It took 500 days and two thousand children in cages for America to see Donald Trump for what he truly is.
In campaign rally after campaign rally, tweet upon tweet, Trump let it be known in no uncertain terms: I am the president of all the people who look at those kids in the cages, and like what they see.
Trump had found the dog whistle of all dog whistles. On his order, not only were brown kids who have no English, stopped at the border, stripped from their parents and even their favorite toys, and warehoused in a repurposed Walmart.
Forget, for the moment, the debate over whether the separation policy was reminiscent of the Holocaust. One thing is for sure - abusing those kids was a master stroke of unambiguous cruelty, red meat for the American Nazis of today, true Nazis, admirers of Hitler, the "very fine people" who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia under the banners of the Confederacy and the Klan and the swastika, and who hail Trump for his evident sadism in deriding the handicapped, women, Hispanics, Muslims, and all migrants of color.
You could see it all in a Tuesday Fox News appearance by Trump's violent, contemptuous, contemptible former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. When a fellow guest analyst began sympathetically telling the story of one of the children - a 10-year-old girl with Down Syndrome, taken away from her mother - Lewandowski took evident joy in mocking the girl's plight. He interrupted the story by making a "Womp Womp" sound - an expression that trivializes sadness, or makes fun of failure. He scored further points by refusing to apologize.
What has Trump done? For starters, he has scarred two thousand kids for life. And even though the president made an extravagant show Wednesday of appearing to re-unite the separated families, within hours it emerged that the executive order would not apply to families already separated by the policy. There is no plan in place to re-unite these families.
The children won't forget this. We know because of the reactions of others who were separated by their parents by the edicts of authoritarian regimes.
In a shattering account, retired teacher and psychotherapist who worked extensively with victims of childhood trauma, Yoka Verdoner, a child survivor of the Holocaust, wrote of her reactions to the Trump border policy in an article titled "Nazis separated me from my parents as a child. The trauma lasts a lifetime."
"What is happening in our own backyard today is as evil and criminal as what happened to me and my siblings as children in Nazi Europe," she wrote in the Guardian on Tuesday. "It needs to be stopped immediately."
"I am nowhere," her brother wrote in a recent memoir, of the trauma of separation he feels to this day, 76 years later. "I am frozen in fear. It is the only emotion I possess now. As a three-year-old child, I believe that I must have made some terrible mistake to have caused my known world to disappear. I spend the rest of my life trying desperately not to make another mistake."
But the damage of Trump's outlook and actions goes much further. His contempt for the democratic process, his contempt for individuals who are not his own voters, or who are not, in any case, white, Protestant, of Northern European descent and - unless they are young and of a certain look - male, is taking a huge toll on America's future.
America itself is being scarred for life.
Rumors of revisiting and possibly revoking the citizenship of naturalized Americans is but one of a range of policies that could cause a tectonic shift in America as a whole. The extent of disruption is such that a
recent poll actually asked respondents "If Donald Trump were to say that the 2020 presidential election should be postponed until the country can make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote, would you support or oppose postponing the election?" Fully 52 of Republicans answered "Yes."
Few presidential policies have affected America the way the separation of children has. Consider the tone of this tweet from California Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu, sparked by Trump's warning that "Democrats want illegal immigrants... to pour into and infest our Country":
Even Republicans, particularly Republican women, have expressed grave doubts about the separation policy, some on moral grounds, others for fear that backlash over the issue could cost them the midterm elections in November. The votes of Republican women were crucial to Trump's victory in 2016. Will mothers who voted Trump but were moved to tears this month by the caged kids, stay home on Election Day? If they do, the Republican Party faces sweeping defeat.
Will Trump's base - largely the males among them - be enough to stave off a defeat in November, and, for that matter, in 2020? For the present, he's betting that it will. He's betting that the Evangelicals who have condemned the separation policy will return to the fold, and that America as a whole will have forgotten the children in the cages.
He's already off and running, giving Middle America something else to think about: Fear of brown people. Trump is going back to basics, back to the message with which he opened his campaign for president - the concept that Hispanic Americans are rapists and murderers.
"They attack violently, the most painful way possible," Trump told an adoring crowd of small business owners at a convention in Washington this week. "And a bullet is too quick. And we're allowing these people into our country? Not with me. We're taking them out by the thousands. [Applause] We're taking them out by the thousands."
"They send these people up and they're not sending their finest. Does that sound familiar? [Laughter] Remember I made that speech and I was badly criticized? 'Oh it's so terrible, what he said.' Turned out I was 100 percent right. That's why I got elected. [Applause, Laughter]"
America's future? The midterms are looking more crucial by the day.
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