Home / General / The Everyday Banal Cruelty of Authoritarianism

The Everyday Banal Cruelty of Authoritarianism



It’s a well-established observation that the way that authoritarian regimes work is that people cooperate. They empower little people to be cruel and that is the base of governance. The same thing is happening with the rise of fascism in the United States. The everyday acts cruelty in enforcing Bannon’s Muslim ban are what makes one sick.

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.

When we worry and wonder about authoritarian regimes that inflict cruelty on civilians, we often imagine tyrannical despots unilaterally advancing their sinister agendas. But no would-be autocrat can act alone. As a practical matter, he needs subordinates willing to carry out orders. Of course, neither Donald Trump nor Steve Bannon personally detained any of the more than 100 people held at airports over the weekend pursuant to the administration’s executive order on immigration, visitation and travel to the United States. They relied on assistance.

The men and women who reportedly handcuffed small children and the elderly, separated a child from his mother and held others without food for 20 hours, are undoubtedly “ordinary” people. What I mean by that, is that these are, in normal circumstances, people who likely treat their neighbors and co-workers with kindness and do not intentionally seek to harm others. That is chilling, as it is a reminder that authoritarians have no trouble finding the people they need to carry out their acts of cruelty. They do not need special monsters; they can issue orders to otherwise unexceptional people who will carry them out dutifully.

This is powerful stuff. It shows the need to fight fascism wherever we see it. This is one reason why protest is so necessary. It demonstrates that people will stand up to cruelty. Making these people pariahs, calling them out by name, this is a critical strategy to resisting fascism. After all, it took millions of collaborators for the Holocaust to happen. The Nazis ruled Paris with very few soldiers because so many France were willing to play along. The examples go on and on. It is fairly easy for a person to become a collaborator with dictatorship and evil if it is in their interests to do so and it so often is because it is easy and allows them to be little dictators on their own. Fighting this is a central struggle in the next four years and probably for the rest of our lives.

Meanwhile, who is shocked that Bannon is front and center with the most revanchist forces in the Catholic Church. I know that Government by Torquemada is a good slogan for me!

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  • NewishLawyer

    Calling this banal is wrong. Arendt’s banality comment implied that Eichmann bore no personal malice towards the Jews but a job is a job and must be done, personal feelings be damned.

    These people like doing their cruelties largely is my guess. These are Trump’s willing foot soldiers.

    I said this yesterday but a lot of liberals look at Trump mocking the disabled reporter and say “how does this not disqualify the man?” We don’t want to think that a lot of people might be innately cruel and bullying. There is a Pollyanna streak in liberalism.

    • Ronan

      “Arendt’s banality comment implied that Eichmann bore no personal malice towards the Jews but a job is a job and must be done, personal feelings be damned.”

      I havent read Eichmann in Jerusalem, but my understanding is that wasnt her argument


      • delazeur

        It’s irritating how almost everyone who criticizes Arendt does so based entirely on the subtitle of the book, without engaging with anything she actually says in it.

        • Ronan

          I’m going to have to get around to it myself. Have meant to for years, but am just too lazy….
          Have you read origins of totalitarianism ? If so, would you recommend starting with one over the other ?

    • gmack

      It’s not entirely clear what Arendt meant by “banality” in that famous phrase. It almost certainly did not mean that she was accusing Eichmann of being a simple bureaucrat who was just doing his job. Note, for instance, that Arendt emphasizes that Eichmann thought of himself as a “Kantian” who was doing his duty. When Himmler, for instance, realized that the war was lost, he attempted to halt some of the killings, but Eichmann defied him. He did so, apparently, because he thought it was his obligation to follow the moral law (where the “moral law” had become perverted into “what the furher wants”). As I read her, anyway, her fundamental diagnosis of Eichmann was that he was ultimately “thoughtless”; he had no “depth,” in the sense that he lacked the internal dialogue that Arendt identified with thinking. Among other things, this prevented the kind of autonomous reflection usually identified with moral decision-making, and it also prevented any capacity on Eichmann’s part to view things from another person’s point of view.

      A darkly absurd example of this is when Eichmann is in Auschwitz speaking to a leader of the Viennese Jewish community who had been sent there. This leader had initially collaborated with Eichmann before being sent to Auschwitz, and in a darkly humorous moment, Eichmann attempts to sympathize with him: Noting his former collaborator’s immediate prospects, Eichmann remarked, “Well, my dear old friend, we certainly got it! What rotten luck!” What rotten luck indeed.

      • This is an excellent summary of her views in the book. Arendt goes to see the trial expecting a monstrous Nazi, but instead he’s a meek middle-aged man. Additionally, as she researches him she is convinced he is profoundly stupid.

        It goes far beyond him simply being going to work every day, pushing papers, and then going home, unaware or indifferent to his actions. She’s offended by his belief in cliched slogans. Saying “We’re making America great again” to justify mass slaughter would be a relevant example today.

        And Eichmann considered himself to have an intellectual streak even though he had no understanding that at its core, philosophy is thinking about why the way things are, not a post facto justification of what you were already doing. In her opinion he was a truly mediocre man, and the Holocaust was largely administered by the kind of stuffy, boorish person you try to avoid at parties.

