There are times – many times, in fact – when the current Presidency of the United States feels like a practical joke that has gone spectacularly and tragically wrong.
How we all laughed when he started his run for the White House. How we snickered at the impudence of it all. How we guffawed when he talked about the ‘big, beautiful wall’ he was going to build between the US and Mexico, not realising the punchline was still to come: Mexico would be made to pay for it!
We branded him a clown. But a man in greasepaint driving a small car in circles until the doors fall off is actually funny (unless you suffer from coulrophobia). Watching the doors fall off the supercharged Buick 8 that is the most powerful country in the world has been a long way from funny.
There have been times when watching the leader of the Free World has been akin to being in the audience the night Tommy Cooper collapsed during the Royal Variety Show and everyone thought it was hilarious. Until we all realised it wasn’t and that it was too late to save him.
I’m not here to take cheap shots at the current occupant of the Oval Office. There are people queuing round the world to do that. But my heart grieves as I watch the runaway train that is his policy – a word that seems in some way to afford an undesirable veneer of respectability – on migrant families.
Let me share with you this headline I saw just now:
US will reunite separated families – but only if they agree to deportation
Can we just visit with that for a while? The most basic requirement in a child’s hierarchy of needs – to be with his or her parents – will be met only if that parent agrees to willingly expedite (or, if you prefer, subvert) an entire legal process – a process which the Commander-in-Chief disavowed when he ordered the withdrawal of the US from the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Let’s do our best to ignore the politics of this for a moment, hard though that is, and just look at the basic lack of humanity at play and what that means for the children who, as I write, probably have no idea if they will ever see their family again. Who are, in many cases, wondering what on earth they did to make their parents abandon them.
The future implications for those children is unquantifiable at an absolutely staggering level. In taking them from the people who have protected them as best they can for their short lives, the land of the free and the home of the brave has bequeathed them a lifetime of trying to come to terms with that abandonment.
Some will perhaps cope better than others. The scars will be fainter, perhaps easier to ignore. The memories the subconscious chooses to bury in order to protect them may not surface immediately, though my experience as a therapist suggests it’s usually only a matter of time before they do.
Perhaps the coping mechanisms they develop will be less destructive than others, or they will be fortunate enough to find themselves in supportive relationships that minimise the emotional pain.
When abandonment wounds do violently erupt, it’s the subconscious mind’s way of telling you something needs to be resolved. Healing trauma is not easy, but it’s absolutely possible – especially for those with access to support.
In fact, those who go through the experience of trauma manifesting itself in this way are often the lucky ones – assuming specialist therapy or recovery groups are available – as they get the chance to work through the underlying issues.
For others, the abandonment wounds may never manifest violently but just show up as a unfulfilled life defined by chronic dissatisfaction.
Unluckier still are those whose abandonment trauma takes violent shape and form but they have no access to the support they need. Instead, they turn to self-soothing of the most destructive kind – alcohol and drug abusive or abusive relationships. Depression, anxiety and psychosis become constant companions.
For others, escape will be of the kind you don’t survive.
You can’t not be affected by abandonment. It’s all just degrees of separation between coping and reaction. No-one gets away with it.
And in all probability, wherever those journeys start – from whatever sterile confinement they emerge – these adults of tomorrow will never quite make the connection between what happened to them in the land over which that star-spangled banner in triumph waved and the searing unhappiness that will define who they are to become.
There will be no therapists to help them – and no money to pay for the treatment even if it was available.
The legacy of the Republican administration of the United States of America in the year 2018 will be to have used innocent children as the stick with which to beat their parents, indifferent to the ugly consequences that will span generations. Because if nothing else, history teaches us that people who suffer with the kind of mental health challenges that await these children are more inclined to make bad decisions that will, in turn, limit opportunity and education for their progeny.
So far in June, the most powerful man in the world has given a five-fingered salute to the G7 summit, severed ties with the only globally-recognised human rights body that exists in order to drive a coach and four through his own legal system, used children as a battering ram to appease the xenophobic good ol’ boys who voted him in and broken bread with a man whose own mental health is entirely questionable.
If he were a dog, we may consider him a dangerous breed and deal with him accordingly. As it is, like a hydrophobic cur, he roams the highways and byways of the world, savaging those who would tame him.
His name is missing from this article. I can’t bring myself to write it.