Thanks to President Trump and his administration, we now know of one thing that will definitely get a majority of Americans outraged. If we forcibly separate breast-feeding babes from their mothers, take others away from their parents and not tell the tell the moms and dads where their children are being housed, put some of those children in cages where they are supervised by other children and send others to prisonlike homes where caretakers are forbidden to hug weeping boys and girls, a majority will agree this is wrong and needs to be stopped at once.
But it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Trump thought Americans would put up with the awfulness at the border. When it comes to how children and families in this country are treated, we’ve spent the better part of the past several decades proclaiming concern and devotion for their welfare while making their lives harder and more difficult.
American society has example after example of how we honor children and their parents more in the breach than the observance. Mother’s Day may be all but a secular day of worship, yet the United States does not require that new mothers receive paid maternity leave, a distinction we share with Papua New Guinea. The benefits of breast-feeding are promoted with almost cultlike fervor, never mind the fact that 25 percent of new mothers are back on the job within two weeks because we lack paid leave. Busybodies make a show of calling the police on parents who allow children to walk to school alone or leave them alone in cars for a few moments so they can run a brief errand while not saying a word about the fact that child-care costs are increasing at almost double the rate of inflation. Surveys routinely find 1 in 3 mothers experience financial difficulties affording diapers for their children. Last year, a Brookings Institution study found that 1 in 6 children lived in a household that experienced food insecurity at least once over the course of 2105. Tens of thousands of children have gone missing from the foster care system since 2000, with little expressed by way of concern.
Education? We claim we can make education equal and excellent for all with school choice plans that favor the wealthy and connected. We decry our middling showing on international comparisons — and then allow teacher pay to fall relative to their equally well-educated peers. State funding for colleges and universities has fallen dramatically, one reason behind the staggering increase in college tuition and rise in the equally staggering amounts of student debt burdening millions of young adults and their families. One popular response to school shootings? Shelter in place drills — for kindergartners.
And no one gets it worse than minority children. In 2016, 12 percent of white children lived in poverty — as did 28 percent of Latino kids and 34 percent of African Americans under the age of 18. School segregation is on the rise again. Three times as many African American children test positive for lead poisoning than others and they are significantly more likely to die of asthma if they suffer from it than their white peers. African American children are thought to be older than they are by those in authority positions, with the result they are more likely to be disciplined by schools and police alike.
Our politics reflects our almost inhuman ability to tolerate making children — especially poor and minority children — take it on the chin again and again. Republicans say they are protecting children’s health care — and then Trump proposes a budget that cuts the budget for CHIP, the plan that pays for children’s health care when their parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to actually pay for health insurance. While a majority of Americans say they support creating a path to citizenship or permanent residency for people brought to this country without proper documentation or permission as children, Trump first turned the 800,000 “dreamers” into a political football, and now is turning migrant children into hostages to get Congress to vote for his preferred immigration reforms, which just happen to involve building a wall at the border. In neither case is the president likely to pay a long-term political price — he hasn’t so far, which is why he can keep upping the ante. For all the attention being paid to the migrant children how, the truth is the U.S. government decided to implement this policy in April. It took weeks for it to become a national issue.
That’s how it goes in economically mean and unforgiving climates. People spend all their time worrying about their own, to the exclusion of most everything and everyone else. When it comes to parenting, book after book is written decrying the state of affairs, but nothing changes.
Until recently, that is. The outcry over the horrifying, traumatic treatment of the migrant children is yet another sign times we are entering a different era. This year alone the school massacre in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 students and teachers dead ignited marches and school walkouts from coast to coast. At the same time, teachers in states such as West Virginia defied their leadership and stayed off the job till the raise they sought was guaranteed.
As for the mistreated undocumented children, an unlikely coalition is developing opposing their inhumane treatment. Even conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly agrees with Hillary Clinton: “The Trump administration will not win on this one and should reverse course today,” he wrote Monday on Twitter. “Innocent children are actually suffering.”
Enough is enough. Children need to be treated with love, humanity and respect, not as pawns in a political play. That’s something — finally — this divided country can agree on.