Here’s a helpful tip for any nation. If you’re leaders and citizens engage in a debate about whether the places you are holding asylum–seekers and refugees are ‘technically’ concentration camps or not, you’ve already lost. Unsurprisingly, this is exactly what has recently been taking place in Trump’s America, in response to an ever–worsening manufactured crisis on its southern border with Mexico. As Trump’s border minions and the yes–men of Trumps Department of Homeland Security do what they can to make a bad situation worse, by denying due process for those in need, separating families, and placing adults and children in unsanitary and inhumane conditions, the typical battle lines have been drawn. In one corner, Trump’s supporters (and those who quietly agree with him) perfectly happy to defend any heinous situation wrought by their President, so long as the suffering is applied with zero–focus to ‘Illegals’ or ‘Aliens’. On the other, those who are rightly disgusted by these developments, millions of whom took to the streets across America this past week in protest. But, as with most things in American politics, a wall of obfuscation was put up by all sides to make getting to the root of the problem, not impossible, but much harder.
To begin with, popular congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio–Cortez joined many critics of events at the border, calling the facilities housing these people concentration camps. Then, the likes of Liz Cheney rallied to the defense of the inhumane border facilities, and insisted they were not in fact concentration camps. This led, inevitably, to a media–wide obsession with what these places should be named. For days, newscasts brought on competing pundits to debate the accuracy of the term concentration camp, and whether it applies to this place where children are kept in cages. Tough question, Chuck! Let’s parse it out for 72 hours shall we?
Often, proximity is what makes Americans care about something. It also fashions how it is they care about that thing. The humanitarian crisis that has long been unfolding in parts of Central America? Largely, Americans can go about their day unconcerned about such a thing. When the people affected by that crisis show up at America’s doorstep? Well, now we have a situation on our hands. Those who decry the camps and deliriously insist that this is Not The America They Know, are as completely delusional as the most rabid Trump/ICE fan cheering on the drowning of parents and children trying to cross bodies of water in an attempt to escape danger. The trick is this: keep the issue itself contained in a cage, separate it from the family of problems created in large part by American involvement in Latin America, and go to battle over the optics and the language at play in this specific place and time. Children in cages? Those from the #resistance just Never Though They’d See The Day. Oh really? Have you been living under a rock all this time?
This is not to suggest we should not be describing these dehumanizing places as concentration camps. They absolutely are concentration camps. It’s that not only is that so obvious, but that wasting time with people arguing against the term in the worst faith is utterly pointless. It only serves to muddy the waters, to put another obstacle between the root of the issue and the discussion that is had about what is happening and why. In terms of what this label does in any tangible sense, it is likely very little. Anybody who is willing to see these concentration camps as they are, will surely be moved to voice opposition to them regardless of their accepted title. If they aren’t, then they’re not really interested in seeing what is going on, rather they are simply using this inhumanity to point out how bad the likes of Trump indeed are. The fact that these are concentration camps and the fact that Trump is cruel are equally as obvious. The only question that needs to be dealt with is how to stop this from continuing.
To do so, one most move beyond the time–consuming obfuscations, one must stop bothering with those acting in bad faith, and instead find a way to move the public to the reality of why this has unfolded, and that the only possible way to even begin remedy this is to force America into a genuine accounting for its behaviour in lands foreign and domestic. Until then, this distancing from the reality of the situation will continue, and the ineffectual battle over how to describe a thing will only serve to make sure that those who use such obfuscation for their own ends will remain the ones with the power. V