        • NewishLawyer

          Again, there is a lot of modern scholarship especially done by Debroah Lipstadt that suggests Eichamann was a true believing Nazi and does so rather strongly.

          I like Arendt. I consider her one of the great theorists of the modern age but it is also possible for her to be wrong here.

          • One could be a true believing Nazi and also incapable of thought with depth, or emotion, which is also part of Arendt’s argument.

          • It was your comment that brought up Arendt originally. Sure she might be wrong, but in this context it doesn’t really seem relevant..

      • NewishLawyer

        A lot of modern scholarship thinks Arendt got it wrong about Eichmann. Eichmann accelerated the Final Solution because he was a true believer, not because he was a follower of a twisted version of Kant’s “moral law.”

        • gmack

          Sure, there is the big set of arguments that emerged over Eichmann Before Jerusalem. I haven’t yet read that book, so I can’t really comment on it. My view, however, is that the debates over that book tend to mischaracterize Arendt’s position regarding Eichmann’s anti-Semitism. He could be a rabid, true-believer anti-Semite and still be a twisted Kantian (and banal!) too.

        • sigaba

          These aren’t positions in conflict. A True Believer still has reasons. Arendt highlighted the danger in Othering “True Believers” as if that was some sort of monstrous condition that couldn’t be explained. These men weren’t insane murderers, they rationalized their jobs in the same way we all do. Arendt quoted the psychologist the Israeli’s assigned to evaluate his mental state: he reported that his demeanor was that of “a common mailman.”

          The critiques of Arendt have more to do with her specific appraisal of Eichmann’s anti-semitism. She seemed to believe that his anti-semitism was a minor factor in his personality, but this almost certainly wasn’t the case. She took Eichmann’s claims about his beliefs on their face, partly because she only saw part of the trial, but perhaps also because his stated beliefs jibed with a broader critique she was trying to make about Zionism.

          But there are anti-semites alive today just as racist as Eichmann, and they haven’t killed anyone.

    • In my own studies, I have come to understand that what Hannah Arendt meant by the ‘banality of evil’ is that great evil can only occur through the support of the people. The German people knew that the Jews were being taken to work camps and being worked to death. But they did nothing about it because good and dutiful Germans followed the Führer. They may not have actively supported it, but the banality of their passivity in the face of it allowed it to happen on the scale that it did.

      Steve Bannon can only work his black magic as long as people consider themselves to be good and dutiful Americans by following the government, no matter what. Whenever you hear people talking about respecting the presidency and giving Trump a chance and respecting the peaceful transition of power, you are witnessing the banality. This is why protesting is so important. Because it fights the banality.

      • NewishLawyer

        I think we are in better shape that Germany during the 1930s then.

        I suspect Doc Amazing was right when discussing this over the weekend. Liberals and lefties generally don’t go into Boarder Patrol and those that do have a stay out mentality.

        • I think we are in better shape that Germany during the 1930s then.

          I think that remains to be seen.

          • NewishLawyer

            It is obvious that Trump and Co are much, much worse than imagined. I would say there is a 50/50 chance that he permanently damages the American Republic even if he lasts 4-8 years or less.

            That being said, the American Republic and institutions were much stronger than those of Weimar Germany. Weimar Germany was a very weak and former Kaiserites were going against it from the inside since it began.

            I’m having a hardtime balancing the “Protest works” threads with threads like this.

            • jam

              I’m having a hardtime balancing the “Protest works” threads with threads like this.

              Why would that give you trouble?

              Take a recent statement of “Protest Works”, for example:

              This is what the next 4 years are going to be like–enormous challenges, some huge losses. But protest works. Masses of people make a major difference. And these people are going to vote in 2018 and they are going to vote in 2020. I don’t know if they can overcome Republicans rigging the game and committing massive voter fraud, but the left has not been this angry, motivated, and acting on it in a long, long, long time. Republicans–we are coming for you.

              Protest is an effective tactic and strategy, but the statement “Protest Works” does not mean that “because people are protesting, victory is inevitable”. It means “protest is an effective means of engagement, it will help win more battles than the alternative of no direct action, we don’t know how much damage we can prevent”.

              We will only know the strength of US institutions after the end of the Trump Presidency. Many may look strong right up until the point they break or are subverted to evil ends.

      • Jack M.

        I remember a story recounted in the comments section of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s column in The Atlantic.

        After the war, a Jewish woman and her family that had survived one of the death camps returned to their home. Their neighbor, a German woman, was fussing all over her, crying and crying and saying she didn’t know, they didn’t know, we’re so sorry. The Jewish woman finally snapped and said, “You had Jewish neighbors. There were Jewish people in this neighborhood. What did you think happened to them?” The answer chilled me: “We thought they just went away.”

        Let’s make sure that our neighbors just don’t ‘go away’ and leave it at that.

        • CP

          I remember an argument with a relative who wasn’t alive during the occupation and Vichy, but who’d been raised by people who were and (while not politically active themselves) had generally been okay with the people running the show. The similar argument there was “well, sure, they turned a lot of Jews over to the Nazis, but I’m sure they didn’t know they were going to kill them.”

