Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The choice

Two disasters, one natural and one man-made, are in the news of late.  I refer, of course, to the outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in West Africa, and to the so-called "border crisis."

These two disasters are drawing a fairly sharp line between different groups of Americans. 

It is true:  there is a genuine border crisis going on right now, today, but if you get your information from Fox "News" you might have a different conception as to what the nature of that crisis is.  The actual crisis is that tens of thousands of unaccompanied children have been making their way from Central America, through Mexico, and across the border into the United States.  They are fleeing devastating conditions in their home countries:  poverty, political unrest, crime.

Their volume is overwhelming our procedural capacity to deal with them.  The reason for that is that children in that situation are entitled by a 2008 law to special treatment that guarantees that they will not be repatriated without at least a hearing to determine what their best interests are and to decide, fairly and objectively, whether they should be taken in by this country.

There is a vocal minority of conservatives who contend that dealing with this crisis requires something on the order of military action in some respects.  Suggestions have ranged from quick deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, without a hearing, up to and including killing these children as they cross the border.

That last suggestion, however unserious and unlikely to be implemented it happens to be, is disgusting.

But the truth is that there is a dedicated core of conservatives who are more than willing to dedicate their time and energies toward harassing these children and making the U.S. as inhospitable to foreigners as possible.  One tea party favorite, an official with the ironically named American Family Association, asserted that the border must be defended against these invaders because it was ordained by God.  That proves, of course, that there is no possibility of a reasonable compromise with this person or any accommodation for his viewpoint, so I will state my position simply:

These are children.

They were sent to the United States by parents who believed that it was better that they travel thousands of miles across dangerous territory on the vague hope for a new and better life than to stay where they were.

We have the capacity to take them in.  It will cost us money, true.

But these are children.

We have no claim to moral superiority over anyone if we turn them away.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

—Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus

Do those words mean anything, or are they simply a platitude we utter as we pretend to be the greatest country on earth?

The other crisis is a public health crisis.  This outbreak of Ebola is the largest since the disease was first identified in 1976.  It has killed, as of today, nearly 1,000 people in West Africa.  About seven of every 10 people who contract the disease die of it.  Ebola is extremely transmissible if there is contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, but it is not transmitted through the air or through casual contact.  Health workers who specialize in the treatment of Ebola have rushed to Guinea, and to Liberia, and to Sierra Leone, and to Nigeria, in derogation of their own safety, to help contain this outbreak and to provide relief to the afflicted.

These people are the best kind of humans on earth.

Some of them have contracted Ebola because of their work.  Two of them, American health workers, have recently been brought here for treatment, because we have the resources and facilities to give them the best chance to survive.  The research that is undertaken in treating them, and hopefully saving them, will give us the best chance of defeating this killer of humans.

Again the conservatives howl.  Senator Jason Rapert, a preacher (and holder of an "honorary" doctorate from a noted Christian diploma mill) who got himself elected to the Arkansas Senate on a radical right-wing platform, tweeted:

I pray for a cure for Ebola, but it is ludicrous to introduce this disease on American soil, maybe even treasonous. @BarackObama @CDCgov
Bringing infected American health workers to the U.S. for treatment poses no public health risk.  We have the capacity to handle these workers' treatment, to provide them with the best chance of survival, to learn about this disease and how to treat it, and to give humanity the opportunity to solve a genuine public health crisis in Africa that will alleviate suffering.  We do these things at no risk to the American public.

Perhaps the problem is that Sen. Rapert thinks that "praying for a cure" is the best way to approach Ebola.  But again, this attitude shows that we are dealing with the worst kind of humans on earth--those who would sit idly by as human beings suffer from a horrible disease even as we have the capacity to help.  There is no compromise with these people.

So I will state my position simply. 

This is a deadly disease.

We may or may not ever have the capacity to cure or treat it, but we definitely have the capacity to try.

It will cost us money, true.

But it is a deadly disease.

We have no claim to moral superiority over anyone if we turn our faces away from this problem.

You have a choice.  Whether you are religious or not, whether you are rich or poor, you have a choice.  You can choose to isolate yourself, to fall into the old trap of jingoism and xenophobia and tribalism, to hold yourself apart from the world.  Or you can recognize that there is all of us a common humanity, that we are all a part of the world of humans, that we must all live here together for as long as we live, and that we have world over millennia to develop a human civilization that is closer today than it has ever been in the history of humankind.

You can claim to love life, but you don't, if you do not love humanity, even when there is a cost.  Especially when there is a cost.

There is no middle ground here; it's a fundamental choice.  I know what side I'm on.

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