The Borders of Decency

I’ve been reading about the U.S. immigrant situation and the separation of children from their parents for the last two weeks. My response, from the safety of my own study, has been to sign petitions, send money to the ACLU, write testy letters to my own representatives which, in a purplish-blue state, involves preaching to the choir in some cases. It’s not enough.

canstockphoto46338616I believe the inhumane immigration policy enacted by this administration is the Japanese internment camp of our time. It will be our national shame for years to come. While we’ve already replaced our human rights high horse with a jackass on the world stage, I fear our grandchildren will ask “What did you do when they started putting the children in tent camps and warehousing them in a vacant Walmart?”

It is, unquestionably, an issue of morality. Not biblical morality, which is as whimsical and cruel as the humans who brandish it. Not legal morality, which seems to be enforced in varying degrees based on your skin color, financial means, or just who happens to be in charge at the moment. But the morality of decent humans who understand the difference between right and wrong. The morality of humans who have experienced love and separation and grief and fear. The morality of humans who understand that there should be no borders on decency.

canstockphoto2055140I believe that our government is being run by the worst of the worst now – white collar criminals with deliberate ignorance and venality as their guiding policy. Attorney General Sessions is a spiteful person who uses religion to underwrite his malevolence. President Trump is a malicious narcissist who is corrupt to the stupidest degree. The evidence is in. Rich and powerful people aren’t always rich and powerful because they are smart. It is because they are often amoral and weaselly and believe the rules don’t apply to them, moral or otherwise.

Immigration policy and surrounding issues are complicated. The policy of separating children from their parents is not. The process of warehousing thousands of children on U.S. property is not. I have no patience with the vicious people who say that humans attempting to come into the U.S. are criminals, especially the many asylum-seekers. Seeking asylum at our borders is NOT a crime. Treating people as automatic criminals, traumatizing their children, and setting up situations that will be rife with abuse, mishaps, and fatalities is bad policy.

I’ve read defense of this policy and it always comes down to well, they broke the rules and deserved to be punished. To the malevolent vipers who think this is just desserts, I’m sure you’re the ones who also say, “my parents used corporal punishment growing up and I turned out alright”. Um, no, you didn’t. You got the decency beat out of you.

The other argument is that it is a deterrent. This supports the wave of nationalist sentiment that somehow immigrants are what – taking jobs? You mean the jobs that remain unfilled, because there are Americans who think they’ll get a job based on 1950s criteria (you know, pasty white and possibly with a penis) and don’t bother with education, training, or moving to where the jobs are. Those jobs? Not to mention the jobs that are based on dying industries. Pure and utter bullshit.

canstockphoto21191952And the value of whiteness. Look, as quickly as we’re destroying the environment and the ozone layer, melanin-gifted people are going to be the ones who survive. Pasty white people will have to live in underground tunnels, evolve some night vision, and hope that brown people don’t decide to play whack-a-mole on our asses every time we pop our heads above ground, because we’ll deserve it. Whiteness will eventually disappear and those of us who remain will be that special albino exhibit at the zoo. Get over it. We have no inherent value because of our lack of skin color.

We know the president is using these children at the border as a bargaining chip to get his Lego wall built. We know that he wants to build that wall, not because he is remotely concerned with immigration issues. He needs red meat for his base. Every word and action from this person has indicated a need for affirmation, adoring crowds, and unquestioning loyalty. He is a bad person, a likely criminal, and all his jokes about wanting to rule like a dictator are not jokes. This thin-skinned man has no sense of honor and he is not funny.

I wrote after the election that this was an opportunity to become heroes – to match every evil action and word with more compassion, empathy, and courage. I flailed a lot, feeling the outrage spikes until they became so numerous and frequent that they stopped moving at all. I have not become a hero. I have not exercised enough courage. I am still a rather complacent middle class lump. It’s not enough.

canstockphoto57450382It’s exhausting watching consumer and environmental protections being dismantled, education being denigrated, staring slack-jawed as government representatives blatantly and repeatedly lie. Listening to the racists and misogynists preach atop the rocks they used to live under, the Luddites in Congress talking about Facebook and net neutrality, the marginalized being recast as criminals, the press being attacked. It’s damned exhausting. And there seems to be no end in sight.

It’s time to re-calibrate. I’ve joined and donated to organizations over the last three years in response not only to this corrosive administration, but as a necessary antidote to privilege in the face of the suffering of others. I’ve signed petitions. I’ve written, called, and emailed congressional representatives. I’ve curated and paid for my news. I’ve taken a more active role in my community. It’s not enough.

So it’s time to come up with a bigger game plan – time to give my anger more form and shape and rhetorical fire. It’s time to ignore the shit show that is our national political life, shake off the distractions of meme-parrots and conspiracy freaks and get down to business.