          In both cases, willful delusion and bending over backwards to excuse people you want to excuse in the first place.

    • CP

      We don’t want to think that a lot of people might be innately cruel and bullying.

      Not just for liberals but for people in general, I think. The inability to realize that there are far more people than we’d like to admit that’re capable of this kind of thing is very widespread, especially when we’re talking about people who’re like oneself. It’s where decades of useful idiots spouting “how can you say that my fellow white person is racist, I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation” comes from.

      • Origami Isopod

        It’s impolite, you see. Uncivil. For tone/concern/civility trolls, that’s the important thing. Not the morality.

  • keta

    Great piece. I especially liked the summary:

    It is far easier to do nothing, to trust that, somehow, America’s dangerous course will be set right. But this is a dangerous gamble, and in fact an abdication of our responsibility as Americans and indeed as human beings. If we do nothing, that is a choice. It means we accept a government that has demonstrated it is capable of inflicting cruelty on the innocent and defenseless.

    Silence is assent. Now is not the time to be silent.

  • socraticsilence

    This is where the “riding the 4-Chan/Reddit Tiger” is going to kill the Trump folks– when CBP officials start being doxxed. What if we start playing by Right Wing protest rules and show up in their neighborhoods handing out flyers and asking if their neighbors know a collaborator lives next door?

    I’m not saying such a tactic would be laudable, I’m saying its a natural and predictable response to the escalation.

    • Romantic nonsense. No one is going to Dox CPB people or, if they do, no one is going to have the nerve or the viciousness to go to their neighborhoods and “ask if a collaborator works next door.” I detest the assumption that someone from the chaotic evil bloc is going to do us any good. Those guys align themselves with that which is most horrible. They will not save us from Trumpism.

      • Origami Isopod

        This. The fact that there is (apparently) a faction of Anonymous that has regrouped and is trying to oppose Trump does not outweigh the fact that the feds mostly destroyed Anonymous several years ago, and that what’s left at 4chan and its clones are fascist scum.

    • Nick never Nick

      Go ahead, find the CBP officers’ homes and label them ‘collaborators’ — just hearing about that happening will cause Bannon to leap out of bed and dance a jig in his pajamas.

  • wjts

    As is so often the case, Terry Pratchett said it as well or better than anyone:

    Vorbis didn’t often go down to watch the inquisitors at work these days. Exquisitors didn’t have to. He sent down instructions, he received reports. But special circumstances merited his special attention.

    It has to be said… there was little to laugh at in the cellar of the Quisition. Not if you had a normal sense of humor. There were no jolly little signs saying: You Don’t Have To Be Pitilessly Sadistic To Work Here But It Helps!!!

    But there were things to suggest to a thinking man that the Creator of mankind had a very oblique sense of fun indeed, and to breed in his heart a rage to storm the gates of heaven.

    The mugs, for example. The inquisitors stopped work twice a day for coffee. Their mugs, which each man had brought from home, were grouped around the kettle on the hearth of the central furnace which incidentally heated the irons and knives.

    They had legends on them like A Present From the Holy Grotto of Ossory, or To The World’s Greatest Daddy. Most of them were chipped, and no two of them were the same.

    And there were the postcards on the wall. It was traditional that, when an inquisitor went on holiday, he’d send back a crudely colored woodcut of the local view with some suitably jolly and risque message on the back. And there was the pinned-up tearful letter from Inquisitor First Class Ishmale “Pop” Quoom, thanking all the lads for collecting no fewer than seventy-eight obols for his retirement present and the lovely bunch of flowers for Mrs. Quoom, indicating that he’d always remember his days in No. 3 pit, and was looking forward to coming in and helping out any time they were short-handed.

    And it all meant this: that there are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal, kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.

    Vorbis loved knowing that. A man who knew that, knew everything he needed to know about people.

    • El Guapo

      + 1 flying death tortoise

    • Domino

      In an interview that I don’t fully agree with, I like what Bourdain says here:

      I mean, you would think, Gee, with all these great travel shows on, there are plenty of opportunities to see how other people live. But you know something else travel has taught me: People rise up and kill their neighbors all the time. People they’ve lived with their whole lives, yesterday they were fine, today they’re the enemy. You’ve seen it in Yugoslavia, you’ve seen it in Borneo. Now you’re seeing it here. So, I don’t know.

      • wengler

        Familiarity breeds contempt genocidal tendencies.

        I’ve been thinking a lot lately about something Chris Hedges wrote in one of his books. I know he’s blacklisted here, but he has a good chapter in one of his books about how hate radio pounded over and over again is what leads to modern genocide. Trump is truly the rightwing hate radio President.

        • CP

          I’ve said a few times that nobody who’d been even intermittently reading the right wing blogosphere since the early 2000s is remotely surprised by anything Trump and those around him are trying to do.

          (I’m sure there are equivalents from before that when I was too young to be paying attention, I just don’t know what the pre-Internet version of “comments section of a Breitbart article” would be).

          • rm

            pre-internet Breitbart = Ron Paul direct-mail fundraising newsletter, maybe?

            Radio was the medium of propaganda in Rwanda. Dave Neiwert has been warning for decades that in the U.S., hate radio permeates the rural places that other broadcast media don’t reach. As radio has been supplemented by cable/satellite and internet, we now have hate propaganda in those media.

