“This is not who we are.” Americans are saying this about the forced separation of children from their migrant parents at the border with Mexico. They said it about torture. Yet we keep doing these horrible things over and over again. So it isn’t really true. These horrible acts are exactly who we are.
Originally published at Breaking Modern:
Like most children, I grew up in a house without a chimney or fireplace. This made the Santa myth, which relies on a child’s unawareness of the size of the earth and its population, immediately less credible. How did the jolly fat guy gain access to our home, I questioned my mother?
No answer. I could see the wheels turning.
“He couldn’t possibly fit down the flue? Could he?” I tried to help.
I opened the utility closet. The pipe from the central heater and air conditioning convection unit to the ceiling was about six inches in diameter. Santa ferret?
Mom gave up. (If this convo happened today, she could have ordered a prevarification aid like Santa’s Magical House Key.)
Anyway, mom sat me down and confessed the truth: there’s no Santa, just a 10th-century Nordic myth. There was a reason, after all, that gifts labeled “from Santa” shared the same distinct handwriting as my mom’s.
When I tell this story to friends who are parents, they react with horror. “How awful! She deprived you of your imagination! Didn’t she want you to enjoy your childhood?” That point of view is represented by a 2010 essay in the San Francisco Chronicle: “All these childhood myths serve a brilliant purpose: a gentle way for kids to learn well-intended parents are not always reliable sources of truth.”
A 2012 Slate piece argues that not every lie is created equal: “First: Let go of any guilt you have about duping your kids. Santa belongs in the ‘good lie’ pile because parents invoke him for their kids’ sake; bad lies are the ones parents use to deflect blame or avoid responsibility—we can’t go to the playground today because it’s closed, when really, you’re just too lazy to get off the couch.”
I come down on the exact opposite side: A lie is a lie is a lie.
My mother’s decision to tell the truth about the Christmas myth is something for which I will be grateful my entire life. It certainly doesn’t seem to have negatively impacted my imagination: I’m a successful cartoonist and an excellent storyteller. But it did establish at an early age that I could count on my mother to tell me the unvarnished, honest truth. I knew, for many years following that incident, that I could count upon her for a no bullshit view of the world. It strengthened my trust in her, and therefore in my love for her. It was definitely a win-win.
While other parents kept lying to their elementary school-aged and even older children, especially about sex, my mother replied to my question about the birds and the bees by taking down her college biology book and showing what went in where and what happened after that.
Don’t get me wrong. My mother and I didn’t have a perfect relationship. Breaches of faith opened up between us. Mostly, however, this occurred not when my mom tried to protect me from some kind of unpleasant truth, but when she tried to bullshit me.
Never lie to someone unless you are sure you will get away with it.
For whatever reason, my mom tried to blow smoke up my tuckus more when I was a teenager and therefore even less likely to fall for bullshit – especially since she had already made the “mistake” of teaching me critical thinking and reading between the lines. Suddenly God, previously an abstraction, was marketed to me as a real, living entity who knew everything that I was up to and would punish me if I did wrong.
Definitely a mistake to try this bigger version of the Santa myth on me. I remember thinking to myself, “wow, she really thinks I’m stupid. I don’t know why I would confide in her. And when I experienced teen crises – sex, drugs, depression, academic problems – I became less likely to confide or share.
You don’t need to be a psychologist specializing in early childhood to know that trust creates the strongest bond between humans. Whether it’s a friend or a parent, think about it: as an adult, you believe in people whom you can count upon to give it to you straight.
Children aren’t stupider than adults. They’re certainly more observant. Don’t insult their intelligence.
And don’t worry about stifling their imagination.