I am the citizen of a country that is being represented by the wealthy and deliberately ignorant. Cowards in Congress abound. Bad people have undue influence. Foreign intervention is being downplayed in favor of political expediency. Much of the citizenry prefers to be told what to think and is, like the denizens of Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, bewitched by screens, prone to the doublespeak and nonsensical logic of inarticulate leadership.

canstockphoto20220453Where will it end? Are we as complacent as those who waited, only to see their neighbors carted off to camps or slaughtered by machetes, or forced into workhouses and labor camps? We are not as prescient as history will blame us for being. If we err, I’d rather be blamed for taking actions on the side of decency and good intention, and not serving the ego of a petty tyrant.


ACLU Petition

Women’s March Petition

Support the Keep Families Together Act, contact your senators.

Donations to Charities Helping Kids at the Border

“The Trump Administration’s separation of families at the border”, Vox, 06/15/18

“Here’s How You Can Fight Family Separation at the Border”, Slate, 06/15/18

Please review The Green Study Comment Policy. I will not provide a platform for false information, conspiracy theory, memes, or moral equivalency on this issue. Comments will be moderated.

Fired Up, Part 3: Mitigating Despair

canstockphoto10341986This was not my intended post. I wrote my intended post about economics and the importance of financial literacy. It was boring and long and preachy. To sum it up in a nutshell: if you’re like me and find that when it comes to the economy of our country, you do not know enough to argue more than talking points, it’s time to learn.

I wrote a second post that stretched into 3,000 words, exploring the nature of my own prejudices – how I am the product of poor, white, uneducated people and what that means about my belief system. It became a painful journey and tapped into all the reasons I am who I am today, for better and worse. It was one of my better essays and one I’ve decided to submit for publication.

The third post was an elegy to art and how it is more important than ever to keep creating, writing, painting, composing. Throughout history, the best art was created during trying times. And it reminds us of beauty and love and all the things that matter to us as individuals. Art is good, but it is not permission to remain passive while Rome burns.

It’s 3am again. I’m awake, thinking about how President-Elect Trump has promised to deport 2-3 million illegal immigrants. I think about jackboots and citizens’ brigades and children wailing and families decimated and weapons drawn. I think about the impending destruction of the EPA and the dirty water and air that will spread to encompass us, city after city. Flint was just the beginning. I think about all the barely tested drugs he wants unleashed on the public.

Every morning since the election, I awake to a fresh, raw sense that everything is going to be as bad as I believe. And I begin to fight it. By the end of the day, I’ve pushed it back enough to fall asleep at night, waking up at 3am, wondering if my daughter will be attacked in a public bathroom because she is at that stage where she looks more a boy than a girl. Wondering if public education will be destroyed. Wondering if we’ll be able to survive privatization of social security and medicare. And it begins all over again.

My fear is barely held at bay each day. My fighting self says do something, but my denial self says wait and see. Wait and see – the rallying cry for decent citizens everywhere throughout history, before the crackdowns, detentions, violations of rights, martial law. Wait and see – the blinders we wear when the abuses start. Wait and see – the mantle of disbelief worn before our neighbors are arrested, our children harassed, our jobs handed over with nepotistic abandon to the loyals. Anyone who has a sense of history knows that this is where we are headed, unless we stand up now.

But despair has a way of draining us, draining our hopes, taking away our sleep and our sense that things will be alright. It’s a situational depression that leaves us limp and walking through our days, distracted and anxious.

I made good resolutions about sourcing less biased information, maintaining my personal integrity, moving forward, but I was impatient and premature. There is still despair and a sense of hopelessness. I tried to read the news, but every story, no matter how unbiased, serves to confirm my worst fears. His loyals, people without ethical compasses, are being put in charge. The soothing denials even Republicans shared about how he’d surround himself with wise advisors have proven to be false.

What now? Denial isn’t working for me. Anger blurs my vision. Fear makes my breathing shallow. Unlike the protesters who, if they don’t destroy things, are the epitome of what makes this country already great – our freedoms to assembly and free speech, I can’t function coming out of the gate. I’m a slow thinker. I need time to process, weigh and decide. I expected too much of myself and that expectation only served to feed the despair.

canstockphoto0135359For today, I will hug my daughter and husband. I will write three letters to the congressional representatives I helped to elect, sharing my gratitude and encouragement for the years ahead. I will make a donation to a cause I support, which will need the money more than ever.

I will walk my neighborhood, block by block and remind myself that people want to be good, want to be kind and compassionate, want to be seen. I will send good wishes as I walk past the apartment buildings of immigrants, I will smile and greet people as if we’re the best of friends. I will make eye contact with the Muslim women in their beautiful scarves and dresses and will smile warmly. I will honor what is right and what is good about my country.

For today, I will not read the news. I will not get hooked by my fears. I will get some exercise, take a nap, read a book, write until I’ve ecstatically wrung out every emotion, until the words blur on the page. For today, I will clean my home with gratitude and rake leaves as meditation. For today, I will let myself be okay.

Related Posts:

Fired Up, Part 1: Changing Where, When and How I Get Information

Fired Up, Part 2: Softening Perspective, Steeling Resolve

Inside Out: Coming to America

canstockphoto12339761Yesterday was a perfect day in my neighborhood. The sun was out. Pasty white Minnesotans emerged from their Netflix caves after months of winter. Immediately some started their leaf blowers (which I posit is the worst invention ever). I went to the park with my daughter and one of her besties. They played basketball, as I sat at a picnic table and read.

I love my neighborhood more frequently than I hate it. It was built in the late 1950s, tracts of little nondescript ranch houses. We add shutters and paint different colors but in the low light of a late sunset and a few beers under our belts, we’d be easily confused. It’s a working class neighborhood near schools and apartment buildings and a grocery store. We can walk 15 minutes to anywhere we need to go.

I’ve been here about 16 years and have watched the young couples move in and out as their families expanded. The retirees move a little slower. Some have gone to nursing homes. The demographics have changed from the homogeneity of Germanic and Scandinavian residents to a more diverse neighborhood with families of color.

canstockphoto9412008(1)When I hear all the angry conversation about immigrants, I don’t understand it. I love being in a metro area for the richness of its diversity. My daughter’s friend is from Kenya. This is a family that completely transplanted itself into a bizarre culture, with its Minnesota niceness and subtle and not-so-subtle bigotries. With its climate so opposite from theirs. With its language so difficult and complex to learn. That they chose to uproot their lives and come here is amazing.

At the park, a Hispanic mother followed her toddler son as he rambled happily across the lawn, while his father chatted with neighbors. The little boy unsteadily walked over to the picnic table where I sat and stared with big, beautiful dark eyes. His mother smiled shyly at me as I rolled a basketball to him. He laughed with delight and was off, carrying a ball twice the size of his head.

I don’t think she spoke English and I’m not yet confident enough with Spanish. Smiles did our communicating. I think about their lives here and why they gravitate to communities that reflect their own cultures and experiences. It must seem overwhelming and isolating at times. My fellow Americans curse and spit about why “they” don’t do this or that, when many Americans are barely literate and do nothing to pursue self-improvement.

There is something about the immigrants whom I have met in my life. The inherent optimism of moving someplace foreign – a belief that a better life is possible and that they have some say in that. From the antics of some Americans, it is quite apparent that they have no such belief. They believe in a savior with a comb-over, that a boastful ingrate will lift them out of their shitty lives and save the country.

It’s amazing that anyone believes a politician will improve their lives. Politicians do very little that isn’t badgered out of them by polls or bought and paid for by donors or brought on by bad publicity thanks to activists. Individual choices and protests still impact our country, are still part of the algorithm of the elusive and mythological American Dream. There’s no point in waiting for a mouthpiece to do the work for you.

canstockphoto5109847Now, I’m a bleeding heart liberal, there’s no doubt about that. But I also served my country, worked my ass off, came out of poverty into a middle class existence. I believe in the power of hard work and education and ethical living. My street cred as a hardworking American has been established by every hard knock, graveyard shift and paid tax.

As a resident of planet earth, though, I believe in compassion and kindness and seeking to understand. My experience in this country, as a first generation American, was helped by the color of my skin and my language skills and happenstance of birth. While I’ve experienced sexism in the military and various workplaces, I’ve always assumed the individual was some sort of stupid I couldn’t fix and got on with things.

Last week, I attended a lecture by presidential biographer, Jon Meacham. It was an interesting, if not somewhat sanitized, conversation about the impact of some presidents on the country. What I was struck by, though, is that Jon Meacham is two years younger than I. He’s an executive editor at Random House. He has numerous biographies, including one that won a Pulitzer Prize. I felt momentary envy. Huh, so that’s what a successful career track looks like.

canstockphoto18730397Still, it made me think about how much control I actually do have over my own life. I made very specific choices, some of them good, some of them terrible, that got me here today. Despite the times when I struggled, when I had no health insurance, when I turned in pop cans for grocery money, I never assumed that the state of things was anyone’s fault or responsibility other than my own. Sure, there’s all kinds of systemic flaws that can really mess up a linear rise in circumstances, but for most white Americans, it’s on us. Yet we still seek to blame.

The minute I rise in defense or even in curiosity of immigrants’ lives, some dipstick will share anecdotal evidence of people gaming the system or laziness or criminality. I can double down with stories of Americans I’ve met who game the system, are lazy or are criminals. Hell, I’m related to some of them.

canstockphoto32473828At this point in my life, I do have a tendency to romanticize lives of people outside my purview. I recognize this and remind myself that people from other countries likely have the same percentage of shitheads that we do in the U.S. But these days, some of our citizens seem the more immediate danger.


Resources about the immigrant and refugee experience in the US:

Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

10 Essential Films about the Immigrant Experience

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee: Syrian Refugees Part 1

US Refugee Admissions Program (Subtitled: It ain’t easy)