            It’s been a long term project. Probably has its historical roots in the John Birch Society and the KKK. Now they are in charge.

            I am optimistic we will ride these fuckers out on a rail at some point, if not in criminal courts then in an election. BUT I am profoundly pessimistic that we can fix what they break. If there is a national right-to-work law, destroyed regulatory agencies, energy industries run amok, wealth inequality made even worse, chaos and bigotry destroying our foreign relationships, etc. etc., it’s gonna be a long time crawling out of the hole, and I don’t expect we actually will. I this is the decline into an Octavia Butler dystopia, like in Parable of the Sower.

        • Mike G

          “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities” — Voltaire

          Right-wing propaganda has been marinating people in this bullshit for decades, and Trump’s post-truth assministration is the end result.

    • Hogan

      Beat me to it.

  • gmack

    And just to head off the “but if I didn’t comply, I’d be punished/killed/lose my job” defenses, I’ll remind everyone of Arendt’s commentary on the case of Anton Schmidt, a wehrmacht sergeant who aided Jewish partisans in resisting the Nazis. The lesson she draws is that “under conditions of terror most people will comply but some will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that ‘it could happen’ in most places but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.”

    It is certainly true that “ordinary” people who are decent can be induced to do terrible things. But this is not inevitable. Which is why, as the OP says, it is so continue fighting, protesting, and, if necessary, refusing to comply with cruelty.

    • MacK

      I remember finding somewhere a study of what happened to SS officers and NCOs and Wermacht who refused to participate. Apparently they were all quietly transferred, and not automatically to the Russian front either. Often to backwaters of the war in Norway, or southern France.

      • Rob in CT

        I remember that from my Holocaust class in college (which also assigned us Ordinary Men to read).

        It may well be from that book, actually.

        • nasser

          I have a copy of Ordinary Men. Can’t find mention of transfer to Norway or France, but Browning does say this on page 170 of my paperback:

          “Quite simply, in the past forty-five years no defense attorney or defendant in any of the hundreds of postwar trials has been able to document a single case in which the refusal to obey an order to kill unarmed civilians resulted in the allegedly inevitable dire punishment.”

      • gmack

        Right. The idea that people had “no choice” but to comply is a lie. As I recall (it’s been nearly 10 years since I last read it), Browning shows in Ordinary Men that those who didn’t want to participate in the massacres were often permitted to sit them out, more or less without consequence. Most soldiers didn’t take advantage of this option, apparently because they hated the idea of letting their comrades down in the execution of their duty.

        ETA: And even if they were to be punished, the notion of “having no choice” is still a lie, of course. It may be a difficult choice, but as Socrates once argued, it is better to suffer a wrong than to perform one.

        • Domino

          If I’m remembering correctly, one of the most chilling things revealed by that was that of the dozen or so men who chose to not participate, the most common reason given as to why was laziness. That they didn’t want to be police officers, and that the ones most enthusiastic with slaughtering thousands were the ones most ambitious and gunning for promotion.

      • Domino

        That reminded me – one of the best chances of surviving WWII was to be a German soldier sent to Norway. Hitler was paranoid of a British invasion and attack from the North, so he kept ~350,000 soldiers in Norway, often against the wishes of his generals.

        After Hitler committed suicide and Berlin fell, there was brief talk of turning the German soldiers in Norway as the last stand of the Reich, but (fortunately) that didn’t happen, and most of those soldiers returned home.

    • Philip

      Whatever its faults, everyone should read Ordinary Men at least once.

      • gmack


    • Joe Bob the III

      One detail I gleaned from reading Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was that a significant reason the Holocaust was ‘industrialized’ was the deleterious effect that more hands-on methods of massacre had on Nazi troops. As it turned out, there was not a surplus of Nazis gladly willing to machine gun people, especially women and children. It was plainly acknowledged by Nazi commanders that conducting mass executions had severe psychological consequences on many of the troops ordered to carry out the killings.

      Of course, there is still a vast difference between resistance or refusal versus compliance but nonetheless suffering moral injury.

      • Aardvark Cheeselog

        > the deleterious effect that more hands-on methods of massacre had on Nazi troops.

        Don’t remember that point being made in that book, but have seen it elsewhere in histories of the SS. Himmler himself went on some expeditions into Poland early on, and found it intolerable IIRC.

  • Warren Terra

    I saw a report someplace – after DHS Sec Kelly reversed the exclusion of Green Card holders but before the judicial order suspending the entire Executive Order – about a CBP passport-checker in the US Passport/Green Card line who was asking everyone who passed their station (or just every Green Card holder?) why he should be paying for their health care.

    This is a case of what I call “intimidation at badge point”: the officer says something mildly incendiary while you are in their power and unable to reply in kind or to even mildly escalate. And while it’s not in the same league as handcuffing a mother with children for 20 hours and threatening their deportation, it was happening in public, done to people who weren’t being treated as criminals.

    It’s been made even more clear than before by the “Blue Lives Matter” backlash to the “Black Lives Matter” movement’s demands for due process, transparency, and accountability that our law enforcement bodies contain a lot of would-be monsters, who engage in petty bullying every day and long to do much worse. Trump’s election inspires and empowers these dime-store Himmlers.

