June 20, 2018


In Trump's world, morality is for losers (Anne Applebaum, June 20, 2018, Washington Post)

More recently the British journalist Nick Cohen has identified another way of sending social messages. This is something he called "vice-signaling," and it is precisely the opposite tactic. It applies to politicians who do something evil -- deliberately -- with the aim of proving they really are very sincere indeed. [...]

This is a useful context in which to understand the reasoning behind the Trump administration's horrific policy on family separation at the border -- a policy that, if it were enacted in another country, would be described by American officials as state-sponsored child abuse. It's incomprehensibly cruel, separating small children from their parents and sending them to institutions that resemble jails. Worse, the confusion around the policy is such that some of the children may eventually be lost -- or worse. It's a policy unprecedented in recent American history; Laura Bush, the former first lady, had to reach back to the 1940s, to internment camps for U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II, for a comparison. Another parallel might be the removal of children from black slaves before the Civil War.

The president and his team know exactly how evil this policy is: If they didn't, myriad officials wouldn't be blaming it, dishonestly, on the Democrats; or pretending that Congress can solve the problem when it has actually been created by the Trump administration; or ludicrously arguing, as the Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham has done, that the child jails resemble "boarding schools."

At the same time, the president and his team persist in pursuing it. Why? Because it signals to their base that they are really serious about stopping immigration -- so serious that they will abuse children, damage families, and shock anybody who cares about civil rights or human rights in the United States or elsewhere. It's not an accident that this policy has been attributed to Stephen Miller, the Trump adviser who has made a career out of using scandalous language and creating "happenings" designed to shock his peers. This kind of trolling is often a form of vice-signaling too. "Look," it tells supporters, "here's how nasty I am prepared to be."

Posted by at June 20, 2018 4:44 AM