No, this is not about President Trump. At least not directly.
It is instead about you and Rachel Maddow.
I have had the pleasure to meet Rachel and speak with her in relatively unguarded circumstances. We are not friends in any sense of the word, but she has deep trust for a mutual friend, and I am the beneficiary of being in that orbit.
Rachel is an intensely private person outside of her work on MSNBC. I will reveal nothing about her private life other than to say she is animated by the life of the mind (she is very smart) and football (but the wrong team). That is to say that, as much as is possible on national television, what you see on MSNBC is genuine. You may agree with her or disagree with her, but within the limits of human fallibility, she is without pretense. She says what she thinks, based on informed opinions, and she expresses what she feels.
One evening this week, she was handed a breaking news story at the end of her program. Reading it, she appeared overwhelmed by the words. The Trump administration had acknowledged the existence of “tender age” holding facilities for infants and toddlers who had been separated from their families at the southern border of the United States. According to the report, rooms filled with crying children were being administered by contract staff in at least three locations. Rachel Maddow could not complete reading the alert aloud; she was in tears.
Now comes the part about you.
What would you choose to tweet if you saw those fifty-three seconds of television? Would you have been overwhelmed by the same emotions and therefore expressed some measure of empathy or appreciation? Or would you have tweeted a disparaging comment, either about her bleeding heart or her lack of understanding of the necessity for this policy?
Friends, this challenge is not about Republicans and Democrats, about Resisters and Trumpsters, about rule-of-law or give-me-your tired-your-poor. This is about those with empathy and those without. If you found reason for a broken heart in this vignette, whatever you feel about our current policy enforcement, there is hope for you. Children separated from their parents forcibly by people in uniform are in a tragic and regrettable situation. Even if it is necessary (remember, we are not debating that) it is always regrettable.
If your heart cannot break for a child, no matter the context, then hope for you may be a distant dream. I know that’s a harsh statement, but it is no less true for its iciness. Use whatever cliché you choose – the milk of human kindness, parental instinct, an ounce of compassion. If it is not stirred within you but you instead see “child actors” or make sad trumpet sounds, then you are on the wrong side of human worth. You should not be entrusted with a public forum or the authority to make public policy. You are willing to sacrifice genuine innocence for personal gratification. And it seems to me that is the very definition of child abuse.
No matter the outcome of this sorry episode in American history, it is a defining moment. Whether you support walls and arrests and deportations, or you support open borders and welfare provision, if you view the children separated involuntarily from parents or custodians as cruel and condemnable, then you stand on one side of the real divide in this country. If you view the separation as part of the kabuki of politics or the necessary price we pay to shield our native children from these criminals-in-waiting, then you stand on the other side – the wrong side, the side with a significant empathy deficiency.
Watch this video from Rachel Maddow’s show (again) and decide what would go up on your Twitter account.
You are what you tweet.