The Trump administration’s immoral calculus

The Trump administration’s immoral calculus

Donald Trump and much of his cabinet are under the influence of Ralph Drollinger, a so-called Christian leader who supports the administration’s family-separation policy and justifies their rationale with racist dog whistles

BRATTLEBORO — The Trump administration's policy of “zero tolerance” toward migrants without proper entry papers at our southern border has resulted in the forcible separation of thousands of migrant children from their parents.

This policy was put into effect with no forethought as to how the children would be housed and cared for, or how families would be reunited - if ever.

Parents often do not know where their children are being held and cannot contact them, and in many cases are being deported without their children.

Children, including infants, have been abruptly deprived of contact with their parents and are being subjected to levels of toxic stress that will have lifelong effects.

And many of the children who have been taken cannot be located or accounted for by the responsible federal agencies.

This policy has met with widespread disapproval from the American public: two-thirds oppose it, while only slightly over one-quarter support it.

There has even been disagreement voiced by some white evangelical protestant leaders - usually a key segment of Trump's core support.

A notable exception has been the politically influential leader of Capitol Ministries, Ralph Drollinger.

The principal mission and activity of Capitol Ministries is the indoctrination of elected government officials (both federal and state) in the application of Drollinger's extremely conservative concepts of “biblical law” to the framing and execution of United States laws and policy.

Activities include regular prayer meetings and Bible study groups. Sponsors/attendees include many senior members of the Trump cabinet: Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.

Prayer meetings and study groups are held in government buildings during working hours (therefore under government sponsorship and at public expense).

Nevertheless, Drollinger steadfastly and improbably maintains that he supports the historic American concepts of “separation of church and state.”

* * *

Drollinger is at pains to assert that his support of Trump's family separation policy is not racist: “To procedurally exclude foreign individuals who might be criminals, traitors, or terrorists, or who possess communicable diseases, is not racist in the least.”

But the overwhelming majority of undocumented migrants who are being arrested at our southwestern border are, in fact, not only people of color but also people of indigenous American ancestry, and they are not being arrested and excluded because they are “criminals, etc.” but simply because they are there without proper entry papers.

To imply that everyone who is being excluded is either of criminal character or infectious, as Drollinger is doing, is textbook racist dog-whistling straight out of the Donald J. Trump playbook. (It is also extremely ironic, given the history of violence and genocide through infectious disease from whites against indigenous peoples throughout the Americas.)

* * *

Drollinger further justifies the separation policy by stating that ”when someone breaks the law of the land [...] they should anticipate that one of the consequences of their illegal behavior will be separation from their children. Such is the case with thieves and murderers who are put in jail.”

This is just more racist dog-whistling, implying that undocumented migrants (of color) are equivalent to thieves and murderers.

The “illegal behavior” Drollinger is talking about, undocumented entry into the country, is certainly not equivalent to murder or even theft. It is neither a violent crime nor a crime against property, but rather a low-level misdemeanor more plausibly equated with non-criminal trespass.

But the false equivalence Drollinger suggests does not end there.

Suppose you were arrested, as a U.S. citizen, for trespass. You would go before a magistrate who speaks your language and be released upon your own recognizance (no bail required), and could immediately return to your home and children.

You would be free to go about your own business, living at home with your children in your home community, with all your personal, family and community resources as support, until your trial.

If you could not afford an attorney, you would be provided one free of charge at public expense.

If convicted and sentenced to time in jail, your children would remain at home or with friends or relatives until your release, and you would be able to maintain contact and to know where your children were at all times during your incarceration.

* * *

Now suppose you are an undocumented Central American migrant arrested for illegal entry.

You are held in a foreign jail more than a thousand miles from home, with no family or community support, under the control of officials who do not necessarily speak your language nor you theirs. (Many indigenous migrants are not even proficient in Spanish.)

There is no home where your children can stay, probably no family or friends to take them in. If your children are taken from you because their presence in jail is not allowed, they may be sent hundreds of miles away or farther, and may be moved from place to place. You will probably have no way to stay in touch with them or to know where they are.

You have no money to hire a lawyer, and when your trial comes you will not be guaranteed and probably will not be provided a public defender. The judge will probably not speak Spanish.

You will have been advised to plead guilty and will do so, because you know that you will then be sentenced to time served. You will be released - on the other side of the border - without your children.

You hope that you will then find some way to get your children back. Your real punishment has just begun - a punishment not even recognized by statute, but which certainly qualifies as “cruel and unusual.”

* * *

But there is a much more serious lack of equivalence here - one that involves an astonishing failure of the most fundamental human capacity for empathy - and that is the failure of people like Drollinger to recognize another point of view: that of the child, who is forcibly removed from her parent, has committed no crime but is being punished even more severely, and with fewer psychic resources to cope with the trauma.

The parent will suffer grief; the child will be scarred emotionally for the rest of her life.

Why is this so difficult for a man like Drollinger to include in his moral calculus? How, especially as a proclaimed “Christian,” can he be so blind to the needs of children?

* * *

There is also a legitimate question as to where the illegality in this situation really lies.

The U.S., along with 144 other nations, has signed and ratified the 1968 Refugee Convention and included its provisions into U.S. statutes. The Convention codifies the rights of refugees and asylum seekers everywhere, and the obligations of signatory nations toward refugees and asylum seekers who present themselves at the nation's borders.

Refugees who present themselves as asylum-seekers on the basis of a credible fear of harm or persecution if returned to their country of origin are guaranteed the right to apply for asylum without being criminally charged for illegal entry regardless of how or where they enter the country.

Family units must be kept together and adjudicated as a unit, and applicants must be granted access to legal counsel.

This is not a one-world conspiracy to destroy U.S. sovereignty; it is a set of rules which our country helped to write and which we adopted and codified into our own statutes of our own free will.

Yet it is now administration policy to physically prevent southern refugees from crossing at border checkpoints to apply for asylum, thereby forcing them to cross at other places.

There, we arrest them and charge them with illegal entry, then forcibly remove their children. Finally, we adjudicate the cases of parents without providing counsel and without including their children.

Who is really breaking the law here?

* * *

So I have preached my little sermon. Now comes the reading from the Bible.

For the treatment of the children: “Then he said unto his disciples, 'It is impossible but that offences should come: but woe to him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.'”

For the treatment of the migrants: “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Inasmuch as ye did it not to the least of these, ye did it not to me.”

And for Donald Trump and all his crew: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.

“When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of lies.”


Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates