Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

…And The Politics of Children

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Let me ask the kind of question that probably has no answer, and whose result is usually just getting everybody annoyed.

Is there such a thing as an “authentic culture?”  And if there is, is everything in that culture equally “authentic?”

I’m asking the question because, after I posted the blog yesterday, there was a development on the matter of refugee children.  At least, it was a development in my state, which is Connecticut.

Practically the first story billboarded on one of our local TV news programs was a report about how our Governor, Dannel Malloy, had turned down a request by the Obama administration to house 2000 of the refugee/border children at the old Southbury Training School.

Now, there were some practical considerations happening here.  STS was built in, I think, the early 20th century as a place to warehouse adults with what was then called “mental feebleness.” 

It’s a beautiful place, even now, at least from the outside: a 1500 acre campus with lots of those academic brick buildings with columns most of us remember from the college movies of the 40s and 5os. 

It might even be sort of a fit, since it was built to house 2000 people.

These days, there are fewer than 700 people there as regular residents.  We don’t institutionalize people with “special needs” anymore, unless we have no choice.

Part of the rest of the property is used by the state Agriculture Department, I’m not sure for what.

Even so, the majority of the space is unused, and there would at least theoretically be enough space to put in a chunk of the border children awaiting their hearings and with nowhere else to go.

It’s only theoretical because the space is in very, very, very bad repair.  Part of the deal the Obama administration offered was all the money it would take to fix the thing up as fast as possible. 

Considering the state of STS, I wonder if anybody in the Obama administration had actually looked at it.   I know the Extreme Home Makeover people can build an enormous house in a week, but this thing would have taken…well, let’s just say more than a week.  Even at full tilt boogie.

When WTNH caught up with Dannel Malloy, however, practical considerations didn’t seem to be what was on his mind.

He made a perfunctory nod in the direction of the mess the place was in and state procedures for determining secondary uses for state property, but mostly he was just plain annoyed.

He was annoyed that WTNH had discovered the story and reported it–the Obama administration offer had come a few weeks ago and been kept out of the public eye until now.

He was annoyed that the Obama administration had ever made the suggestion in the first place, thereby putting him in a politically impossible position right before a re-election campaign in which he will face the same opponent he did last time.  That race ended so close, it was a miracle the Republican didn’t call for a recount, or even a rerun.

It’s difficult to understand just how impossible that political position is unless you also understand Connecticut.

“This really isn’t our problem,” the Governor said.

I don’t think that’s actually true, but I think I know where he was coming from.

To the extent that there was supposed to be a political issue at all, it was supposed to be a nice, easy trope for Democrats to bash heartless, meanspirited Republicans.  Democrats would gladly take in the border children, if only those nasty Republicans would let them.

That worked until a Democratic Governor of a heavily Democratic state got the chance to take in the border children–and knew that he didn’t dare do it.

Let me clear up a couple of things here, so that we do not get distracted.

Connecticut is a blue state.  If it’s not the bluest state in the country, it’s second after Massachusetts.

We’re not dealing with the Tea Party here, or with the religious right.  This is the home base of the RINO, Establishment Republicans who are largely VERY liberal on social issues, pro-business but not pro-life.

Although Malloy’s challenger is a Republican, that Republican could probably use Malloy’s refusal to take in the border children against him.

Establishment Republicans are all for immigration reform, pathways to citizenship and all the rest of it. 

Granted, they’re in favor of those things because lots of unskilled workers flowing into the country descreases labor costs mightily, but they’re still for them.

So Dannel Malloy didn’t turn away the border children because he thought the Republicans would use it against him if he took them.

Dannel Malloy turned away the border children because he thought that if he took them, the Democrats would hold it against him.

Which is how we get to what is authentic in an “authentic culture,” and why these kids never had a chance in hell of a smooth ride into the country no matter what.

Let me clear away, first, some of the standard debris is these kinds of cases.

That is, the general problems everybody is worried about, even if they won’t say so.

The first of these is the fear of disease.  Whenever anybody brings that up, the pack of everybody starts crying racism! xenophobia! nativism!

But the worry is neither racist nor stupid.  It’s the result of the fact that there really is diversity among cultures in this world.

Consider the fact that we’ve had mini-epidemics of measles in two separate states this year, caused almost certainly by the decisions of more and more families not to have their children vaccinated.

