Lesson of Trump’s retreat on immigrant family separation

One of my students happily reported that citizen voices have succeeded in convincing President Trump to stop, via executive order, the “zero-tolerance” practice of separating illegal immigrant children and parents.  Hurrah!   Democracy is still alive, even in Trump’s America!

Well, sort of.  The family separation policy had called down an avalanche of criticism from virtually every quarter, including the president’s fellow Republicans – rapidly becoming precisely the kind of public relations nightmare the party absolutely does not want heading into pivotal November elections.  And, as critics were quick to point out, the president’s order fails to answer fundamental immigrant processing problems, and in fact may translate into another egregiously objectionable practice – extended detentions of “intact” families in de facto federal prisons.

I essentially agree with my student.  But I’d add that it’s not just a matter of citizens expressing their opinion to elected officials that makes for responsive government.  It’s those citizen voices rising in mass action, action that promises to persist until bad policy changes to align with popular will, action that threatens to evolve into active resistance if not responded to, and so spells dire consequences at the polls for politicians who choose to turn a deaf ear.

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