How can Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions and their supporters, including the ICE workers who engage in the actual behavior, tear small children away from their parents and warehouse them in detention facilities, subjecting these children to trauma and a horrifying sense of shock and loss from which some may never recover?

Border Patrol agent conducts a pat down of a woman at a holding facility

Border Patrol agent conducts a pat down at a holding facility. Photo courtesy of US Department of Homeland Security.

The answer to this is that Trump and his co-participants do not actually experience either themselves or the children as fully human.  Instead, they are withdrawn into themselves, their hearts hardened by a lifetime of conditioning to be fearful of others, and that fear is then displaced onto a mental tableau in which they imagine themselves to be part of an “us” that is being infiltrated by a “them”, who are “crossing the border” without permission. “The border” is supposed to separate us and them, but it is being violated, threatening to reveal our underlying vulnerability to being humiliated by other human beings, indeed the very person next to us wherever we are. We have been thus humiliated in the past, and we must not allow that to occur again. And that fear of humiliation leads these hardened humans to withdraw from the actual world of lived experience suffused with the natural empathy that flows from existing in this real world of beautiful vulnerability, and to pretend, mentally, that they are living in an imaginary world consisting of more-or-less full-time protectionist fantasies.

In this latter hallucinated milieu, the rationale of “deterring the immigrants who are crossing the border” answers the pull, coming from the open heart of Being itself, to recognize the psychic violence being done to these children. Trump and Sessions and the millions who support their policy co-intentionally suppress their recognition of the actual humanity of these children beneath an imaginary shield-tableau in which the children are “dehumanized” just as Trump and Sessions have dehumanized themselves. Hardened against the legacy of fear of humiliation that turns like a worm inside them, they express over and over again their determination not to re-open themselves to any human being, those others who “bring drugs, who bring crime, who are rapists.”

For more on this tragic phenomenon that can only be resolved by a healing revolution that may already be occurring, see Chapters 2-4 of my book The Desire for Mutual Recognition on fear of the other and the construction of imaginary communities.

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Peter Gabel  is editor-at-large of Tikkun and the author most recently of The Desire for Mutual Recognition, published by Routledge Press.

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