The border children are coming from countries where vacination, if it is available at all, is available only to the very rich. 

One of the first things the border authorities do when they bring these kids into custody is to vaccinate them–and then they sit back and pray a lot, because the worry is not measles, it’s polio. 

And then there are the things that can’t be vaccinated for.

Like tuberculosis.

It is not racism, or “hate,” to be afraid that your child might die of diseases your own culture eradicated through a lot of hard work and tough public health measures.

You don’t achieve a polio-free society by waking up one morning and sticking a bunch of needles into a bunch of yarns.

It can take generations to wipe out any particular disease, and to keep that disease wiped out takes at least some vigilance.

As long as that disease still exists anywhere in the world, uncontrolled immigration will pose at least something of a problem on the disease front.

How much depends on a lot of different factors, but there’s always a risk.

And the more chaotic and anarchic the immigration is, the higher your risk is going to be.

The immigration situation of the border children isn’t just anarchic, it’s insane.   The number of children now crossing the border is so large that it is overwhelming not only the border patrol and the official presence of border control personnel, but entire communities.

There are small local communities throughout the Southwest that can no longer use their own community hospitals and health care clinics, because, with first priority going to the sickest–and rightly going to the sickest–illegal immigrants edge out local residents in the triage line for emergency care.

This is not necessarily an impossible situation to fix under normal conditions, even under what passed for normal conditions before the big influx of children started last October.

But what’s happened since October is that the problem has become so acute it’s been almost impossible to handle.

As a result, everybody is in a hurry, so much of a hurry that a lot of things are (inevitably) beginning to fall through the cracks. 

Dannel Malloy is not an idiot, and I don’t think he’s a hard hearted jerk, either.

I think he just realizes that the statistics say somebody is going to end up getting sick somewhere, and if the first case of polio shows up on his watch, Democrats will be no more forgiving than Republicans.

But these are general issues.  Almost everybody feels the same way, as I said, even if they don’t say so out loud.  Democrat or Republican, if you say okay to the border children in your state, and one of them comes down with polio, and that polio spreads to even a single child in the population at large–you’re going to be toast.

Democrats have another problem as Democrats that Republicans don’t have to worry about.

And that is this: to what extant are they willing, or even able, to accommodate an influx of large numbers of people from cultures that hate and despise any manifestation of homosexuality anywhere, by anyone?

And it’s going to be with gay rights that the culture class is going to come.

On almost any other of the social issues, there is room to maneuver–Central and South American migrants are pro-life, but only on the weakest possible level.  They won’t bother you about it if you don’t bother them.  They see nothing wrong with praying in school, but don’t really care if they don’t. 

But these are cultures that see homosexuality (especially in men) as thoroughly contemptible and entirely deserving of violence.  If a gay man gets beaten up on the street, or even killed, for being too obviously gay–well, it’s just what he deserved, and he should have known not to behave that way around decent people.

A number of national gay rights groups out there have recently made me very happy by starting to insist that gay rights have to mean more than rights for gay people in Los Angeles. They want an end to the death penalty for homosexuality in Muslim countries and the more than casual violence against gay people almost everywhere else.

And that’s a good thing, but we’re at a situation where we can’t have everything at once.

A democratic society that accepts tens of thousands–hell, millions–of people first into its territory and then onto its voting rolls is going to have to listen to the way those people feel and think.

And, in this democratic society at this moment, it’s also going to have to “respect” their “authentic culture.”

Which brings us ALL the way back to where I started.

Is the anti-gay violence of places like Guatamala and Honduras part of their “authentic culture”?  

Is being accepting of homosexuality and observing the civil rights of gay men and women to marry, to be openly expressive of their identity in public spaces, part of OUR “authentic culture:?

Are some “authentic cultures” more authentic than others?

At this point I am tempted to go with the one thing I can say I have always heartily agreed with Bill Maher about: cultures where women can drive and go to school and gay people can be openly gay without fear are better than societies that do otherwise, and if there’s a conflict between ours and yours, then ours is right and yours is going to have to give way.

He said all that in a rant after 9/11, and for a while I absolutely loved him for it.

Unfortunately, not much of anybody else did.

