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A No-Win Confrontation

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

By the start of the week, the Trump administration's degenerate-satanic-jackbooted-sieg heil policy of detaching from their parents the children of captured illegal border-crossers was taking on water and listing amidships: a failure of what they call "optics," which means the way things look, in politics most of all. You don't do things your political opponents can sell to the voters as degenerate, satanic and the rest of it. Thus prospects multiply for an early rethinking of the present policy.


Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, afforded an instance of the rhetorical possibilities sprouting from too much diligence in guarding your national borders. "Ripping children out of their parents' arms to inflict harm on the child to influence the parents is unacceptable," said Merkley.

"Cruel" was Laura Bush's word, in a column written for The Washington Post. Melania Trump herself drew back from the spectacle in dismay and disarray, saying in a formal statement she "hates to see children separated from their families"; accordingly, she urges "successful immigration reform."

Wouldn't that be nice, however improbable it seems when the border control optics trump, as it were, the idea of nationhood as a thing hardly less valuable than the unity of families fleeing... whatever it is they are fleeing when they attempt to cross the U.S. border.

Poverty, political chaos, gangs, homelessness, hopelessness: such are the motives for northward travel as a strategy for survival. No American looks on this without, at the very least, some twinges of sympathy. "I was a stranger, and ye took me in," said the Son of God, in a hypothetical way, regarding Christian duty.

The matter is hard all the same -- optics or no optics. There are, in my judgment, valid arguments for and against laxity on immigration, depending on what you mean by "laxity."

It needs to be emphasized that an illegal entrant into the United States brings no rights with him. He is a petitioner, an entreater, a suitor, dependent on the kindness of strangers, in the words Tennessee Williams gave to Blanche DuBois.


Kindness is a great human virtue -- an extraordinary human virtue. It adorns the personal and, often enough, the cultural sphere. But government has large fish to fry on behalf of 330 million people. In our fallen world (Genesis 3:14-19), a kind action is not a reflexive action, as our leaders, representing whatever political arrangement, regularly tell us.

The unkindness of "ripping children out of their parents' arms" -- as Sen. Merkley would put it -- grows from the generally recognized, rarely acted-upon perception that you can't have much of a nation if anyone can just kind of come here. You have to have rules. The rules, once you have them, must be enforced -- preferably according to a common appreciation of other people's worth. Which is no easy game to play.

Our sympathies, it seems to me, properly belong on both sides of the present argument -- with children bereft of parents, with authorities trying to enforce the law for the general, not the individual, good.

I see I am arguing for compromise. Holy moly! Compromise? Who is going to do that? And according to what premises, what suppositions about the national good in an era when cheap transport and an old-fashioned desire to flee lousy conditions make immigration to the West, including Canada and Europe, an international cause?

Some strong and persuasive vetting of prospective immigrants is manifestly in order, if our institutions and national spirit are to fly on like the red, white and blue. Also in order is recognition that America's shrinking workforce needs more workers -- and many more contributors, if I may be brutally frank, to Social Security and Medicare.


Deep down, most Republicans and Democrats surely take aboard these seemingly opposed considerations. They just can't say so, being obliged by the politics of the moment to tear out each other's throats. Where, then, does this thing go -- this thing that isn't about children ripped from parents' arms but is about, in a large and formless way, human destiny, and what kind of country we hope to be 50 years hence? There are no winners in this cause at present.

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