Care About Kids in Cages? Then It’s Time to Break the Republican Grip on Power
The political situation in America right now is not normal. It hasn't been normal since January 20, 2017, when Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States. That lack of normality has been reinforced in a thousand ways, large and small, over the subsequent 17 months — perhaps none as brutally or dramatic apparent as seeing our government rip children away from their parents at the southern border, leaving them to an unknown fate, all in the name of forcing Democrats to acquiesce to Trump's demands on immigration policy.
But Trump is only the biggest and most obvious symptom of our distorted politics, and arguably is not the true cause. If you want to push America back toward normalcy, and you want to do something on behalf of the 2,300 children who have suffered perhaps irreparable trauma, there's an easy first step: End the Republican stranglehold on power in Washington.
Considering the notorious fickleness of the American voter, this is a big ask. Despite all the talk of a "blue wave," it' may not even be realistic. This is the same nation that was prepared to elect Hillary Clinton by a comfortable margin until one ambiguous letter to Congress from FBI Director James Comey distracted voters long enough to allow Donald Trump to win the flukiest election in American history.
It's still four and a half months until Americans vote in the 2018 midterms, which will decide the makeup of the next Congress. It is entirely likely that other issues will have emerged to distract voters by that time. And who knows, Maybe another convenient-for-Republicans news item will hit the headlines by Election Day and drive concern for the kidnapped kids right out of most voters' minds.
Yet I hope not. Because if the American people actually give a damn about the 2,300 migrant children Trump ordered torn from their parents' arms — sometimes literally — in order to serve as pawns in a Washington power struggle, Democrats, they will hold accountable the Republican Congress that made this possible.
Yes, President Trump officially ended the family-separation policy earlier this week. But the process for reuniting the children who are already in detention with their parents is a complicated one -- so complicated, in fact, that it may be imonths or even years could pass before those children are back in their parents' arms. Characteristically, Trump administration officials have responded by mouthing pretty words about how much they want to help while doing nothing substantive to address the problem.
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This isn't simply because they're incompetent, although that's part of the problem. It is because, as my colleague Amanda Marcotte explained earlier this week, Republican voters largely support the family separation policy. In a true democracy, of course, that wouldn't matter much. Republican voters are a minority, and are the only substantial demographic group who hate undocumented immigrants so much that they want to inflict suffering on their families.
Unfortunately for America, the gerrymandering of the House of Representatives in 2010 means that the Republican Party has a seemingly permanent lock on one of the two branches of Congress. As long as Republicans are comfortable that they won't lose the House, their main concern will be pleasing the far-right voters who could punish them in party primaries for any perceived deviation. They don't care if a majority of Americans disapprove of their actions; the only masters they serve are GOP voters, who effectively call the policymaking shots in this country.
Those voters have made one thing clear: They love Trump and his agenda, and will punish anyone within or outside of their party who doesn't do his bidding.
This means, bluntly put, that the only way to make sure those 2,300 children are reunited with their parents is to make sure that Republicans lose control of Congress.
We live in a two-party system, so by default that means empowering the Democrats, and I realize that that proposition is not without its problems. The party has never fully accounted for its railroading of Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primaries or its obvious attempts to boost Hillary Clinton. At this point the party is just as tied to corporate interests as their Republican opponents and can be expected to betray working people to pleases their financial donors. Even on foreign policy, the Democrats are often not much better than Republicans, from the embarrassingly-large number who supported George W. Bush's Iraq war to the fact that Barack Obama continued accelerated a drone war whose morality was suspect and whose consequences were often tragic.
And let's be clear: While the Democrats were not responsible for the family separation policy as Trump liked to claim (that policy was solely Trump's, and anyone who says otherwise is purveying literal fake news), they don't have the best track record on this issue either.
Yet a choice between a party that is OK with ruining innocent children's lives out of racist panic — and don't kid yourself, this policy would never have been implemented if the undocumented immigrants were predominantly white — and a party that bumbles around is no choice at all. If the Democrats are swept into office on a wave of outrage over the fact that Trump and his Republican enablers in Congress deliberately ruined the lives of 2,300 children in order to win a political battle, then for self-interested reasons alone fixing the problem and reuniting those families should be their foremost priority.
Do I think this will happen? Frankly, no. The gerrymandering of House districts in 2010 has made it monumentally difficult for Democrats to take over Congress, even if they win substantially more votes than Republicans in November. Indeed, it's somewhat like the way the Electoral College made it possible for Trump to get 3 million fewer votes than Clinton and still win the election.
Considering the atrociousness of Trump's agenda on so many levels, including this issue, one would hope that moral outrage would be enough to give Democratic candidates an absolutely massive margin, enough to overcome even the massively rigged system.
I'm not holding my breath. I suspect that by November voters will have moved on to whatever shiny bauble Trump and the media dangle in front of them, and the plight of those children will have been forgotten. I hope to be proven wrong.