    • Steve LaBonne

      It’s one of the main things that attracted them to these jobs in the first place.

      • ColBatGuano

        The CBP people have been terrible for a very long time. I heard stories from folks I worked with back in the early 80’s about their abusive behavior.

    • I’m taking a class in Immigrants and Refugees, from a social worker/clinical trauma provision, perspective. Our professor just told us the story of a torture victim/refugee who was called in for his “interview” for asylum. While being interviewed the officer interviewing him put his hand, casually, on his holstered gun. To the lawyers and assistants it was nothing, just kind of a reflex action. To the interviewee/torture victim, it was a direct threat. After that he simply agreed with whatever he thought the interviewer wanted him to say. They had to pull the transcript and show the immigration judge the moment the interview went off the rails to get the false information expunged from the record and a new interview conducted.

      • delazeur

        While being interviewed the officer interviewing him put his hand, casually, on his holstered gun. To the lawyers and assistants it was nothing, just kind of a reflex action. To the interviewee/torture victim, it was a direct threat.

        I’ve never felt seriously threatened by a cop when they do that (I’m a white guy with a lot of social capital), but I have always assumed that they are taught to do it as a subtle reminder of who is in charge.

        • While being interviewed the officer interviewing him put his hand, casually, on his holstered gun. To the lawyers and assistants it was nothing, just kind of a reflex action. To the interviewee/torture victim, it was a direct threat.

          I’ve never felt seriously threatened by a cop when they do that

          I felt extremely threatened by the one cop who did that (though not exactly casually: he accompanied the gesture with some words about the possibility of his getting nervous…), on an occasion in 1975 or so on which I had been shouting intemperately at an (idiot asshole of a) newspaper vendor in Harvard Square (not Out-of-Town News).

          (I’m a white guy with a lot of social capital),

          I was and am a white guy, but was not at all confident of my social capital: when he asked where I was from, I said (deceptively) “Providence”, but certainly did not mention that I was an instructor at Brown; and when he instructed me to go down the stairs into the subway, travel back to Providence, and not return to Harvard Square, I hurriedly complied—to the extent that I did take the Red Line one stop to Central Square, but then sneaked back on foot to pick up the car I had left parked (and unmentioned) on Mt. Auburn Street. I was genuinely terrified (as in, trembling and sweating) at the possibility of his seeing me while driving around in his patrol car, and that if he did, the shit would hit the fan in earnest. I didn’t really think he’d shoot me, but short of that…

          but I have always assumed that they are taught to do it as a subtle reminder of who is in charge.

          One’s perception of subtlety in the gesture is almost certainly proportional to one’s (confidence in one’s) “social capital”, don’t you think?

      • LeeEsq

        I’m an immigration lawyer and this story sounds highly suspect to me. The Asylum Office has loads of problems with dishonest interviewing but asylum officers are civilians and not armed. They would actually be breaking federal law if they were armed or brought a gun into their office. The only immigration interview that might be conducted by an armed officer are ones that occur at the borders and points of entry. If a case is referred to immigration court by the asylum office, the alien and their lawyer are not given transcripts unless DHS seeks to admit it as impeachment material because immigration court hearings are de novo. If the lawyer had a copy of the interview, it’s most likely a border patrol or credible fear interview because those are attached to the notice to appear and are used to impeach more often. It’s very rare for DHS to use an asylum interview to impeach an alien even in the tough Immigration Courts and with unsympathetic judges.

        • jam

          How dare Aimai use potentially-incorrect terminology when relating a story that’s presented as 2nd hand!

          Thanks for the extremely helpful “Well actually…”.

          • LeeEsq

            Since I do this for a living, I feel very strongly that talking about immigration correctly involves using the correct terminology and getting the basic structure right. There is wildness and inconsistency in the EOIR, USCIS, and other immigration agencies but the broad procedures are generally followed pretty faithfully even in the more unfriendly to immigrant places.

            • jam

              Always important to give authority the benefit of the doubt and cast extra doubts on anyone who would question it.

              • rm

                I think you are misunderstanding LE’s point. It is important to understand the details, or real stories get smoothed out into urban legends. If I understand him, he’s saying this interview probably happened at the border, and not in a scheduled setting at a court or office while applying for asylum.

    • It is my observed experience that border patrol and customs agents are some of the biggest assholes I have ever witnessed.

      • D.N. Nation

        I know one – and by that I mean I now successfully don’t know him anymore – who was a rageaholic, violent character who chased off his girlfriend and then, when she was staying with a friend because she had nowhere else to go, threatened the friend. The kind who absolutely uses “cuck” unironically.

      • Jack M.

        And yet, I knew a BORTAC officer, father of a gay man, who is calm and pleasant and professional. He retired; perhaps the latest crop of CBP personnel are just more assholish.

        • Like anything, it’s not universal. There are indeed good cops who believe that Black Lives Matter and there are members of the Laborers Union who are environmentalists.

      • FMguru

        Most law enforcement jobs involve a certain amount of community engagement, a certain level of serving-and-protecting, of helping people and doing good deeds.

