What Have We Learned – So Far – from the Zero Tolerance Policy?

Some lessons clearly jump out – and some old ones are reinforced

Time Cover 2018-06-21 .pngThere is a key phrase in the title above – “so far.” This sorry saga is far from over; some hard lessons are surely to come for just about everyone. But some useful lessons have already arrived. Let’s look at a few of them.

  1. Grass Roots Resistance has Power:Let’s not kid ourselves. While the executive order is indeed a reversal, it creates new problems and uncertainties, and leaves some old ones in place. But there is little doubt that sustained and spreading repulsion stopped the advancement of a singularly ill-conceived approach.
  2. Do Something Repulsive Enough, and Even Many of Your Supporters will Gag:A good bit of this was posturing to be sure, but when you get people like Franklin Graham, Geraldo Rivera, and assorted Republican supporters saying this is wrong, you are in new territory. I suspect Trump and Company did this for two reasons: (1) To appeal to the base, and (2) Because this rings true to their xenophobic, racist hearts – this is at their core. My guess is they failed at objective (1); some still love the idea (as late as last week 60% of likely Republican voters approved), but for many this was a bridge too far and they are likely not coming back.
  3. There is Such a Thing as Evil Personified:That used to be Steve Bannon in this White House. Now the title surely belongs to Stephen Miller. You don’t get more soulless than this guy – and his boss loves him.
  4. The Less Daylight in a Policy Process, the More You Know They are Hiding Something: The inability of outsiders, even members of the US Congress, to examine detention sites tells us all we need to know; these places are shameful and the people who directed they be established know it. Same with the secrecy as to where these facilities are, how many children of what age and gender are in them, and when they are being moved. The network of informants that has sprung up is vitally necessary. Let nothing remain out of public sight.
  5. Some Good People are Trapped Doing Bad Work: We have heard some terrible statements from government officials in all this; there have been disturbing accounts of cruelty and callousness in the field. But unless my personal experience is completely atypical, there are a lot of dedicated, good people in the Border Patrol and other agencies involved in this who are trying to do their best and feel trapped by what is going on now. It’s just a simple caution to not stereotype or dehumanize someone by association. When this all is someday made right (we hope), the good ones will be there to help make it so.
  6. They Count on Us Loosing Track in the Chaos: Trump, Miller, and others in their circle count on constant chaos and fighting to keep everyone spun up and unfocused on the many involved issues going on. Good journalism and determined citizens can beat that, but only with determination and constant highlighting of what is going on. For example, what happens to those 2,300 children in detention now? No official remotely connected with this should expect to have a moment of peace in public or an event where this is not raised until all are accounted for and in a proper place.
  7. We Need a New Center Right Party – Really: What used to be the Republican Party is gone. There are noleaders of any standing left. This whole debacle could have been stopped in its tracks if only 2-3 Republican senators stood up, said no, and offered to vote for a halt with the Democrats until a rational policy was established. We could not find even two, weeks into the debacle. This is no longer a party that can come out of the wilderness – it is a cult of ideology and of personality. The US needs a stable center right party for lots of reasons (subject of another blog). It will be a tough slog, but it would be powerful to see the few rational adults left among Republican higher ranks strike out and start over. There is a following waiting for that leadership.
  8. Stories Beat Policies, Every Time: We can argue politics and policies all day, with few results, especially in this climate. What carries the day (as it always does we are reminded by Sister Simone of Nuns on the Bus) is stories. Personal, human stories. The testimonies of immigrants and the sights and sounds of those children shifted the balance of power and perception in this fight. We need to hear and see them more, in all forums possible. It was the same with the high schoolers who captured the debate over gun policy. So it will always be. Tell the stories.
  9. The Level of Incompetence Exhibited is Breathtaking: One would have thought this administration would have learned from its three tries at a travel ban that a certain amount of preparation and managed execution is required for big actions. But clearly not. Listening to the mass of directly conflicting rationales for this policy from any number of officials on a daily basis proves this was another seat of the pants operation. The fact that a key word in the title of the executive order was misspelled (not a first for this administration – it’s a running joke!) speaks volumes. Even the simple tasks are dropped by this administration.
  10. November is a Turning Point Unlike Almost Any Other in Modern Times:
    It seems as though every election is “really important this time.” But we are approaching the point at which we, as a nation, are going to say that this kind of governance, this level of competence, and these levels of morality are our baselines or not. If we say yes they are, either by affirmation or apathy, we are likely to find the way back is too long and too unclear to be found and Trump’s America will be the future. Surely not, but we take it for granted at our great peril.

