Cruelty is as American as Thanksgiving with Adam Serwer | Crooked Media
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June 22, 2018
With Friends Like These
Cruelty is as American as Thanksgiving with Adam Serwer

In This Episode

This week, Ana (@anamariecox) sat down with The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer (@AdamSerwer) to talk about the Trump Administration’s inhumane policy of separating children from their parents detained at America’s southern border. Ana started things off by asking Adam about what moved him to write a piece in The Atlantic this week, which you can find here. After he explained that he felt this latest policy laid bare the Administration’s cruelty and racism in a particular way, Ana mentioned her experience at Trump’s rally in Duluth on Wednesday night.


The only person she talked to who referred to the policy called it “the border thing,” and had a very vague understanding of what it actually consisted of. He proceeded to compare immigrants streaming into the country to neighbors barging into a Thanksgiving dinner uninvited, eating all of the host’s food and using their bathroom but refusing to flush.


That vague understanding extended to the President’s executive order to end the practice of child separation, as most rally attendees Ana talked to believed the executive order had solved all problems at the border. Ana then asked Adam what he thinks about Trump’s executive order. He expressed fear that it will merely mean families are caged together rather than separately, and that more may end up in detention as a result. “I’m not sure the extent to which it replaces a bad policy with an even worse policy,” he said. He went on to address the broader question he’d like everyone to grapple with right now: “Should we be detaining people who are only guilty of misdemeanor illegal entry at all?”


They then dove into the public relations side of this, and Ana proposed that the Administration might care more about removing pictures of crying children from cable news than actually stopping the children from crying in the first place. Adam agreed and shared her worry that once people stop talking about this, “I think it’s quite possible that having put it out of sight will put it out of mind as well,” just like people have largely done with Puerto Rico.


One of the things Adam’s piece traces is the history of American cruelty to black and brown people, and especially to black and brown children. As Adam pointed out, during antebellum slavery, one of the strongest arguments from abolitionists was that families should not be forcibly separated. It was able to cut through the arguments of slaveholders, just as the argument against the Administration’s policy did. However, as Ana said, that this cut through may have shown the administration the cruelty limit to which they can go. If this is the limit, there are a lot of awful, draconian policies they can pursue.


They continued down that line of thought and explored what allows ordinary human beings to be so cruel to each other. Ana and Adam failed to find an answer to it and marveled that even with the entire weight of history we continue to be so cruel.


The person who made the Thanksgiving analogy to Ana in Duluth also had a favorable view of the President’s decision to call MS-13 animals and was stunned to learn she disagreed with it. As he did in his Atlantic piece, Adam connected those comments from Trump to how he talks about refugees and immigrants and has ever since announcing his candidacy.


Ana then asked him where else he sees the Administration’s cruelty manifesting. “I think the spirit of cruelty has really animated the immigration enforcement arm of the administration. The rank and file ICE and CBP agents really understand that they have a license to detain pretty much anybody who is brown and has a Latino name and demand that they prove they’re citizens of the United States,” Adam said.


He went on to highlight the importance to Trump of the cruelty of so many of his policies. “Trump sees cruelty as a virtue, he sees it as a strength,” Adam explained.


They then dove into the irony of people on the right exhorting Jeff Sessions’ work to bring back “law and order” when dealing with black and brown people while also claiming to be shocked by the so-called harsh treatment handed down to Paul Manafort. That line of thought extends to people like *shocker* Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner, who both have lied to Congress and/or failed to disclose things while applying for a security clearance. As Adam pointed out, the inconsistency there illustrates the problem inherent in people who promote “zero tolerance” policies.


Ana covered Trump’s rally in Duluth on Wednesday and shared some of her reflections on it at the end of the show. She went in with the ticket holders and spent several hours before the rally as well as the speeches themselves up near the front of the stage.


You can read Ana’s story from Duluth in full here.


Ana referenced another piece of Adam’s in The Atlantic, “The Nationalist’s Delusion,” which you can find here.


Adam cited this Atlantic piece from his colleague, and friend of the pod, Vann Newkirk II.


Ana and Adam also mentioned a Vanity Fair piece about Stephen Miller.


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