Trump's Muslim Ban Results in 5-Year-Old in Handcuffs

“Remember sitting in history, thinking ‘If I was alive then, I would’ve…’ You’re alive now. Whatever you’re doing is what you would’ve done.” —David Slack


Executive orders mean nothing without complicit citizens who are willing to keep their heads down, do as they are told and go along. In a powerful new piece, the Baltimore Sun’s Chris Edelson drives home this idea with examples of upstanding, law-abiding Americans willing to abide by the cruel and immoral directives they have been given:

A week ago, men and women went to work at airports around the United States as they always do. They showered, got dressed, ate breakfast, perhaps dropped off their kids at school. Then they reported to their jobs as federal government employees, where, according to news reports, one of them handcuffed a 5-year-old child, separated him from his mother and detained him alone for several hours at Dulles airport.

At least one other federal employee at Dulles reportedly detained a woman who was traveling with her two children, both U.S. citizens, for 20 hours without food. A relative says the mother was handcuffed (even when she went to the bathroom) and threatened with deportation to Somalia...

The men and women who work for the federal government completed these and other tasks and then returned to their families, where perhaps they had dinner and read stories to their children before bedtime.

This is the banality of evil, a cliche brought to very real life in this moment. History is filled with atrocities that were only possible with the aid of millions who actively or passively helped carry them out. Americans are not exceptional in this or any other sense, and yes, it absolutely can and has happened here, many times over. When textbooks recall this period for those too young to remember it, those students will marvel at the evil of those who did nothing. But this is how complicity works: Not in ways remarkable or noteworthy, but through the bland everydayness of accepting the unacceptable.

As Edelson notes, “neither Donald Trump nor Steve Bannon personally detained any of the more than 100 people held at airports over the weekend...They relied on assistance”:

The men and women who reportedly handcuffed small children and the elderly, separated a child from his mother and held others without food for 20 hours, are undoubtedly "ordinary" people. [T]hese are, in normal circumstances, people who likely treat their neighbors and co-workers with kindness and do not intentionally seek to harm others. That is chilling, as it is a reminder that authoritarians have no trouble finding the people they need to carry out their acts of cruelty. They do not need special monsters; they can issue orders to otherwise unexceptional people who will carry them out dutifully.

Hitler had “good Germans,” but they are not alone. America is built on genocide, slavery and oppression carried out by people who are not nearly absolved of their crimes because they were men and women of their times. The mundanities of daily living—paying the mortgage, buying groceries, blindly doing what you are told to keep your job—can serve as a justification for ignoring the abhorrent, when it does not target you, in its most naked form.

As Edelson states, doing nothing is a choice, and it has massive human consequences.

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