We live in deeply silly times. Over the weekend, First Daughter and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump tweeted a photo of herself holding her young son. The normal response to a cute picture like this would be to comment something like, "that's nice" -- or, if you're not a fan of the family, to simply ignore it. But our "normal" politics have become increasingly bizarre and stupid, so naturally the media decided to elevate this photograph into a supposed controversy:
Ivanka's transgression? Sharing a photo of herself hugging her child at the same time that online lefists were raging at her father over immigration policies -- rage that was largely triggered by widely-shared images of illegal immigrant children being detained in cages. Those images were greeted with outrage and disgust, and were circulated as 'proof' of the Trump administration's cruelty. The problem, as many of you already know, is that the pictures (including the "baby prison bus" shot) were taken during the Obama administration (incidentally, setting aside questions about whether ICE even utilizes such vehicles at all, should the federal government not use car seats in order to transport young children as safely as possible? I'm not sure I understand the actual argument here, aside from, "this looks sad").
When this inconvenient fact started to gain traction, tweets and posts suddenly started getting memory-holed. For some, would appear that "infuriating" pictures lost their partisan utility when they could no longer be wielded as a cudgel against President Trump; adding insult to injury, the problem was compounded by making the "good guys" look bad. But because Trump's daughter published a photo with her kid while The Resistance's frenzy du jour was linked to photos taken years ago, her simple act of motherly love was declared "tone deaf" by the usual suspects, with disproportionate coverage devoted to the resulting "backlash:"
Ivanka Trump is facing backlash for posting this photo of herself embracing her 2-year-old son amid reports of families being separated at the Mexican border https://t.co/T7OB9hlqG0 pic.twitter.com/P3GV2kBagR— CNN (@CNN) May 28, 2018
Why "disproportionate," by the way? Because much of the press coverage seems to have been bootstrapped out of stray Twitter objections from random accounts -- almost as if members of the media were looking for virtually any hook with which to justify amplifying the "story" and fueling the fire. Ivanka has responded to the uproar with a follow-up post about ignoring trolls, which seems like a pretty sensible course of action, if she call pull it off. But because the troll armies in this case have enlisted journalists and outlets with large platforms, it's probably worth attempting to separate fact from fiction. To that end, this series of tweets does an important service:
Time for some facts. There are 3 separate immigration stories that are seemingly being conflated by the media & pundits.— (((AG))) (@AG_Conservative) May 28, 2018
Story 1: ACLU report on migrants children being abused.
Story 2: Feds lost track of ~1500 minor immigrants.
Story 3: Separations of families at the border.
Story 2: This is being covered as a scandal, but I do not believe it is one. Essentially thousands of unaccompanied minors were processed and then released to family members or others in the US. When HHS tried to check on them later, ~1500/8000 didn't respond to the survey.— (((AG))) (@AG_Conservative) May 28, 2018
Let's pause right there for a moment. Inhumane treatment or abuses against illegal immigrants are wrong and should be addressed. Yes, detaining and processing large numbers of illegal immigrants (especially children, whose parents have sent them to America to chase rumors of an impending amnesty, which helped drive the unaccompanied minors crisis during Obama's second term) is logistically very difficult and offers few "good" options. We should nevertheless do our best to treat people with dignity, even if they've violated our immigration laws. This does not look like our best, to put it mildly, even if just a fraction of those allegations are true. But preening expressions of concern over any abuses is exposed as pure hackery when it abruptly evaporates in light of revelations that the "wrong" political party might be to blame. As to the second point above, the Department of Homeland Security has issued a statement pushing back against a lazy narrative regarding the non-scandal of "lost" children:
HHS puts out a statement on 1,500 un-accounted for immigrant children: "These children are not 'lost'" pic.twitter.com/CmIBW9mxlM— Sam Stein (@samstein) May 29, 2018
That's...quite a different set of facts than what some breathless headlines would suggest. As for the third discrete story, the Trump administration is simply implementing existing policy more widely than before, following the Justice Department's recent announcement of zero-tolerance prosecutions of illegal border crossers. Families were sometimes separated under previous administrations, but that outcome is now much more likely to occur under the new enforcement regime. Part of this is by design: Team Trump wants the prospect of being prosecuted and separated from one's children to serve as a deterrent that stops adults from choosing to enter the country illegally. I do not relish the thought of families being broken up by federal agents (this should especially be avoided for bona fide asylum-seekers), and I recognize that immigration policy can be quite complicated and messy as it plays out 'on the ground.' But "this is not who we are" table-pounding over the "heartlessness" of separating family members through stricter enforcement of US law too often sounds like an offer of blind moral absolution to adults who make conscious decisions to violate American sovereignty. Illegal immigrants, no matter how well-intentioned, are breaking our laws.
They should bear responsibility for their unlawful actions, for which there must be consequences. We can debate whether breaking up families is a moral, just, or effective imposition of those consequences, but some of the most heated rhetoric wrongly flips the scales of blame onto the US government officials who are seeking to uphold the nation's duly-passed laws. And what undoubtedly further pollutes our dysfunctional debate about our dysfunctional immigration system is the hyperbolic conflation of distinct issues, mixed with selective ideological outrage. I'll leave you with a reminder that the true villain in all of this is Ivanka Trump. Because that simple idea fits neatly into a little box that people can process without thinking too hard, and signal their sufficiently-fuming virtue accordingly.