Evil is afoot in America. Along our southern border, to deter illegal immigration, children — including infants — are being wrenched from their parents. Few things are crueler, but it is the declared policy of the U.S. government, undertaken in all our names.
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” says Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “We don’t want to separate families, but we don’t want families to come to the border illegally. This is just the way the world works.”
White House chief of staff John Kelly concurs. But he also assures us that the children removed from their parents will “be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.”
“Or whatever.” Already, the Department of Health and Human Services has acknowledged losing track of 1,500 children entrusted to the bureaucracy’s less than tender ministrations. The administration is now looking at housing detained children on military bases as it prepares for a far higher volume of separations.
From our revolution against the British to the present moment, U.S. history is the forward march of human dignity, the promise of inalienable rights recognized and freedom fulfilled. But our history has also been, episodically and more than episodically, the story of our foundational principles traduced.
We’ve witnessed McCarthyism, the World War II mass internment of Japanese Americans, the baseless imprisonment of thousands in the Red Scare at the close of World War I, and, over decades, the humiliations of Jim Crow.
Slavery, of course, was by far the worst betrayal. Across three centuries of American history, men, women and children were bred and bought and sold like livestock. It took a bloody Civil War to bring human bondage to an end. In his ineffable memoir, Frederick Douglass excoriates in particular the men of faith who gave their blessing to the peculiar institution in which he was enslaved for the formative years of his life.
“I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ,” wrote Douglass. “I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.”
Douglass reserved special fury for those clerics who trumpeted themselves as defenders of family values, a type instantly recognizable in the contemporary American scene: “He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families — sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers — leaving the hut vacant, and the hearth desolate.”
Precisely the same hypocrisy is on display today in the era of Trump. Some prominent Christian conservatives have spoken out. “If law requires this, it must be changed. Sometimes it’s necessary to separate children from parents. But where it’s not necessary to do that, it’s necessary not to do it. Find another way,” implores the great Princeton scholar Robert George.
But for the moment, the hypocrites have the upper hand. From them comes deafening silence about the inhuman family destruction policy now being implemented.
Gary Bauer, the renowned conservative advocate of family values, approvingly quotes Trump saying that “a strong nation must have strong borders.”
From Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, we learn that Trump “has proven, time and time again, that he’s a fearless champion for conservative values.”
The Rev. Franklin Graham piles praise on Trump for his piety: “I appreciate the fact that the president does have a concern for Christian values, he does have a concern to protect Christians whether it’s here at home or around the world.”
And what do we hear from R.R. Reno, editor of the religious affairs journal First Things, author of a tome entitled Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society, and supporter of Trump as a salve for — of all things — our “crisis of solidarity”? Crickets.
To be sure, in scale and scope one cannot even begin to compare the merciless family separation policy of Trump and Jeff Sessions with the limitless horrors of slavery. But what is transpiring today on our southern border is still a stain on America. And hypocrisy is still hypocrisy.
“I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which everywhere surround me.” As children are torn from the arms of their parents, the words of Frederick Douglass should ring in our ears.
(Author Gabriel Schoenfeld, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and the author of Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law, was a senior adviser to the 2012 Romney for President campaign. Follow him on Twitter: @gabeschoenfeld. This article appears from PNJ)