The assumption of America’s greatness is seamlessly folded into the minds of her children at an early age. Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, learning how America brought the world back from the brink of Nazi terror, hearing stories of non-violent protests overcoming the screaming scourge of racism in the 1960s to produce voting and civil rights protections all create pride that we understand, even as children, elevates America above other nations. We are a nation of ideals, where our values and morality insist that we honor human rights, welcome immigrants and right wrongs when we see them.
Children growing up in America and around the world today are confronted with a decidedly different America. No doubt they can see themselves crying out in fear, if they were the ones being pulled from their parent by a border agent. Certainly they can hear themselves trying to negotiate with the border patrol when they listen to a six year old girl ask if she could call an aunt whose number she has memorized. And they are puzzled when they listen to Attorney General Jeff Sessions defend Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy of separating families at the border by citing “the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.”
How are children supposed to know that Romans 13 was also used in the 1850s by Southern slaveholders to justify slavery and keep abolitionists at bay? But an administration that stoops to using old Biblical defenses for slavery to vindicate policies of their own is so obviously soulless that even children can see the disconnect. Instead of assuming that America still possesses a national sense of justice, children today are becoming accustomed to the lies, deceit and callousness of an administration that seems disinterested in fairness.
Most children don’t study politics enough to know that Trump and Sessions are doing all that they can to limit refugee asylum rights, frustrate criminal justice reform or cut voting rights protections. They don’t realize how consistently Trump policy dovetails into a comprehensive attack on the civil rights of people of color.
Children also haven’t read the American Psychological Association’s report that “the longer that children and parents are separated, the greater the reported symptoms of anxiety and depression for the children.” Kids don’t realize that more than 2,300 traumatized children have been separated from their parents because of a Trump edict that he falsely blames on Democrats.
And children certainly can’t comprehend the underlying political reason for all of the suffering and heartlessness. Who could ever imagine an American president using poor immigrant children as pawns and negotiating chips to force his political opponents to fund a ridiculous border wall? How could children ever relate to such a calculated cynicism so unlike the compassion that they have been taught America represents?
During another time, when our country followed the democratic ideal of welcoming newcomers to our shores, a five year old girl from Guatemala came to Los Angeles with her father and two brothers. As a young adult, she found work as a 9-1-1 dispatcher and led a campaign to require bilingual operators. She was a member of the Pomona City Council before being elected Mayor of Pomona in 2006. In 2008 she took a seat in the California State Assembly and in 2015, Norma Torres took the oath of office as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California’s 35th district.
Is this not the kind of civic success story that America usually celebrates? Have we not, as Americans, felt a special sense of joy that luminaries like Albert Einstein, Levi Strauss, Madeleine Albright, Joseph Pulitzer, Salma Hayek, Carlos Santana and so many others thought enough of our country to immigrate here and share their talents with us? Are these not the kind of people that we want our children to admire and emulate?
Yet children in America today and around the world see young refugees in cages or alone on a dusty road crying for comfort from a parent who will probably be deported while they remain behind. The stewards of Lady Liberty, who beckons, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” cannot even promise that the records of these procedural kidnappings are accurate enough to allow the victimized families to become whole again.
Richard Cohen recently wrote, “Parenthood humbles us all, makes us tremble from the immense power of tiny hugs.” The pictures of crying children, alone in a foreign country where even shelter workers are not allowed to touch or comfort them, are images that every child understands and instinctively empathizes with. Children don’t need an adult to explain the cruel rationale of a policy that can produce such gut-wrenching images.
If Trump and Sessions were truly interested in deriving wisdom from the Bible, they might consider reading Matthew 11:25 which states, “At that time Jesus declared, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”
Our children know what is happening. It is long past time for adults in America to listen to their children.