“The Santa Lie…does not actually promote imagination or imaginative play,” William Irwin and David Kyle Johnson write in Psychology Today. “Imagination involves pretending, and to pretend that something exists, one has to believe that thing doesn’t exist. Does the Christian “imagine” that Jesus rose from the dead? Does the Muslim “imagine” that Muhammed’s rode his horse Barack (Al Boraq) at lightening speed from Mecca to Jerusalem and then assended into heaven? Of course not; they believe these things are true. Tricking a child into literally believing that Santa exists doesn’t encourage imagination, it actually stifles it. If you really want to encourage imagination in your children, tell them that Santa doesn’t exist, but that you are going to pretend like he does anyway on Christmas morning.”
This Christmas season, don’t give in to the temptation of signing off on a ridiculously transparent lie that will begin to undermine your relationship with your child. Tell her the truth. She can take it. She’ll love you more for it.
Possible GOP Presidential candidate Marco Rubio, whose father entered the US illegally, says the US is full up, that there just isn’t any room left in the US for new immigrants, including the children arriving at the border with Mexico. But when you actually consider how much space there is in the country, that’s obviously untrue.
If you’re reading this, you probably follow the news. So you’ve probably heard of the latest iteration of the “crisis at the border”: tens of thousands of children, many of them unaccompanied by an adult, crossing the desert from Mexico into the United States, where they surrender to the Border Patrol in hope of being allowed to remain here permanently. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention and hearing system has been overwhelmed by the surge of children and, in some cases, their parents. The Obama Administration has asked Congress to approve new funding to speed up processing and deportations of these illegal immigrants.
Even if you’ve followed this story closely, you probably haven’t heard the depressing backstory — the reason so many Central Americans are sending their children on a dangerous thousand-mile journey up the spine of Mexico, where they ride atop freight trains, endure shakedowns by corrupt police and face rapists, bandits and other predators. (For a sense of what it’s like, check out the excellent 2009 film “Sin Nombre.”)
NPR and other mainstream news outlets are parroting the White House, which blames unscrupulous “coyotes” (human smugglers) for “lying to parents, telling them that if they put their kids in the hands of traffickers and get to the United States that they will be able to stay.” True: the coyotes are saying that in order to gin up business. Also true: U.S. law has changed, and many of these kids have a strong legal case for asylum. Unfortunately, U.S. officials are ignoring the law.
The sad truth is that this “crisis at the border” is yet another example of “blowback.”
Blowback is an unintended negative consequence of U.S. political, military and/or economic intervention overseas — when something we did in the past comes back to bite us in the ass. 9/11 is the classic example; arming and funding radical Islamists in the Middle East and South Asia who were less grateful for our help than angry at the U.S.’ simultaneous backing for oppressive governments (The House of Saud, Saddam, Assad, etc.) in the region.
More recent cases include U.S. support for Islamist insurgents in Libya and Syria, which destabilized both countries and led to the murders of U.S. consular officials in Benghazi, and the rise of ISIS, the guerilla army that imperils the U.S.-backed Maliki regime in Baghdad, respectively.
Confusing the issue for casual American news consumers is that the current border crisis doesn’t involve the usual Mexicans traveling north in search of work. Instead, we’re talking about people from Central American nations devastated by a century of American colonialism and imperialism, much of that intervention surprisingly recent. Central American refugees are merely transiting through Mexico.
“The unaccompanied children crossing the border into the United States are leaving behind mainly three Central American countries, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The first two are among the world’s most violent and all three have deep poverty, according to a Pew Research report based on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) information,” reports NBC News. “El Salvador ranked second in terms of homicides in Latin America in 2011, and it is still high on the list. Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are among the poorest nations in Latin America. Thirty percent of Hondurans, 17 percent of Salvadorans and 26 percent of Guatemalans live on less than $2 a day.”
The fact that Honduras is the biggest source of the exodus jumped out at me. That’s because, in 2009, the United States government — under President Obama — tacitly supported a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras. “Washington has a very close relationship with the Honduran military, which goes back decades,” The Guardian noted at the time. “During the 1980s, the US used bases in Honduras to train and arm the Contras, Nicaraguan paramilitaries who became known for their atrocities in their war against the Sandinista government in neighbouring Nicaragua.”
