Unspeakable Acts: Annals of American Fascism

Americans have always been willing to put on uniforms and perform unspeakable acts. The Trail of Tears, those who hunted down slaves, internment, participation in lynching, ignoring lynching, policing minority communities, etc. Americans have always been willing.

Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” is a useful way to consider these acts of evil, but we can’t deploy her brilliant commentary as a way to alienate the U.S.A. from that evil, to deem it a thing of Nazis, of others. America does have Nazis (they like to yell at me for being Jewish), but the #CultOfCompliance is as American as it gets. So reading Arendt is very useful, so long as you read her next to James Baldwin. Or DuBois. Or follow the native writers on #NoDAPL. Or … there’s a lot to read.

When the Muslim Ban went into effect, Chris Edelson, a professor at American University, wrote for the Baltimore Sun a piece on the “inhumane acts” carried out by ordinary Americans.

A week ago, men and women went to work at airports around the United States as they always do. They showered, got dressed, ate breakfast, perhaps dropped off their kids at school. Then they reported to their jobs as federal government employees, where, according to news reports, one of them handcuffed a 5-year-old child, separated him from his mother and detained him alone for several hours at Dulles airport.
At least one other federal employee at Dulles reportedly detained a woman who was traveling with her two children, both U.S. citizens, for 20 hours without food. A relative says the mother was handcuffed (even when she went to the bathroom) and threatened with deportation to Somalia.
At Kennedy Airport, still other federal employees detained and handcuffed a 65-year-old woman traveling from Qatar to visit her son, who is a U.S. citizen and serviceman stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. The woman was held for more than 33 hours, according to the New York Times, and denied use of a wheelchair.
The men and women who work for the federal government completed these and other tasks and then returned to their families, where perhaps they had dinner and read stories to their children before bedtime.

Since then, immigration raids have revealed new depths to which Americans in uniforms are more than willing to casually go. Here’s two more unspeakable acts. Notice the disability context in the first, the violence in the second. Multiple marginalizations magnify vulnerability.

Americans have always been willing to do this. Their targets are expanding. And the president and Attorney General are providing the fuel to intensify such cruelty, performed with banal thoughtlessness, in the name of compliance.

Leave a Reply