Connections: Garden of Good and Evil

The plight of children at our southern border

The landscape here is lovelier than ever this spring . . . even as our nation wallows in the muck. 

I can’t help but be reminded of something Voltaire wrote about a “best of all possible worlds” mind-set: “Life is bristling with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to cultivate one’s garden,” Voltaire has Pangloss, one of literature’s most indelible optimists, say in Candide.

Nice weather seems to have conspired to bring an incomparable lushness to bushes, trees, and flowers this month, and even the air this week seems to me unusually scented with early summer. If you are anything like me, you find solace in being surrounded by all this natural and human-cultivated beauty. All seems right with the world.

But, oh, the contrast between our well-tended gardens and the plight of children at our southern border. Have not most of us always considered the rights of children — the right to the nurturing care of parents and other loving adults — to be a basic human right and a core value in these United States? The “zero tolerance” dictum promulgated by our White House administration and announced by our attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is enough to undermine any faith that the public at large may still have in the goodness we like to say is at the heart of America.

What do parents here “in the best of all possible worlds” tell their children these days about how other children are being separated from their mothers or fathers? Are they explaining just how our nation came to allow tent cities to be constructed to house children who have been ripped, crying, from their parents’ arms?

That this country’s former first ladies, of both major political parties, have spoken out about its cruelty and called it by its name — child abuse — gives the lie to any lingering belief that we are at heart a caring and charitable country. Is it time to sing a requiem for the American dream?

There is no doubt that the forceful separation of children from their lifelong caregivers is a trauma from which they may never fully recover. Just this week, the American Psychiatric Association warned that children treated as the detainees are being treated are at high risk of developing depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. One of my friends points out that this policy is an incubator for anger and antisocial lashing out, once these children are older. The Trump administration (ignoring statistical proofs that crime rates among immigrants are lower than those among natural-born citizens) claims its policy is motivated by the desire to deter crime, but just think of that! 

Further undermining all decent Americans’ struggle to awaken the nationwide consciousness of the harm being done to these innocents is the assault on truth through which the president and his supporters have attempted to deflect and defend their “zero tolerance” policy. The president wants to be a big tough guy, the toughest and strongest on immigration-law enforcement; on the other hand, he doesn’t want to take responsibility for the harm he is doing, and has, absurdly, blamed Democrats for his own “zero tolerance” policy, which only went into effect a few weeks ago. 

I’m told that the private security corporations that have been contracted to run the detention centers for children are advertising job openings in Florida and Texas. I’m also told that a march across the nation in protest has been announced for June 30. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Independence Day and our traditions of liberty than to take our American sons and daughters to Washington, D.C., or to Main Street to exercise their right to free expression on this despicable assault on their fellow children.