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When Donald Trump was separated from his family

In a psychodrama played out on a giant scale at the US border with Mexico, the Trump administration is wrenching immi...

Posted: Jun 18, 2018 10:59 PM
Updated: Jun 18, 2018 10:59 PM

In a psychodrama played out on a giant scale at the US border with Mexico, the Trump administration is wrenching immigrant kids away from their parents and locking them up. Officials explain it as a "zero tolerance" policy for those crossing into America illegally. To me as a biographer of Trump, this is a re-enactment of the President's own childhood trauma, and anecdotal proof that an abusive attitude toward children can be passed from one generation to the next.

The science on intergenerational child abuse is not certain, but some studies do show that kids who were hurt at a tender age may be more likely to become abusive adults. The defining moment in Donald Trump's childhood came when, at 13, he was torn from his family home and sent to a Lord-of-the-Flies military school where, as Trump and some of his schoolmates told me, boys were beaten by grown men and then turned on each other.

When I see images of border agents separating kids and parents I recognize a similar cruelty. Others, who may not know the President's history, recognize a more general kind of meanness:

"...this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart." said former first lady Laura Bush.

"Babies torn from their parents. Can't stand it," said Oprah Winfrey.

"The effect of this type of event will follow these children into adulthood and into their entire lives," said Dr. Ana Maria Lopez, president of the American College of Physicians.

Even if Trump's actions have nothing to do with how he was treated as a child, the policy he and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are enforcing speaks to a President who fails to show the normal degree of empathy we expect of our leaders.

The impact of childhood trauma is well understood by physicians and has been established by many studies. Dr. Nadine Burke Harris's book "The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity" describes the science very well. Of course no one needs a book to explain that hurting kids is wrong. Common sense tells us that pain inflicted on a child can have lasting impact.

Trump falsely claims that Democrats are to blame because they supposedly created a law that forces the separations. No such law exists. Trump's ally, US Senate candidate Joe Arpaio, says blame belongs to the moms and dads who illegally cross the border with their families in tow. Lost on Arpaio and on Sessions, who has quoted the Bible to defend the policy, is the fact that these families are refugees fleeing real danger in their home countries. Desperate to find safety, they undertake dangerous journeys and border crossings in hopes that America will meet them with compassion.

Instead of receiving the care that strangers in need deserve, the immigrant families are enduring the kind of treatment that diminishes America's ability to advocate for human rights around the world. How is a nation that mistreats children in this way going to credibly oppose human rights abuses carried out by regimes abroad? It clearly weakens US credibility in the case of any protest against authoritarian actions in North Korea or the Philippines or Venezuela, to name just three places where America needs to speak up in defense of human rights.

At home the policy foolishly ignores the fact that cruelty can enrage and radicalize victims and bystanders and inspire them to fight back. (Terrorists and criminals are born of this kind of treatment.) It also inflicts a moral trauma on American citizens who want to believe their country stands for something better. How are we supposed to hold in our hearts both the Statue of Liberty and the photos of incarcerated children?

The pain created by the zero-tolerance policy disturbs compassionate Americans because it is abuse inflicted in our name and, since we do not possess the authority to change the policy directly, we feel like powerless bystanders. However some people do have influence on the President and his decisions and here it is helpful to return to the family factor.

With the President who was treated cruelly now abusing children at the border, his wife, first lady Melania Trump, has said that something needs to be done to rectify the situation. I believe it is time for his own offspring to act.

No one in Donald Trump's world is more important and influential than his daughter Ivanka and she has reportedly pursued a pro-family, pro-children agenda. As a child, Ivanka was treated abysmally during her parents' divorce. (Consult the tabloid headlines of the day for evidence.)

By all accounts her own kids are treated with empathy and kindness, which means she has stopped the cycle of poor treatment inside the House of Trump.

Now she has the chance to do something more by speaking directly to the government's abuse of immigrant children and demanding that it stop. Decency requires nothing less.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 608519

Reported Deaths: 9693
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion840461335
Lake45349684
Allen32803548
Hamilton29394315
St. Joseph27380381
Elkhart24404345
Vanderburgh19411249
Tippecanoe17970138
Johnson15069295
Porter14783169
Hendricks14401248
Madison10965221
Vigo10726181
Clark10677144
Monroe9383110
Delaware9116134
LaPorte9065163
Howard8236144
Kosciusko806983
Warrick672999
Hancock6697104
Bartholomew6484100
Floyd6428110
Wayne6136162
Grant5991115
Dubois555579
Boone551168
Morgan541295
Henry507864
Marshall503984
Cass483263
Dearborn479845
Noble473059
Jackson425047
Shelby417581
Lawrence391079
Clinton373043
Gibson370359
Harrison348144
DeKalb347164
Montgomery345754
Knox335639
Miami321444
Steuben313745
Whitley307326
Wabash303251
Adams300936
Ripley298445
Putnam296850
Huntington291659
Jasper289034
White273243
Daviess270474
Jefferson263338
Decatur247683
Fayette247148
Greene239862
Posey239328
Wells236051
LaGrange228862
Scott225339
Clay222532
Randolph213548
Jennings198936
Sullivan192333
Spencer191321
Washington186423
Fountain184027
Starke175443
Jay167623
Owen165737
Fulton164030
Orange159534
Carroll158015
Rush155118
Perry154229
Vermillion149134
Franklin148333
Tipton132332
Parke13078
Pike116926
Blackford111022
Pulaski97037
Newton90921
Brown88035
Benton86610
Crawford7999
Martin73713
Warren6817
Switzerland6615
Union6287
Ohio4907
Unassigned0376

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 859841

Reported Deaths: 10680
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin101171707
Cuyahoga855711125
Hamilton64017448
Montgomery43107418
Summit34836761
Lucas31350625
Butler30973232
Stark25786435
Warren19671140
Lorain19017223
Mahoning17321338
Lake16080154
Clermont15926111
Delaware1438878
Licking13204137
Trumbull12809316
Fairfield1279381
Greene12055137
Medina11591168
Clark10942265
Wood10348158
Allen9897126
Portage9296109
Miami916873
Richland9139118
Marion7459113
Tuscarawas7381182
Columbiana7327124
Pickaway726150
Wayne7034171
Muskingum703141
Erie6152129
Hancock552390
Ross548998
Scioto539164
Geauga508455
Darke470292
Ashtabula453073
Lawrence452654
Union451828
Sandusky436662
Mercer433589
Seneca430166
Huron428741
Auglaize422264
Shelby421222
Jefferson419269
Belmont416840
Washington388740
Athens38009
Putnam374975
Madison355129
Knox352622
Ashland344938
Fulton338443
Defiance330086
Crawford322374
Preble320637
Brown312921
Logan307332
Ottawa293943
Clinton290143
Williams278667
Highland275118
Jackson263845
Guernsey254125
Champaign252028
Fayette236530
Morrow23234
Perry231318
Holmes225474
Henry218749
Hardin213033
Coshocton205622
Van Wert202245
Gallia196726
Wyandot196051
Pike176217
Adams176115
Hocking172024
Carroll155616
Paulding144321
Noble120540
Meigs108624
Monroe100732
Harrison89121
Morgan83130
Vinton70213
Unassigned00
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