It took the kids to do it. It took the babies and the toddlers and the almost incomprehensible incompetence of Trump administration officials — a babble of lies and contradictory accounts of a policy no one seemed to understand — to make the president back down. President Trump signed an executive order to end the family-separation crisis that, until the other day, he and his allies insisted was not something he could end by himself. You can be sure that lies and fudging will now follow, but in the meantime, migrant children will remain with their parents and America, at long last, gets its dignity back.
This is the moment that America said “enough.” The pictures of the kids summoned the memory of others — of the children of U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent being interned during World War II, Indian kids being taken from their parents or tribes, African American kids being sold away from their parents, Jewish kids fleeing Nazi Germany being refused entry into the United States. (“Twenty thousand charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults,” a relative of President Franklin Roosevelt was once heard to say.)
Who knows whether this is a turning point? Who knows whether a smug president has learned that even he has limitations? Who knows whether the American people have taken the measure of Trump and finally have found him wanting? Until now, he has pretty much gotten what he wanted, and every time he did something to make pundits such as myself think he has finally gone too far, he just went on as if nothing had happened.
The vile crack about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)? I thought that would finish him. Nope. His taped revelation that he can greet women in a smutty way and be forgiven because he’s a celebrity? Nope again. His suggestion that the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) had something to do with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy? Nope. And nope, too, to his characterization of Mexican immigrants as rapists. With Trump, the other shoe never drops.
This time, though, he went too far. Even many Republicans could not stomach a policy that mandated the separation of children from their parents — never mind that the parents may have entered the country illegally. Even Cruz balked, though he made his peace with Trump some time ago. Parts of the Rupert Murdoch press spoke out and so, tellingly, did Laura Bush, the former first lady and a current mother and grandmother.
The betrayal of American values that Trump has always represented — his election victory that felt like a betrayal of America by a minority of angry Americans — has been reversed. A ray of hope has broken through the dark cloud that is the Trump presidency. Maybe, just maybe, America can be great again.