It is hard to know what to take from the US border crisis. On the one hand, the rhetoric and actions were so reminiscent of 1930s Germany that it would be easy to argue that Nazism has officially arrived in the White House. On the other hand, the embarrassing backdown shows that Trumpism is far from all-powerful and may be just a blip in the system, a passing fad.
So there is fear, but there is hope too. In my view the scariest of all of the administration speakers is Jeff Sessions, with his arguments that the government was ordained by God to govern, and therefore it was incumbent upon everyone to always ‘obey the law’, even if the law mandates the forced separation of children from their families.
This led to a fascinating sub-debate on whether Americans should ‘follow all laws’ because they come from the state which comes from God. The Old Testament and fundamentalist nature of that debate is very disturbing. We are living in an age where the fundamentalists of certain religions hold centre stage, fighting among themselves to impose their beliefs on others.
Women, of course, are aware that they do not do well in any of the fundamental religions. We may be revered or ignored, but never respected as the equals of men in society. The recent revelations of yet another ethnic war that was fought through the mass rape and immolation of women (the Rohingya) reminds us that we are ever vulnerable to the changing tides. But I digress.
The other big theme to emerge from the border stoush was the language used by Trump to describe illegal immigrants – in particular as ‘vermin’. Yes, he actually used that term. And guess where it has been used before? Try this:
Driven by a racist ideology that regarded Jews as “parasitic vermin” worthy only of eradication, the Nazis implemented genocide on an unprecedented scale.
Round them up, lock them in camps, then eliminate them. That’s what they do to vermin. Of course, the existence of a discourse does not imply a coming genocide. But the US is on a fast train to somewhere. Whether it is Eugenic City or Backlash Bonanza, I am not quite sure. Donald Trump’s extreme racism has always been there, but it has now been unleashed. Persons of a colour other than his are vermin and women are pussies, to be grabbed at will.
And have you noticed that it has been a fast train from Obama’s ‘beyond racism’ to Trumps ‘whites forever’? It has happened so quickly. Perhaps everything is now backlash and we will lurch from one extreme to the other. Which means that after Trump if the US survives that long, we might be looking at a gay woman Democrat (or even Green?) socialist as next President. Bring it on!
In regard to the trauma experienced by those children being separated for their parents, you only have to look at the wonderful research by Dr Michael Trout. He has a chapter in my children of prisoners’ book. The chapter is called: “They took my parent away: little ones affected by incarceration speak”. His arguments are complex and focused on the way the brain works. He says that even when children cannot verbally remember trauma, they may still react to it years later.
Little children are resilient, with enormous capacities for adaptation. But they are not unresponsive. They store information in preparation for more life. If they have only limited access to information about previous experiences, or the information they store is tinged with fear and impotence, then their responses will be equally tinged.
In short, all of the 2500 children waiting in camps and worrying about their families are now storing up these experiences for the future, and this will affect their lives. The notion that you can treat people so traumatically with no future effect is just nonsense.
It was nice, and such a contrast, to see Jacinda and Clarke with little Neve outside the hospital. The differences between the Kate and Wills parades of babies and this were stark. The clothes were soft and warm, the smiles were genuine and I do think they radiated happiness. Although it was posed, there was none of the poseur about it. You couldn’t buy such publicity. It is better than a Soap.
The Nats must be despairing, really. The only thing they can hope or plan for is some kind of political ambush that threatens the stability of the coalition while Winston holds the reins. But even if they found such an issue, and even if it was disruptive enough, the only outcome would be Jacinda would have to make an early return, and that would not look good for the Nats either: “PM forced to make early return to Parliament after Nat ambush”, or how about “PM Mum wrenched from baby bonding”.
As Jim Anderton used to say, “Sometimes in politics the tide just goes out on you, and there is nothing you can do but wait for it to come back in”.
Dr Liz Gordon began her working life as a university lecturer at Massey and the Canterbury universities. She spent six years as an Alliance MP, before starting her own research company, Pukeko Research. Her work is in the fields of justice, law, education and sociology (poverty and inequality). She is the president of Pillars, a charity that works for the children of prisoners, a prison volunteer, and is on the board of several other organisations. Her mission is to see New Zealand freed from the shackles of neo-liberalism before she dies (hopefully well before!).