I’m rarely afforded the opportunity to link Donald Trump to the Grateful Dead. But please resist the temptation to skip to the end of this column, because first we must parse the latest news of his unparalleled human rights disaster.
I’ll say this as succinctly as possible (although concision in this case is impossible):
Yesterday, a few hours before he stroked an audience of cultists in Duluth, Trump sat in the Oval Office, flanked on his right by his lying Homeland secretary, flanked on his left by his lickspittle vice president, and caved on the family-separation policy that the Homeland secretary had insisted did not exist. (White nationalist aide Stephen Miller had insisted that the policy did exist, that the regime had created the policy, and that it was awesome; white nationalist attorney general Jeff Sessions had said the policy did exist, and that it was sprinkled with biblical fairy dust.)
Trump surrendered yesterday by signing an executive order to stop caging kids, despite having insisted on Fox News, just five days earlier, that “we can’t do it through an executive order.” He did it with a stoke of a pen after having previously insisted that Congress first needed to pass a law requiring him to stop caging kids — a law that would thereby override an existing law, crafted by Democrats, that directed him to cage kids (“We have to break up families … The Democrats gave us that law”), even though in truth that Democratic law existed only in the spacious realm between his ears.
Satire is dead. His Fraudulency has killed it.
And the con goes on. In his surrender statement, Trump said: “What we have done today is keeping families together.” A brand new lie. The executive order doesn’t cover the families who were ripped apart prior to the executive order. Nothing in the executive order spells out when or how or whether those families will be reunited; there’s no information, in the order or from his regime, that tells us how those kids will even be located. Some of them may have already been flown to cities as far as New York, shepherded by private contractors who are making good money working for Trump.
One Texas lawyer, acting as a public defender for traumatized parents, writes: “My clients now ask: Where is my little girl? Who’s taking care of her? When do I get to see her again? Will they deport me without her? How will she be protected and by whom? How can I talk with her? Who will give her medicine if she’s sick? Gone are concerns about sentencing. It’s all about the parent and the missing child, separated not just by plexiglass and jail bars but by a gulf of the unknown. The (executive order) changes nothing for my clients or the thousands of other parents who have already lost their kids at the border.”
Trump’s executive order also decrees that, henceforth, future families can stay together while the adults in custody await criminal prosecution for crossing the border. The hitch — because with Trump, there’s always a hitch — is that this new policy may well violate a federal appeals court settlement. Under the rules established in 1997, kids can be kept in detention, “in the least restrictive environment possible,” for only limited period; a 2015 federal ruling set the limit at 20 days. But since the Trump regime is facing a huge backlog of cases — thanks to its decision to criminally prosecute everyone for what’s typically a misdemeanor, a hard-line decision no previous administration had ever made — that 20-day limit is likely to be breached on a routine basis. What happens to those kids then?
Meanwhile, even while the arsonist was signing an executive order to hose down the flames he ignited, he was predictably lying anew, making claims unsupported by empirical fact. In his latest attempt to dehumanize all undocumented immigrants by conflating them with criminal gangs, he said: “MS-13, they come into the country, we’re liberating towns on Long Island and other places, we’re throwing them out by the thousands. But we need laws that don’t allow them to come back in.” That’s one of his favorite lines, a variation on his February claim that “thousands and thousands” of gang members have been deported. Alas, there isn’t a single federal stat to confirm his claim that gang members have been deported “by the thousands,” or that the criminal prosecution of all border-crossers will reduce gang violence.
But let’s allow a brief ray of sunshine to pierce the gloom. Trump surrendered on family separation — in the words of veteran Republican commentator Rich Galen, the policy “blew up like a stick of dynamite in a fireworks factory” — because there was too much public outrage, too much heat from vulnerable Republican incumbents terrified about their midterm prospects. And there were too many harrowing TV images — which Trump reportedly saw during his ample off hours as a couch potato. The lesson here is that democracy is not dead, that even Trump is capable of caving under pressure. By various circuitous routes, he somehow got to the right place.
Which brings us to the Grateful Dead — and some lyrics from “Scarlet Begonias.” Take it away, guys!
“Once in awhile you get shown the light/ In the strangest of places if you look at it right.”