The president understands that his political power relies on his willingness to play the villain. So how do we respond when children are ripped from their families?by Lyndsey Stonebridge / June 25, 2018 / Leave a comment
What kind of monstrous villain can listen to a child cry and pretend not to hear? We all know the answer to that question: the Trump monster. The rest of us know we are not monsters, because we do respond to the tears of children. But does that mean we’re human—or simply that we’re monsters with the capacity for pity?
One notable feature of the outrage over U.S. border children’s caged imprisonment last week was the conspicuous outpouring of public grief. MSNBC’s political TV host, Rachel Maddow, choked back her tears as she reported on the “tender age facilities” where the youngest children, including children under five, are held.
We are hardwired to respond to the cries of children, people told themselves; even the coldest hearts in this increasingly heartless world will object to the senseless, needless, cruelty of ripping children away from their parents.
For three long days—days that would have felt even longer for a child without her parent—Trump’s allies stared down the outraged tears of their fellow citizens with defiant lies and counter-blaming.
In another clip from the U.S news that went viral last week, Ann Coulter, with her signature blend of schoolgirl nastiness and fascist bravado, glared into camera and told us it was all fake.
By Thursday, the President intuited that the drama needed to take a new direction and signed an executive order ending future separations—but not, of course, his ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy.
But this was no victory for humanity: it was another turn in the melodrama of contemporary political life. Trump knows about melodrama. He certainly understands that his political power relies on his willingness to play the villain. As David Remnick wrote in the New Yorker this week, “Cruelty is the content of his character and the foundation of his politics.”
Melodrama emerges when the shared meanings of what is considered morally sacred collapse. It is so exaggerated and blatant about its villains and victims, and so absolute about its moral truths, because it responds to a world where the experience of real and meaningful justice is absent.
As heartfelt and unbearably real as they are, our furious tears are as much a part of…