So we now find ourselves in a situation where the Republicans can’t accept the border children out of nativist concerns they never quite articulate, and the Democrats can’t accept the border children out of concerns they don’t even let themselves think about–

So there may be something we can do for these children, but we aren’t going to do it.

Written by janeh

July 17th, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses to '…And The Politics of Children'

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  1. The thing about children is that they can be educated. With most of them, we have a minimum of 8 to 10 years to inculcate them with our current cultural norms. In 10 years, our culture WILL be their authentic culture, for the most part. The younger ones will largely lose their language, let alone parental attitudes toward homosexuality. Unless we allow their parents to follow them (which is the unspoken fear *I* hear behind all the flailing about), by the time they come to vote, they’ll be spread across the spectrum of their adoptive or foster parents.

    When people talk about “authentic culture” what they mostly mean is colorful native festivals and eating sheep stomach stuffed with oatmeal. This they’re fine with. But why would foster parents teach something like hostility toward gays as part of a child’s culture if it’s not part of their own? People who adopt children from other cultures don’t normally teach (or try to) unconscious attitudes from the old country. Can’t be done, unless you live it.

    Interesting comments on disease. I used to work with a non-profit state agency that managed State & Federal subsidies to licensed day care providers to low-income parents. As part of all the qualifying paperwork, and built into the software I designed, was a requirement that each provider have a current TB test on file. They also asked parents to get the kids tested, as many of these children were illegal (this is S. California, after all) and TB is endemic in Mexico and points south.

    Then the client came to me and asked me to remove that alarm/warning from the software. “Oh, the state doesn’t require TB testing anymore.” This, when we were seeing news reports of rising TB rates in immigrant and resident population. We were shocked. Mindblown, in fact. We figured it was political correctness gone mad. “oh it’s racist to ask the illegal population to get tested for a disease.”

    Luckily it seems the state committees tasked with overseeing all this justify their own existence by changing all the rules on a regular basis, so there is hope that the TB testing will be reinstated someday. Perhaps when some state bureaucrat’s children get sick.


    17 Jul 14 at 1:25 pm

  2. Immigration first. Yes, Lymaree, of course the parents will follow. Sending a 6-10 year old back would be hard enough. Telling the kid that Papa was allowed to write but not allowed to come and be with his child? Does ANYONE believe that would fly? Picture the videos of mothers just south of the border weeping for their lost children? If we admit the children the parents will come. In fact our own laws of prioritizing family members would let them get in line ahead of anyone with technical skills we could use.

    Authentic culture. I’ll go this far: an authentic culture has what a certain mystery writer once called internal consistency. If the parts don’t fit–killing for peace, say, or censorship for freedom–then you’re in a transitional or experimental phase. Also, an authentic culture, like a core personality, is what you do when you’re under pressure, not what you do UNLESS you’re under pressure. Watch a “democratic” oligarch when he doesn’t get what he thinks is his due.

    As for assimilating children to our culture, I believe the saying was “give me a child UNTIL he is ten, not ONCE he is ten.” The minor children of immigrant parents have notoriously been difficult to assimilate, and that was when Americans largely believed that we had a superior culture and that they ought to assimilate. The very people out closing every bakery and adoption service which disagrees with their new position on “gay rights’ are the people least likely to suggest the kids ought even to learn English. There are other issues involved, but sticking with homosexuality for the moment, I’d say you’d have a fair to middling chance of making that a defining mark of authenticity–not just an attitude commonly found in Hispanic cultures, but an attitude which is proof that one is Hispanic.
    I’m thinking of Ralph Peters’ “Wars of Blood and Faith.” He wrote that there was some chance, during the Cold War, of persuading your opponent not to be a Communist. But if the post-Cold War world involved persuading people not to be Russians, say, or Shi’a Muslims, things were going to be even more difficult and complicated.

    I’d say difficult and complicated sums up our present situation nicely. No, I don’t know the solution, either. I’m not sure there is one.


    17 Jul 14 at 5:39 pm

  3. Robert, you are right about separating the parents and children. Australia has a problem with “boat people”. They arrive in very unseaworthy boats with no papers and include whole families. Australia interns them in what could be called “refugee camps”. The let-everyone-in people complain about children being behind barbed wire. If the government separates the children from the parents, then the same people complain about taking children from their mothers. There is no way the government can control who enters the country that will satisfy the complainers.


    17 Jul 14 at 6:40 pm

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