Last week a New York-based writer and actor named Asher Perlman (@aherperlman) sent out this tweet:
me: starts stabbing dogs
everyone: uh, stop that
me: it's not me
everyone: we see you
me: i have decided to stop the cruel policy of dog stabbing
While I remain dubious about the prospects of Twitter as a platform for substantive and nuanced debates about the way we ought to live, Mr. Perlman's playlet perfectly encapsulated the drama surrounding the U.S. president's handling of a humanitarian crisis his administration undeniably caused when it instituted a policy of jailing asylum seekers for illegal entry. As a consequence--a wholly foreseeable consequence which might have been the point of the policy change--the children of these asylum seekers (who couldn't follow their parents to jail) were being sent to either foster care or federal detention centers where they were held in chain link enclosures some insisted were not actually "cages."
Before caving in to political pressure and rescinding the policy last week, the president blamed the brutal "Democratic policies" for the separation of children from their parents, and insisted (in alas, another tweet) that "the Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda." They were forcing him to stab dogs by refusing to fund the wall that the president promised all of us was going to be built by Mexico.
Most people--including one-third to one-half of Republicans--thought that forcibly separating children from their parents at the border and warehousing them in facilities that arguably fit the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language definition of concentration camps was, at the very least, bad optics. While there were some tortured attempts to justify the policy--Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee Sanders maintained kid jail was "biblical"; Sen. Tom Cotton suggested that many of the asylum seekers had borrowed or kidnapped the children to use as human shields; an attention-seeking cable news villainness offered the opinion that they were child actors--most of us were appalled that our country had adopted a terroristic policy designed, if we give everyone the benefit of the doubt, to deter people from entering the country illegally.
I'm not sure anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt here though. The real reason the policy was instituted was to once again sow chaos and divert our fickle attention from the moral failure we all share. Democracy might die in darkness, but decency revives it in the white-hot spotlight of reality TV.
The dog stabber decided to stop stabbing dogs and declare victory.
It's what he's always done, the sort of thing that makes some hail him as a kind of genius. Donald J. Trump was a well-established troll before most of us had ever heard of this Internet thing. He's been doing the same thing since the 1970s. His only real talent is for shamelessness. It just so happens that we've arrived at a point in our history where shamelessness is enough to do more than sustain a lousy lifestyle brand; it's enough to earn the fealty of a perpetually angry minority that revels in expressed cruelty.
I didn't think it would come to this, but it appears there exists a considerable number of Americans who would abet this president's wish to be more like Kim Jong Un or Mao Zedong than George Washington, the American Cincinnatus who declined near-absolute authority. What is a cult if it's not blind devotion to a dear leader who behaves in erratic and inscrutable ways, if it's not the refusal to criticize that leader even when he behaves hypocritically or in contravention of his previously established tenets?
There's no philosophy underpinning this would-be authoritarian administration; despite its insistence on demonizing "liberals" (like Robert Mueller) it's reduced principled conservatism to piracy--in exchange for tax cuts and deregulation, Republicans have given up on fundamental notions of civic virtue and the rule of law. It's hardly comforting that last week a poll showed that 64 percent of Americans favor impeachment if Trump tries to pardon himself; that number seems shockingly low. I don't have much faith that any of our elected officials would dare do the right thing if they reckoned it would they'd risk a mean tweet from POTUS.
And ultimately, that's on all of us.
That's on the principled Republicans who initially failed to take him seriously and now kowtow and cower in fear of his Twitter finger. It's on the Democrats who seem most inclined to use ongoing atrocity as a fundraising occasion. It's on an intellectually indolent culture hostile to expertise and the idea that many issues are difficult. It's on those of us exhausted by the requisites of full citizenship who've ceded our voices and votes to the more extreme invested elements of our society.
It's on the red and black-pilled--the wised-up and cynical who reduce civic debate to an exchange of memes and insults, the nihilists who long ago abandoned the pretense that anything could mean anything and now just want to eat popcorn while the world burns.
We made this country. We made it a place where people can invoke Jesus' name to defend the forcible separation of babies from mothers. A place where those charged with upholding our laws can mock the cries of children.
A place where a profane con man with a history of sexual and fiscal indiscretion can tell us the moon is a hologram, his "fingers are long and beautiful" and that he's a rock-solid 239 pounds of smokin' hot runway model bait and fully 20 percent of us will shout "amen" and the son of Billy Graham will testify to his next-to-Godliness.
A place where he really could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and only galvanize his base. A place where some of us-- a startlingly high percentage--would applaud his policy of dog-stabbing.
And applaud again when he announced he was ending the cruel policy of dog-stabbing.
Editorial on 06/24/2018
Print Headline: All hail the dog stabber in chief