The Corner

Immigration

Oh, Well If It Was in 2015, Forget It

The United Nations logo is seen at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 23, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Zachary Evans notes that:

The United Nations released a report on Monday claiming that 100,000 children were being held in U.S. immigration detention facilities, but the report’s author, human-rights lawyer Manfred Nowak, then clarified to the Associated Press that 2015 was the latest year for which Nowak’s team could find data. The AP found U.S. government statistics showing that 69,550 illegal immigrant children have been detained over the past year.

Before Nowak’s clarification, activists, politicians, and journalists alike were under the false impression that the numbers in the report had been racked up by the Trump administration, rather than by the Obama administration. And, from that false impression, they drew a number of grave conclusions. Bernie Sanders called the news “immoral.” The Democratic National Committee’s “War Room” concluded that the numbers were “disgusting,” that they were the product of “white nationalist” influence, and that they represented “a violation of the U.N. treaty, the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” These verdicts were swiftly echoed by a number of prominent journalists.

And then came the clarification, after which the story just . . . went away. Tweets were deleted. Retractions were issued. Mea culpas were offered up.

Which, in a vacuum, is fine. It is good behavior to correct misinformation, especially online, where it tends to spread like wildfire. And yet I couldn’t help but notice that the news that the numbers were actually from 2015 led not just to a correction of the facts, but to a severing of the conclusions, too. But surely, if the (cumulative) detention of 69,550 illegal immigrant children in a single year would have been “immoral” under Trump, then it was “immoral” under Obama, too? So why didn’t Bernie issue a new tweet saying that? Likewise, if the news was “disgusting,” “white supremacist,” and “a violation of the U.N. treaty, the Convention on the Rights of the Child” in 2019, it should be “disgusting,” “white supremacist,” and “a violation of the U.N. treaty, the Convention on the Rights of the Child” in 2015, too. Does the detention of “little children” not matter as much if it’s done by a president one likes? Do the arguments in favor suddenly make sense?

One of the most irritating parts of the Trump administration has been watching people with extremely short attention spans assume that everything that the executive branch is doing under Trump must have been started in January of 2017. Donald Trump is different in some important, and occasionally horrifying, ways. But the world did not begin anew with his election. Now, as ever, American politics is marked out by continuity. There are few bright lines on the political calendar.

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