There are 137 days until November 6. What will you do with that time?


Bill Clontz

2 replies to What Have We Learned – So Far – from the Zero Tolerance Policy?

  1. Bill, I guess I view this subject from 30,000′ so to speak. While I support the policy, I’m greatly offended to be labeled in your article as xenophobic or raciest as I’m neither. If you insist in labeling and name calling, you can leave me out. Rather I view our country as a Republic, a nation of laws. We have immigration laws and these should be followed. Breaking these laws by illegally crossing our borders subjects you to legal action, same as it does when you, as a citizen, break laws. In neither case will your children accompany you to jail, nor should they.

    The needed congressional solution should involve easier obtained guest worker permits as was proposed back in the G Bush era. The Mexican people I’ve talked to say they aren’t interested in becoming citizens, but rather work and send monies back to Mexico. Our economy and the ability to work and make money is the big draw. Additionally, we don’t penalize the companies that hire illegals nearly enough. There’s an article in a recent Washington Post that followed a man and his wife trying to cross the border to work at a company who was, by email, promising him work if he could get there. They each paid $12,000 to coyotes to get them across the south Texas border and transported to the Florida panhandle. A guest worker program would solve this kind of problem humanly.

    Perhaps it is naive to believe that congress should sit down and regardless of party work to solve America’s problems rather than spend most of their time trying to get reelected? In the 50’s and 60’s they were able to collectively solve the problems and they need to do this again. The solution for this lack of cooperation in my mind is term limits, i.e. take away the reelection issue.

    • James, thank you for a thoughtful reply.

      It would be helpful, I think to note something of some importance that we agree on. The guest worker program and the surrounding element George W. Proposed were, I thought then and I think now, were reasonable and could indeed eliminate many of the problems we face today. I thought it was a pretty good package as these things go, and I wish his party had supported him. We would all be better off. I thought that overall, he offered something of a good balance of practicality and compassion. And your observations on employers also seems right to me.

      While I surely agree that a country has to control its borders, this policy seems to me extreme in so many ways as to be untenable practically and unacceptable morally. Resources are being taken away from anti drug and criminal justice efforts to enforce what is in US law a misdemeanor. I really don’t see how separating children in this way makes any sense or does any good- quite the contrary seems evident to me.

      I am glad you do not see yourself as racist or xenophobic, and I hope that is an accurate judgement. I have read and seen too much in pro Trump events and media to conclude that is generally true among Trump supporters. It seems clear at this point that a sizable contingent represents our darker impulses, and we should call them out

      I would not overgeneralize from my personal experience- that is too narrow a base to draw upon- but I expect mine is fairly typical in that I know good people who voted for Trump- many but not all of whom now regret that- and I know others who salute those impulses he calls up in praising Charlottesville, falsely claiming crime waves by immigrants, etc. it’s an approach that relies on making others enemies.

      Perhaps we can agree that these are issues that can be addressed by something other than open borders on one side and putting isolated toddlers in cages on the other side.

      It seems to me rational people can do better than either of those. Wonder if we are up to it. I do think we are not as long as Trump has the lead. I don’t see him having much understanding or interest beyond poking the fire a bit.

      Thanks again for weighing in. I appreciate the thought you are giving this issue.

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