By now we are all familiar with phrases like “zero tolerance,” “tender-age prisons” and “reunification.”
They have become part of our lexicon thanks to another blunder by our serial philandering president. Our ever-vigilant press has covered this story in great detail along with sickening photos of detention centers and the sounds of wailing children crying out for their parents. But here is where Trump and his Attorney General miscalculated; they did not realize the power of motherhood — the primordial instinct of women to protect their young.
So, we had all former First Ladies speaking out as well as
Mrs. Trump’s visit to Texas. All of this aside, there is another aspect of this inhumane debacle I wish to explore.
Each time I heard the “zero tolerance” argument, it was followed by “the law is the law.”
It is immutable because we are a nation of laws and cannot cherry pick which ones we enforce and which we ignore. I was not convinced by the president’s repeated claims that the MS-13 gang was taking over our streets, but I thought long and hard about how to counter the fact that crossing the border illegally is a crime.
Then, I remembered Victor Hugo’s brilliant novel “Les Miserables.”
This is the story of Jean Valjean who served 19 years in prison for having stolen a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child. When he breaks his parole, Valjean is relentlessly pursued by police Inspector Javert.
Javert’s character simply believed that good people obey the laws and bad people don’t.” Hugo informs us that rather than creating a character who is simply villainous, Javert is complex and misguided. His pursuit of justice is monomaniacal.
There is a fanaticism which does not allow justice to be tempered by mercy. I have previously written about “absolutism” and “relativism.”
Javert exemplifies all the flaws of absolutist thinking. It does not allow for exceptions or nuance.
In agreement with Hugo, John Dewey wrote that he was a “consistent relativist.” Because Javert was inflexible and comes to question the precepts which guided his entire life, he commits suicide at the end of the novel.
This lesson was not learned by Trump whose executive order led only to more confusion while the president continued to talk about border security and building the wall.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions quoted the Bible in support of “zero tolerance.”
He pointed to the Apostle Paul, Romans 13, who said that we “should obey the laws of the government.”
This led to over 600 United Methodist clergy and lay members bringing charges of “immorality” and “child abuse” against the A.G.
There is an argument in Washington D.C. as to whether Trump’s foibles are due to incompetence or malevolence.
I like to credit the president with a little of each.
Dr. Hal Sobel