Honduras wasn’t paradise under President Manuel Zelaya. Since the coup, however, the country has entered a downward death spiral of drug-related bloodshed and political revenge killings that crashed the economy, brought an end to law, order and civil society, and now has some analysts calling it a “failed state” along the lines of Somalia and Afghanistan during the 1990s.
“Zelaya’s overthrow created a vacuum in security in which military and police were now focused more on political protest, and also led to a freeze in international aid that markedly worsened socio-economic conditions,” Mark Ungar, professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York, told The International Business Times. “The 2009 coup, asserts [Tulane] professor Aaron Schneider, gave the Honduran military more political and economic leverage, at the same time as the state and political elites lost their legitimacy, resources and the capacity to govern large parts of the country.”
El Salvador and Guatemala, also narcostates devastated by decades of U.S. support for oppressive, corrupt right-wing dictatorships, are suffering similar conditions.
Talk about brass! The United States does it everything it can to screw up Central America — and then acts surprised when desperate people show up at its front gate trying to escape the (U.S.-caused) carnage. Letting the kids stay — along with their families — is less than the least we could do.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
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Hands down, the most asked question asked of political cartoonists is: where do you get your ideas?
To which my first reply is usually some variant of “if you have trouble coming up with complaints about politicians or politics, this probably isn’t the right job for you.” Coming up with ideas, or at least topics, has never been an issue for me or any other professional cartoonist I know.
Like other artists, editorial cartoonists use their outlet to work out their issues in public. Most people get annoyed at the president and other political types. The difference between other people and we cartoonists is that, rather than random grousing over beers, we labor under the illusion that we can actually change things (yes, by drawing funny pictures…so we’re delusional. Whatever.).
Sometimes our cartoons reflect our visceral personal reactions to a news story. This week’s cartoon is an example.
When I first heard news accounts of people in Murrieta, California gathering to block federal government buses transporting women and children detained for entering the United States illegally from entering the town, I assumed the protesters were advocates for the immigrants — well-meaning liberals protesting the shabby treatment, such as being held in prisons for up to two years while awaiting deportation hearings, in inhumane conditions and often without adequate legal representation, suffered by people fleeing economic hardship and rampant crime in Central America and elsewhere.
Upon further investigation, however, I learned that the protesters were actually on the opposite side: right-the feds were cruel to what are, by any sane account, refugees from economic and political violence, but rather that they weren’t aggressive enough in enforcing border controls.
As a leftie, I am unusual. I agree that the border has been left open intentionally, and that it ought to be secured. You can’t call yourself a nation-state without controlling who comes and goes; to the contrary, strong border control is one of the defining features of a functioning nation-state. Also, it’s nonsense to complain that sealing the Mexico-U.S. frontier isn’t feasible. The former Soviet Union had a southern border many times longer than that to control, both to keep citizens in and to keep insurgents from places like Afghanistan out, and possessed fewer resources than the U.S. — yet it successfully managed to keep things under wraps.
I favor a wall, a strong border. But it will never happen. Republicans like the border open because their corporate backers like the depressing effect illegal immigration has upon wages; Democrats know that the legally-born children of today’s illegal immigrants are the Democratic voters of tomorrow. Both parties are in cahoots on this issue.
In the meantime, I can’t view the human traffic across the border, originating in some cases from countries destabilized by American intervention, as anything less than people who need and deserve our help. By all means, complain about the perfidy of a federal government that claims the right to invade sovereign nations on the other side of the world yet pretends not to be able to control who comes and goes from Mexico to California. But please don’t pick on the women and children — and the adult men — who are merely doing what comes naturally: trying to survive.
I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).
This week: California has become one of the first stats to legally recognize more than two parents per child. But who’s in charge?
The Obamas head off to their annual vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. But they insist it’s a working vacation. Too bad for the drone victims!
Note: You can buy the original for as little as 99 cents!