There have been a few milestones in the sorry tale of ineptitude and hate that is the Trump administration. There are moments when anyone with an ounce of humanity, paying even minimal attention, must recognise: We are witnesses to evil.
The Charlottesville riot, and Trump's description of swastika-bearing Nazis as "very fine people," was one such moment. The administration policy of deliberate child abuse is another.
There are polite euphemisms like "child detention" and "family separation" being bandied about, but let us be clear. More than two thousand babies, toddlers, and young children have been taken away from their parents and imprisoned. In a mockery of justice, children as young as one are being forced to appear before immigration judges, without their parents or an attorney present.
After six weeks of public outcry, Trump rescinded his order for child abuse. The courts have ordered families to be reunited, but there is no indication of how long this will take, or in some cases whether it will happen at all. Meanwhile, children are being kept in cages.
There is ample research showing this does severe and irreversible psychological harm to children. But I don't need to read the research.
My son is three years old. It makes me physically ill to think of this being done to him. He is a wonderful, kind, outgoing little boy. We, his parents, are the absolute centre of his world. He misses us if he spends a day or two in the care of his loving grandparents.
For him to be taken away by strangers, and thrown in a cage? Not knowing when he will see a familiar face again, or be held in the arms of an adult who loves him? It is an obscenity beyond words. It is exactly what is being done to thousands of children.
Children need love. Taking it away from them is abuse, just as surely as if they were denied food or shelter.
The Trump administration is quite open that this is being done to "send a message" -- ostensibly to other people who might think of trying to seek asylum in the USA, or to Democrats in Congress.
By his own account, Trump believes abusing children is an acceptable price to pay for better propaganda. For advertising, if you will.
In fact, it's not primarily a message for desperate refugees or opposition politicians, but for Trump's core followers:
Trump's power is based on performative cruelty. That is what his supporters voted for--not for any policy, and not for any other principle than to do the worst thing to people outside the fold at every opportunity. He is loathsome, but he's also keeping his promises.— Zakariah Johnson (@Pteratorn) May 11, 2018
Performative cruelty is an apt term. Trump has no plans to rebuild infrastructure or reform healthcare or bring jobs back to the Rust Belt. That would require hard work and understanding of policy. By now, it's abundantly clear he is incapable of either.
What Trump does is this: He assures his followers the world is divided into Us and Them, and he is going to inflict pain on Them.
When material conditions do not improve, there is a ready-made excuse: It's the fault of Them. The immigrants, the so-called elites who include legislators, lawyers and judges. The cure then, is continued war against Them.
Trump is now openly calling for an end to the rule of law:
We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order. Most children come without parents...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2018
No judges. No court cases. Just one man's personal will.
Back in the George W Bush years, there was some wild talk about how Bush would cancel the 2008 election and set himself up as a dictator. It didn't happen. It was never remotely plausible.
The reason for this is not that Bush was a good President. He was a worthless President, among the worst ever to hold the office until the current incumbent came along. But Bush, for all his egregious faults, believed in the American system of government.
It's a rotten, outdated system in many ways. But it offers a modicum of democracy and freedom; and at the same time, it allowed Bush's family to become outrageously rich and powerful.
Bush isn't the sharpest tool in the box, but he was smart enough to recognise this. The system rewards you handsomely, so why rock the boat? Enjoy your time as President, slouch off into comfortable retirement, and leave the next guy to try and clean up the mess you made.
This isn't enough to satisfy Trump. His pathological need for attention and praise will not allow it.
What he wants is everything.
He's happy to burn down American democracy to try and get it.
I don't think Trump has a plan for fascism. He doesn't do plans. He will just take one more step, and then one more, chasing the high of power and public attention. One day, we may look around and wonder when American democracy died.
The answer will lie with one grotesque, aging celebrity, chasing the validation and love he will never grasp.
Trump's background in reality television is important here. A key feature of reality TV is humiliation; inflicting pain for the amusement of a mob. Trump has now made this a principle of government, and he does not care about the consequences. (If her choice of attire is anything to go by, the First Lady doesn't care either.)
The really disturbing thing is, Trump is not alone. He appeals to a substantial minority of Americans.
Trump's child abuse policy is approved of by 28% of Americans, and 58% of self-identified Republicans. He has a core of followers, somewhere between a quarter and a third of America. They want Trump to win. If Trump defines winning as abusing children or discarding the rule of law, they will go along with him gladly.
If this is not evil, the word no longer has any meaning.
No other President has gone so far down this road, and it leads to dark places. As I noted in Part 1, the Democrats in Congress cannot or will not respond as the situation demands. In Part 3, I will speculate about where this might end.
(To be concluded)