        Border guards don’t. Their entire job is to treat every single person they come into contact with as a potential smuggler or threat or malcontent, and half the people you interact with don’t even have congressmen to complain to. You have carte blanche to fuck with people (foreigners) who look different from you and speak with funny accents. It’s a job that absolutely selects for people who are too thuggish and antisocial to be regular cops, if you can imagine such a thing.

      • Mike G

        US CBP are some of the nastiest I’ve encountered anywhere. Going through immigration at LAX is like being processed into jail, bellowing crew-cutted thuggish guys with prominent sidearms. And this is for a “normal” looking middle-aged white guy US citizen. It’s a national disgrace.

        Compare it with most other western countries where it is businesslike and rule-driven but professional, like interacting with a bank teller.

        It didn’t used to be this way. And I’ve noticed the same trend with local police dept I interact with on the job. The older cops are recognizably human, many of the younger ones are like killer robots.

        • rm

          Heck, Canadian border patrol agents can be downright charming. I’m not saying they don’t fuck some poeple up — this might be my white privilege talking. But, I swear, the last one I encountered was bubbly.

          I have never met a bubbly U.S. border agent.

          • That can go either way. Sometimes you get the Canadian border patrol agents who want to prove they’re just as tough as their US counterparts. (I still get shaky when I think about the one who nearly denied my work permit renewal, on the grounds that “they should never have issued this permit in the first place.”)

    • Phil Perspective

      It’s been made even more clear than before by the “Blue Lives Matter” backlash to the “Black Lives Matter” movement’s demands for due process, transparency, and accountability that our law enforcement bodies contain a lot of would-be monsters, who engage in petty bullying every day and long to do much worse. Trump’s election inspires and empowers these dime-store Himmlers.

      They were already empowered long before Cheeto. Just look at Chicago. The CPD ran a torture center for years. And Democratic politicians still cover up for them. Also, too, the FOP in Philadelphia is actually running commercials looking for willing chumps to run for DA.

      • Origami Isopod

        Gotta agree with Phil here on this one.

    • CP

      It’s been made even more clear than before by the “Blue Lives Matter” backlash to the “Black Lives Matter” movement’s demands for due process, transparency, and accountability that our law enforcement bodies contain a lot of would-be monsters, who engage in petty bullying every day and long to do much worse. Trump’s election inspires and empowers these dime-store Himmlers.

      “Do you want to be a cop, or do you want to appear to be a cop? It’s an honest question. Lots of people want to appear to be cops. The badge, the gun, pretend they’re on TV…”
      “Some of them just want to put a n/gg/r’s head through a plate glass window!”

    • Mike G

      He’s a federal government employee. He should be thanking every US taxpayer passing by, since THEY are paying for HIS health care.

      Failing to crack down on unprofessional BS like this the rot that leads to brutality and abuse. Who else gets to mouth off to their customers at work and get away with it?

  • Brad Nailer

    This goes along well with something Carl Jung noted in The Undiscovered Self: an indispensable part of a totalitarian regime is “a well-fed police army.” Citizens vs. citizens, a civil war by any other name.

    • NewishLawyer

      When I was volunteering for HRC in Reno, I stayed in the same hotel that was also holding a convention/meeting for California SWAT officers. Most of these guys were white dudes in their 30s and 40s but this being California SWAT, it was slightly more diverse and there were some Asian and Hispanic officers.

      They were all ecastatic about Trump’s victory. What I wonder is if and when these local police decide that they are on Team Trump rather than Team California. San Francisco and Oakland have had just as much trouble with their police forces being racist as any red state. The Bay Area conundrum is that sometimes you have Asian police officers making racist comments and texts about Blacks and Hispanics instead of white dudes. Oakland had the hell of an underaged prostitution scandal.

      • Crusty

        Of course, I could be wrong, but my sense is that for the majority of law enforcement, they love the Trump victory more for what it will do for the precious, precious feelings, rather than seeing it as a license to execute shoplifters in the street. They like the perception that if they shoot, say, a black motorist holding flowers or cotton candy and claim they thought it was a gun, the president will say hey, you don’t know what its like to be in their shoes, they’re making America great, keeping us safe, let’s give them a medal, after all, it could have been a gun, rather than a cautious yeah, maybe we need to look at policies and procedures to make sure that sort of thing doesn’t happen as much. Are there some looking for a license to administer street justice like real men? Sure. But they have stupider concerns too.

        • NewishLawyer

          I don’t think they want to administer rampant violence but I wonder if they will turn their backs on the elected politicians of their city. NYPD tried to block protestors from getting to JFK. Cuomo said let them go and the police complied but are they going to follow Trump one day instead of Mayor Lee or Mayor De Blasio or Governor Brown or Governor Cuomo?

          • Philip

            I don’t think they want to administer rampant violence

            Oakland PD sure as shit want to.

            • Lost Left Coaster

              Rampant violence and human trafficking.

          • humanoid.panda

            I don’t think they want to administer rampant violence but I wonder if they will turn their backs on the elected politicians of their city. NYPD tried to block protestors from getting to JFK. Cuomo said let them go and the police complied but are they going to follow Trump one day instead of Mayor Lee or Mayor De Blasio or Governor Brown or Governor Cuomo?

