Don’t stop caring

Like many Americans, we’ve been appalled as we learned how our own United States government has treated families that came to this country illegally: taking children, even babies, away from their parents and locking them up in prison camps. Then to hear our president lie about how it wasn’t his doing, and how he was powerless to stop it — and then to prove he had power over the situation all along by changing the practice after his family members complained.

We were raised to believe our country was better than this.

The change that is needed is not just to take immigrant children out of separate cages and to put them into cages with their families. The change that is needed is to treat all human beings with dignity, and to realize that cruelty is not justice. The change that is needed is to understand that our country was built on people fleeing violent governments and gangs, or otherwise seeking a better life here. The change that is needed is to realize that our country makes it far too difficult to immigrate legally, and yet our economy relies heavily on the labor of immigrants: from dairy farms here in the North Country to chicken plants in Georgia to the fruit and vegetable fields of California. In fact, every economy relies on mobility of its workforce just as it relies on fluidity of capital. Immigrants are going to come to the United States, like it or not, and we need to change our immigration laws to accommodate that reality. Our restrictive current laws drive people to break them, but they are not doing so to hurt us. In general, they are coming here to work. Only a small handful engage in violent crime, no different than the rest of our population — yet our president, in his fear-mongering, brands immigrants in general as murderers and rapists. Many of the people who believe him call themselves Christians, but the Bible is very clear that immigrants, specifically, are to be treated with kindness, not harassment (Exodus 22:21, 23:9, Leviticus 19:33-34, Deuteronomy 10:19, 23:16, 27:19, etc.). The change that is needed is to treat immigrants the same way God calls us to treat all people: to love them as neighbors.

In this week’s issue is the Lake Placid News, columnist Naj Wikoff writes about a local lecture by David Sloan Wilson, a professor of evolutionary biology at SUNY Binghamton. Wilson talked about Darwinian evolution, at its most basic level referred to as “survival of the fittest.” He talked about various levels of caring about others. At the most basic level, animals care only about themselves and compete with all others for the world’s resources. At a higher level, perhaps we care only about our family. Higher still we might care only about our community, our region, our race, our religion or our nation. Higher still, we can strive to care about everyone.

This striving to care more broadly is what separates us from the animals. President Donald Trump — with his “America first” policies, wall building, implied racism, bullying and pretty much everything else he says or does — is blatantly taking us downward on that scale, toward our animal instincts and away from the altruism required for what is commonly called “civilization.”

In that light, first lady Melania Trump, knowingly or not, sent a real message for our times with the words written on the back of her jacket this week: “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” Do we?

Animal instincts exist in all of us, and there is a certain subconscious appeal to the every-man-for-himself mindset. But getting along peacefully with each other requires overcoming that selfishness. As children, we are taught not to hit each other when we want something the other has. That’s not something we should unlearn.