant white nationalism of Trumpism, and what kind of country we have always aspired to be, even when we have at times faltered. And then do something about it.
Ronald Reagan emphasized, “America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.” And Ronald Reagan said in his farewell address to the nation, ‘I’ve spoken of the Shining City all my political life. …In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”
The darkness of Trumpism is an attempt to douse the light of Reagan’s optimism. It is not who we are as Americans, nor should it ever be what we aspire to become. Trumpism must be rejected and removed root and branch from our great American experiment.
As Adam Serwer said, The Cruelty Is the Point of Trumpism. Not in our name.