Opinion | It’s the Cruelty, Stupid


There are tanks in the nation’s capital and concentration camps on its border. The slide of this nation into a nearly unrecognizable state continues unabated. Donald Trump is recreating America in his own image: an abominable one.

He brags about trading valentines with the ruthless North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, saying at a political rally in September:

“I was really being tough. And so was he. And we’d go back and forth. And then we fell in love, O.K.? No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters. And they’re great letters. We fell in love. But you know what? Now they’ll say: ‘Donald Trump said they fell in love. How horrible. How horrible is that? So unpresidential.’”

According to Human Rights Watch, North Korea under Kim not only “restricts all civil and political liberties, including freedom of expression, assembly, association and religion,” it systematically extracts “forced, unpaid labor from its citizens,” and “women in North Korea suffer a range of sexual and gender-based abuses” that include “rape and other sexual violence and torture in detention facilities, sexual exploitation, or forced marriage of North Korean women in China, and sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination.”

And this says nothing of the hundreds of people Kim is thought to have had executed since coming to power in 2011.

Why does the American president have such an affinity, a fetish even, for the world’s dictators while at the same time spurning many of America’s traditional allies? And how does this turn to the darkness reposition this country in the annals of history?

I believe that it speaks to a blindness, or more precisely, an indifference to cruelty. This also crops up in domestic policy, where the indifference is particularly acute when those who suffer are somehow other: black or brown, female or trans, Muslim or migrant.

How else could this administration have executed for so long its zero-tolerance approach to family separation of immigrants and asylum seekers? I don’t believe in open borders, but I do believe in humane borders. I do not believe that a parent seeking asylum — which is still legal in this country, it bears repeating — should have a child ripped from his or her arms. I don’t believe that people — including children — should be caged like animals and deprived of basic human necessities and basic human dignity.

What is happening at our border is unconscionable, a violation of basic human rights, a complete moral violation. And yet the president on Thursday will make a mockery of the country’s freedom celebration by turning it into a muscle-flexing political pep rally.

Trump will likely spend millions on his vanity spectacle just weeks after his administration argued in court that immigrant children didn’t need to be provided soap and toothbrushes.

Stop thinking that this is only about partisanship or polarization. It’s the cruelty, stupid. It has always been about cruelty: racial cruelty, gender cruelty, religious cruelty. It has always been about bending the rest of America, the rest of reality, really, into subordination to the white supremacist patriarchy.

If the emerging culture of the world has to be put under boot for the established culture to maintain power, so be it. This is the white supremacist mantra; this is the Trump message.

Trump cares nothing about the suffering of racial minorities here — other than to increase the pain — nor does he care about the suffering of nonwhite people abroad.

There is a through line in Trump behavior, and it runs directly through his perception of white cultural dominance.

There, I said it. And I’m going to continue to say it.

I know that this may read as redundant. I worry about as much every time I begin to write. But I also know that history is sitting in judgment, that when this dark era draws to a close, an accounting must be made, a record made. None of us will be immune.

The questions will come without room for equivocation or adjustment: Where were you when the bodies floated in the Rio Grande? What did you say when this president bragged about assaulting women and defended men accused of doing the same? What was your reaction when he saw very good people among the Nazis? Where was your outrage when thousands died in Puerto Rico?

What did you do? What did you say? And for others in my profession, what did you write?

I plan to say, or have my work say, that I never faltered, that it never became normal to me, that my heart bled as well as my pen.

What will you say?

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