We inhabit a period of great turmoil and suffering, while at the same time immense hope and promise flood around us, making it possible for any person anywhere to potentially make great contributions to the betterment of humankind. That better possibility is entirely dependent upon the guarantee that all people have access to the benefits of education, science, rule of law, and real protection of human rights.
Many question right now how we can best defend these instruments of our protection and empowerment.
In just the month of June 2018 we have seen the President of the United States reject the very “rules-based international order” that his nation built and which secures democracy and human rights, forcibly separate children from parents and send them to internment camps, and then call for an end to due process.
Toddlers and infants were thrown onto concrete floors in cages, in conditions that would count as inhumane treatment of dogs, while armed, armored agents stood over them and no person was allowed to comfort them.
We also learned that inside the White House and the Department of Justice there had been explicit conversations about how the moral terror induced by this abuse of children and families might “act as a deterrent” toward not only illegal but also legal immigration to the United States.
Those facts are not in dispute.
It is also known that federal agents falsified the immigration records for the separated children, listing most or all of them as “unaccompanied”, that asylum-seeking parents have been deported without their children, and that toddlers are being forced to appear before judges as criminal defendants, often with no legal counsel to represent them, while aid groups are denied access. Public health workers have told the press that some separated children have been given psychiatric drugs to silence their cries.
Before drawing any connection to any other matter at issue, we must state firmly, clearly, and with unwavering consistency, that this abuse of children and families is so morally debased, there can be no justification. Criminal acts committed by public officials in furtherance of this abuse must be treated as criminal acts, and corrected by criminal prosecution.
These abuses are, however, connected to a wider pattern of deviation: It was at the G7 heads of state summit in Canada this month that the same President Trump turned on America’s most trusted allies and literally rejected the phrase “rules-based international order”. This deviation was all the more shocking, because:
- that rules-based international order was largely the result of American leadership over 7 decades,
- much of it is rooted in and connected to US Constitutional law, and
- that order is a critical component to securing the United States against hostile actors.
Fortunately for the American people, and for our system of laws and democratic governance, no President has free rein to rule without checks and balances, much less when openly asserting that lawless claim.
It is worth noting that in its ruling upholding the structure of the 3rd executive order imposing a temporary travel ban on citizens of 7 countries, the Supreme Court’s majority (along with Justice Kennedy’s concurring opinion and both dissenting opinions) made clear their preliminary finding of Constitutionality hinges on ensuring protections for the Constitutional rights of Americans, especially those with families in the affected countries.
While the majority opinion won a 5-4 vote, it was the finding of all 9 Justices that no federal officer at any level has the authority to violate or abridge the Constitutional protections guaranteed to Americans, or in the case of due process and equal protection, to all persons.
Senator John McCain, who has given enough to deserve a hearing on human rights, has written:
I consider myself a realist. I have certainly seen my share of the world as it really is and not how I wish it would be. What I’ve learned is that it is foolish to view realism and idealism as incompatible or to consider our power and wealth as encumbered by the demands of justice, morality and conscience. In the real world, as lived and experienced by real people, the demand for human rights and dignity, the longing for liberty and justice and opportunity, the hatred of oppression and corruption and cruelty is reality. By denying this experience, we deny the aspirations of billions of people, and invite their enduring resentment.
He goes on to say:
Human rights exist above the state and beyond history. They cannot be rescinded by one government any more than they can be granted by another. They inhabit the human heart, and from there, though they may be abridged, they can never be extinguished.
It must be now, as ever, our national mission to actively recognize and uphold the humanity of every person, and to put the defense of that humanity above all narrower interests.
[ The Note for June 2018 ]