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Trump’s Family Separation Scandal Has Revealed Every Species of Hypocrite

Immigration hawks and War on Terror monsters alike are using President Trump’s revolting present to expiate past sins

How Hypocrites Are Using Trump’s Revolting Present to Expiate Their Past Sins

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty

John McCain, in Arizona receiving treatment for brain cancer, tweeted about Donald Trump’s barbarous immigration policy this week

“The administration’s current family separation policy is an affront to the decency of the American people, and contrary to principles and values upon which our nation was founded,” the senator wrote.

Those comments bring to mind a commercial John McCain made eight years ago. At the time, he was facing a tough primary challenge from Tea Party Republican J.D. Hayworth.

In the ad, McCain is seen walking along Arizona’s southern border with Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, in the shadow of an enormous fence. McCain starts tsk-tsking about the wave of crime pouring into his state.

“Drug and human smuggling, home invasions, murder?” McCain asks.

“We’re outmanned,” the sheriff says. “Of all the illegals in America, more than half come through Arizona.”

McCain asks if they have “the right plan.” The sheriff says, “You bring troops, state, county and local law enforcement together.”

“And complete the danged fence!” says McCain.

Sound familiar? “Complete the danged fence” even had a website to go along with it for a while, CompleteTheDangedFence.com. The Trump-era version is just a hashtag, but still.

The heated controversy over Trump’s awful family separation policy has been like one of those bug-zapping lights people stick next to pools – it’s attracted virtually every species of hypocrite in American public life.

The most conspicuous and ridiculous of these are the hand-over-heart never-Trump Republicans who – after decades of pushing vicious anti-immigrant rhetoric themselves – are now coming out of the woodwork to talk about how mistreatment of the undocumented is contrary to “our principles and values.”

It’s not easy to pick which wall-humping Republican’s hug-an-immigrant statement is the worst, but one from Ted Cruz stands out. The proud champion of the basketball “ring” said:

“All of us who are seeing images of these children being pulled away from moms and dads in tears are horrified. This has to stop … We should keep children with their parents. Kids need their moms. They need their dads.”

Ted Cruz was the guy who just two years ago ran for president with the plan of wiping the uninspiring Republican primary field of Jebs and Lindseys and Marcos by being the meanest of the lot on immigration.

He might have succeeded, if it hadn’t been for that meddling secret “New York values” liberal, Trump. Cruz’s fury at having to deal with someone running to the right of him on immigration was one of the most obvious black-comedy subplots in that disgusting clown car of a primary race.

When Trump started to look like a real winner in late 2015, Cruz – in a move he himself was probably shocked he had to make – recalibrated his already nasty immigration stance to be more hardcore. He called for a tripling of border agents and “a wall that works.”

He even brought immigrant children into the debate, echoing Trump by saying it was “well past time to end birthright citizenship.” And after the primaries, when the Trump camp flirted with “softening” its immigration stance, Cruz’s people ripped Trump as a phony. If we’re getting more aggressive immigration policy now, it could easily be because the likes of Cruz have made no secret of wanting to take back Trump’s base by reclaiming the meanest-of-all mantle on immigration.

The controversy over Trump’s policy illustrates another ugly subtext to immigration as a political issue. The reality is that many – if not most – Americans have long been comfortable with all sorts of cruelties, so long as they don’t have to look at them.

Trump’s policies are extreme, but the government separating children from parents is not a new thing: Not on the border, not in immigrant communities and not in poor neighborhoods – where women on public assistance live in regular dread of state inspectors taking their kids away over picayune welfare violations or complaints from neighbors. 

It’s also true abroad, where voters have spent over a decade now tacitly signing off on a whole kit-bag of evil (but mostly invisible) War on Terror policies, many of which involve breaking up families without any kind of due process. If an Afghan family is separated in the forest and nobody sees it, did it really happen?

That’s why it was more than a little nauseating when former CIA chief Michael Hayden posted a picture of Auschwitz amid this recent scandal, writing, “Other governments have separated mothers and children.”

You might remember Hayden as one of the first people to say out loud that indefinite detention of suspects in the War on Terror was not feasible. Better alternatives existed, he said.

“We have made it so politically dangerous and so legally difficult that we don’t capture anyone anymore,” Hayden said in 2012, about detention. “We take another option, we kill them. Now. I don’t morally oppose that.”

Ladies and gentlemen, your Twitter human rights champion, 2018.

Trump’s policies on the border were and are monstrous. But those photos of children in captivity, which rightfully have been nearly as damaging to America’s reputation as the Abu Ghraib debacle, didn’t appear out of nowhere.

Those scenes are the latest in a long series of developments, under which politicians like McCain and Cruz and Dick Cheney, along with officials like Hayden, have gradually normalized the idea of human rights abuses as solutions to political problems. Now they’re all hiding behind someone else’s scandal. America’s manufacturing sector may be failing, but we still produce plenty of hypocrites.

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