            Thing is – Trump is not the one signing their paychecks, right?

            • rm

              But their feelings. Their feelings may override chain of command, when the top of the chain is an elected civilian liberal.

  • ochospantalones

    While the broader point is likely true, immigration enforcement is a pretty bad example of the phenomenon. CBP, and even-more-so ICE, are largely not staffed by “ordinary” people, if ordinary means anything resembling a representative cross-section of Americans. The officers are a self-selected group who are largely hostile to immigrants before they ever work a day in the agency. That’s why they wanted the job. Being assholes to people seeking admission and refusing to talk to lawyers is not something they suddenly thought of after Trump was elected, it’s routine. I suspect that for many of them Trump’s executive order simply emboldened them to do the things they already wanted to.

    • Rob in CT

      I suspect that for many of them Trump’s executive order simply emboldened them to do the things they already wanted to.

      We’re going to see a lot of this, and not just from CBP & ICE.

      • ochospantalones

        Yes. It’s not a coincidence that law-enforcement in general overwhelmingly supported Trump.

      • McAllen

        Yep. Among other things, I’m afraid we’re going to see many more killings of black people by cops, and Black Lives Matter protests suppressed much more violently.

        • petesh

          That’s a completely valid concern, and there is no question that those attracted to a law-enforcement career (broadly speaking, to include CBP and the like) do tend to have an authoritarian bias, relative to those who would never consider donning a uniform.

          (A good cop of my acquaintance genuinely wants to help people to do exactly what he thinks they should be doing. He’s well-intentioned but I find some of his choices very frustrating, and he thinks I’m pretty weird.)

          Cops are public servants, and it’s really important that they see themselves as such. Many of them don’t, they see themselves as the enforcement arm of the political order, and many (probably most) people have internalized that and react in fear (understandably). It’s a terrible dynamic, which needs to be broken, and I don’t know how.

          • so-in-so

            It’s a terrible dynamic, which needs to be broken, and I don’t know how.

            “The wheel” was traditional…

          • Owlbear1

            Make White male police officers the minority.

            • humanoid.panda

              In Israel, police officers are drawn from marginalized groups: Ethiopian Jews, the Druze, Sephardic Jews, Russians. Doesn’t make them any less authoritaria – perhaps even more, as they strive to establish distance from the people they police.

              • CP

                I believe it’s traditional in many countries to use minorities that are “other, but not too other” as enforcers to stomp on “really really other” demographics. I.E. the Irish-Catholic connection to American police departments, or the Corsican connection to French security agencies.

                Wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing were at work in Israel. I mean, when you say marginalized groups, does that include Arab Muslims? Couldn’t help but notice that apart from the Druze, the groups you mentioned would all count as “distinct and marginalized but still Jewish.”

    • Cheerfull

      Where do they come from mostly – other law enforcement or are they recruited directly into the CBP?

      I can never forget the weary tone of annoyance by one official contemplating whether to send my girlfriend back across the border to Canada, when he said “Well I know we’re supposed to be nice to people for tourism” – as if just that morning an email had been broadcast across the system – try to be nicer, the tourist industry is complaining.

      • ochospantalones

        I think in general they come from the same sorts of pools of people who want to pursue other law enforcement careers. But it’s a long process to get hired with CBP. And you often need to be willing to relocate, especially to rural areas. If you just want a badge and a gun there are probably easier, less disruptive ways to get them.

        There has been a recent push to draw directly from people leaving the military. Not sure if it has been effective.

    • LeeEsq

      Its a basic problem with all forms of liberalism. What to you do with the illiberal, authoritarian people? Especially when they will be drawn to jobs that they really shouldn’t have like police, border patrol, etc. They aren’t going to magically go away.

      • Personality tests that reject proto-authoritarians and would be sadists?

        • Rob in CT

          Do we have good/reliable tests for that?

          • Yes, we do. Its very easy to determine who is a high scoring authoritarian who will follow orders or is prone to violence and who is a low scoring authoritarian who will not. Check out Bob Altemeyer’s seminal work The Authoritarians but there’s been tons of work done on this. You absolutely could screen people out, if you wanted to.

            • Rob in CT

              I’ve read Altemeyer online. It was eye-opening, and it’s partly why I was hammering on the idea that Trump’s base were authoritarians and that was key to understanding how he got nominated (how he got elected is more complicated).

              Ok. I’d worry about people learning to game the tests, but hell that’s a better thing to worry about that what we have at present.

              • Joe Bob the III

                And it’s no surprise they religious right fell in line as well. Fundamentalist religions are inherently authoritarian.

          • Ahuitzotl

            “Are you a member of the Republican Party” isn’t reliable?

        • LeeEsq

          A good idea and it should be able to pass constitutional scrutiny. Certain types of jobs should not be held by people with certain personality traits. The issue is if there are enough people without these personality traits that want these jobs.

