Truman Capote once said of his friend, the socialite Babe Paley, “Mrs P had only one fault: she was perfect; otherwise she was perfect.” Cheap borrowing or no, it’s tempting to say the same of Barack Obama. Paradoxically, I’ve noticed just about every third time someone mentions Obama these days they gratuitously remind us that, “he wasn’t perfect,” without specifying precisely why not. I suspect some say it is because they themselves cannot believe that someone that close to perfection was once President of the United States. Do I really need to state the obvious about how far from perfection the vicious hooligan currently usurping the Oval Office is?
And yet the myth so persistently continues that, when talking about Trump’s many crimes, “Obama wasn’t perfect, either,” or even, “Obama did it too,” gets gratuitously slipped in by the glassy-eyed Trump acolyte. This disgusting bit of deliberately shocking “evenhandedness” inevitably turns out to be nothing but good old-fashioned false equivalence.
Take the separating of children from their families at the border. “Obama did it first,” has become the familiar mantra of the knee-jerk neocon. But did he? No, in fact, he did not. The confusion stems from the fact that, under Obama, parents at the border were sometimes charged, and convicted, of actual crimes. If the crime meant a custodial sentence then they were separated from their children accordingly, just as ordinary citizens serving time in prison are likewise separated from theirs. At other times, when there was evidence suggesting that the person appearing at the border was not, in fact, the parent of the child he or she was with, they were accordingly separated if that turned out to be the case.
Trump separated families as matter of policy. He did it to make the prospect of fleeing tyranny to a possible better life in the United States, by way of ordinary immigration or asylum seeking, so awful in consequence and so devastating to the family unit in prospect as to discourage future attempts. He stripped them of their Constitutionally guaranteed due process by declaring them guilty until proven innocent, and consequently transferred the burden of proof of their guilt from the state onto the shoulders of the refugees themselves.
So unpopular did this policy become that Trump actually backed away from it. Now, with his delusional belief in the Barr Summary, a newly emboldened Donald Trump once again plans to reinstate automatic and arbitrary separation of families at the border. Their crime? Being poor and desperate. Nobody quite loves kicking people when they are down like Donald Trump, and nobody quite loves cheering him on for doing so than the despicable craven losers who stand by him.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.