Staying Engaged & Finding Focus

There is so much news it’s hard to focus. And, it’s hard to maintain focus. But, let’s be honest, this is just part of the strategy: distraction and disinformation. Part of my #30daysofaction is a resistance to the chaos of the current administration. By focusing on one issue – family separation and the plight of asylum seekers at the US/Mexico border – I’m trying to cut down on the distortion. Maintaining that focus is difficult. I wrote last week about the emotional struggle to stay deeply engaged in the human rights abuses of this government and recognize that they are being done in my name, with my tax dollars, and with the silent consent of so many Americans. But, it’s also hard to dig in deeply because other issues should also demand my attention.

Even if I overlook the minute to minute coverage of the Mueller investigation and recent set of indictments and the Congressional battle with the FBI, I am still compelled to consider the impact of Holocaust memory around the world, the failure of postwar norms, from the standards of Human Rights to the possible collapse of Western political alliances. For these issues alone, the last two weeks have been rough: Claude Lanzmann died; Trump threatened to pull out of NATO and decried immigration as the end of culture; the Israeli Prime Minister supported Holocaust revisionism in a statement that had to be rebuked by Yad Vashem; and a Holocaust denier is on the ballot in the Bay Area.

So, by way of processing the chaos of the moment and to reflect on my own engagement in the past 2 weeks, here’s what I’ve been reading and listening to. And, because it remains essential, below are a few points of inspiration and optimism.

Reminder: The Migrant Family Separation Crisis IS NOT OVER. Stay loud, stay angry.

To catch up and keep track of the numbers, read this article from Elle Magazine. It’s a reminder that the deadline for reuniting young children with their parents has passed and that only half of the children were reunited. If the government did such a bad job with a small number of children, how will they manage to reunite thousands more?!

Sady Doyle, “The Trump Administration Wants You to Think the Migrant Family Separation Crisis Is Over. It Isn’t.Elle Magazine

“Anna Tarkov, Media and Communications Director of Families Belong Together, says that immigration advocates expect the second deadline to be blown just like the first. She attributes the mess of reunification to the Trump administration’s sheer disregard for the human cost of its policies.

‘The administration, by its own admission, never intended to reunify these families,” Tarkov says. “[There] was no system in place whatsoever to reunify these families and a number of parents have already been deported while their children remain in the US. I haven’t seen this stated as plainly as it should be anywhere in the media coverage of this crisis: the Trump Administration ripped children from their families and had no intention of returning them.’”


MUST READ: A bold, honest, and biting editorial from the Salt Lake City Tribune  

Tribune editorial: “Our treatment of refugee children is a national disgrace

Among other incredibly straight forward statements, the editorial states: “It can be hard for normal people to grasp that their own government — and its individual agents, officers and attorneys — is involved in a heartless and brainless effort to visit so much deliberate cruelty upon asylum-seeking families. We are separating the children from the parents, depositing them in different places, apparently in sometimes squalid, frightening and sealed-off facilities, expecting children as young as 1 year old to explain themselves and their situation in court and not allowing members of Congress or other independent overseers to check up on what is happening…If you want to make people believe a lie, the experts taught us, make it big.”

Not enough? Hang on for this: “This is the kind of behavior that, when carried out by non-superpowers, gets people hauled before the International Criminal Court or some special war crimes tribunal.” Most damning is their recognition that all we can hope for is action from congress who has chosen not to act.


Contemporary events need not be Auschwitz to find meaning in Holocaust History. History matters. But, let’s resist the urge to simplify.

Despite the ongoing debate about whether we should be using the Holocaust as a meaningful reference for our current political and human rights atrocities, the history of Nazi Germany remains valuable. Current events need not be directly analogous to the past to make this historical period relevant. In a recent interview, Richard J. Evans, the author of The Third Reich in History and Memory (among other books about Nazi Germany), notes that “it’s very dangerous simply to think in historical parallels.” Nonetheless, a nuanced and thoughtful engagement with history can reveal “echoes” that help us better understand the potential consequences of our contemporary world.

Isaac Chotiner, “Democracy Dies in a Variety of Ways,” Slate

The entire interview is worth a read, but I’m struck, in particular, by two things he says – one, that in many ways the Right wing political leaders of today are in many ways more legitimate than Hitler because they were elected “by majorities of the electorate who approve of their policies.” Evans states: “We have to deal with the situation as it is now, and we have to recognize that democracy dies in a variety of different ways, and it’s not going to die in a coup d’état or through the use of mass violence on the streets. One of the problems, perhaps the fundamental problem of democracy today, is that the mass of the electorate, millions of people in the electorate, are disillusioned. Hitler only ever achieved 37.4 percent of the vote in a free election, but Erdogan, Orbán, and the Polish government, for example, have been elected by majorities of the electorate who approve of their policies. I know Trump lost the popular vote, but he was elected when it was clear that he was no friend of democracy. So that’s the situation we have to deal with. And that is: In some ways, democracy is dying bit by bit. It’s not going to be overwhelmed in some kind of violent seizure of power that happens in a few months.”

And, two, the global nature of his analysis that traces echoes of fascism in today’s right wing political leaders. We must continue to view Trump and Trumpism alongside political movements in Hungary, Poland and elsewhere: “The warning signs now will be different from the warning signs then…If you want to look for warning signs in a leading politician, then that’s easy. You can say contempt for the judiciary and an assault on the independence of the judiciary, and the belief that government can control it, and government is above the law. You can see the warning sign when a leader wants to close down a free press, and that’s already happened to a large extent in Hungary. Opposition newspapers have been closed. The same thing happens in Putin’s Russia. And Mr. Trump has declared his hostility toward the press, but he doesn’t have the means to do it. He’s not able to close down the Washington Post or the New York Times as the Nazis closed down newspapers. You can see it in irresponsible and aggressive nationalist belligerence in foreign policy. Again, Hitler did not believe in international institutions. He got Germany out of the League of Nations. He regarded international treaties as pieces of paper that would be torn up when he wanted to. And again, you can see in Mr. Trump a certain amount of contempt for international institutions and the belief that America should leave them.”


When did Lawyers become the front line of the resistance? 

Gabe Cahn, “Being an Immigration Attorney in the Age of Trump
A story about one immigration lawyer racing to protect one client. In the face of so many asylum cases, this one story reveals the difficulty of navigating the system and the power of lawyers to act creatively. “For anyone who practices immigration law, and in particular Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, this case shows the power of creative, rebellious lawyering,” said Megan Jordi Brody, HIAS’ managing attorney. “In this new world of immigration law,” she continued, “attorneys are having to make some really creative arguments on behalf of their minor clients.”


And, some inspiration:

Julie Orringer, “What Alec Baldwin Taught My Son about Political Activism,” NYT
In Brooklyn, one mom finds a way to talk to her kid about our world and why our voices matter. It’s a reminder that what we say matters, so are we saying what we want other people to hear?