          • Ronan

            I don’t know to what extent you should be screening people for jobs based on tests from a discipline undergoing a serious replication crisis. ( one where numerous “personality tests” have shown themselves not to be particularly good at predicting behaviour)
            Even leaving aside the usefulness of the tests, there’s a further couple of practical problems (1) people are eventually going to be able to game the test,if they know what an employer is looking for and what answers to give to get that result , then they can give those answers. (2) the problem isn’t only that people self select into these jobs , but that people *are selected* for them. The job itself socialises people into a specific type of group mentality. If you want to change the sorts of behaviours the job incentives, then you have to reconsider and reform the role they perform.

          • jam

            The issue is if there are enough people without these personality traits that want these jobs.

            The well-known solution to labor shortages is to offer higher wages.

            • LeeEsq

              There are some pretty sweet monetary benefits to being a police officer, prison guard, etc. like pensions. Doesn’t seem to help much. You also have to get tax payers willing to pay for higher wages.

              • jam

                I thought we were talking about the hypothetical situation where strong authoritarians were prevented from holding these jobs.

                Obviously there’s no labor shortage in law enforcement when you’re willing to accept strong authoritarians.

                But the presence of strong authoritarians will tend to crowd out anyone without those traits, e.g. Adrian Schoolcraft.

        • keta

          One of the many, many things I’ve learned here at LGM is that a lot of US police forces screen out candidates who are too intelligent.

          I guess it cuts down on contemplation when you’re officially given a hammer and told everything out there is a nail.

          • Rob in CT

            I vaguely remember a lawsuit over that practice here in CT (New Haven, I think?).

          • LeeEsq

            I can actually see a good reason for this. You want police to obey complicated orders so they can’t be too dumb but you also don’t want them to think they know better and get creative or hesitate because of doubts at certain times so they can’t be too intelligent.

            • jam

              Not every devil needs an advocate. And that is not the rationale that a police department used when sued over this policy.

            • Lost Left Coaster

              Um…nope. That’s like saying you don’t want an airline pilot who is too intelligent because she’ll have to follow checklist procedures in an emergency and shouldn’t overthink it.

              Too much intelligence isn’t a problem. A lack of leadership skills is a problem. You can be trained in leadership. But it has to start from a strong moral center.

            • CP

              In my experience, people’s tendency to believe that they know better and therefore are entitled to get creative has little to do with their actual intelligence.

              • BiloSagdiyev

                Could you give us an example from current events in the past year?

          • PhoenixRising

            true story: I took the written exam and passed the physical for CHP, then was called into an interview. The officer who was supposed to check me out to see if I was moral enough to join the army and burn women, kids, houses & villages asked me a few questions about some of my responses on the written test and thanked me for coming.

            I learned from a friend who made it through the process that the interviews were only for the top .5% of written scores. From 80-99.5% rankings, that’s a pass. Above that, it’s a soft fail unless you make it clear in the interview that it was a fluke.

            I failed the interview.

      • CP

        Well, actual accountability measures like Internal Affairs and citizen review boards that have real teeth would be nice.

        But then you get into the problem that a lot of the people in authority like having cops that they can rely on to behave like thugs, and that a lot of the people who elect them, in turn, do as well.

        • McAllen

          Well, actual accountability measures like Internal Affairs and citizen review boards that have real teeth would be nice.

          This would, at least, be a good start, although your right that it’s going tot be hard to dredge u the political will for it.

          Basically, if the job is attracting bullies, the solution is to change the job until it is no longer attractive to bullies.

      • Owlbear1

        Make their pay based on bonuses they can only earn from Positive reviews from the people they arrest.

        Give out prizes for revealing brutality.

        Hell, just pay enough that people besides the sadists want the job.

  • IM

    Growing up I interacted with a number of old nazis.

    No difference from other old people to me.

    • Warren Terra

      Growing up you interacted with a number of old Nazis who were no longer encouraged and empowered by the state, the media, and the culture to be and do their worst. It seems to me this is an important difference, one we’re going to be living in the years ahead.

      • IM

        true. Retired.

      • IM

        But you have the government now, hlaf of the culture and you will get the law. Soyou will find the people.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      But did you punch them?

      • IM

        No, I said: Grandpa!

  • West

    There’s also going to be an acceleration of self-sorting and institutional sorting. As others have pointed out, the folks in CBP uniforms lean rightward to begin with. Within CBP, who do you think is receiving promotions, and who’s receiving demotions? Pretty easy to assume that Bannon et al will be aware of these acts of free-lancing, and will reward them. CBP officers at the more civilized end of the scale will get harassed and not all will be able to endure it, some will self-select themselves right out the door. The nuttier ones will see the room for advancement and will overcome any internal constraints that might remain, and will seek to self-select themselves onto the “winning” side. Over the course of four years, the damage to CBP will be immense.

    I’m in favor of the doxxing idea if it can be done without landing the doxxers in jail. At least a few of the rightward leaning people will have the sense to realize the pendulum might swing again, and won’t want to lay down too much of a track record.

    But I think the mass protests and relentless political pressure are better tactics.

  • Lot_49

    “The Nazis ruled Paris with very few soldiers because so many France were willing to play along.”

    In fairness to the French and other occupied peoples of WW II, the Nazis exacted murderous group reprisals against any resistance.

    • CP

      True, but it’s also true that they had a lot of fans there from the start.

      France had a socialist and Jewish prime minister named Leon Blum in the latter half of the thirties whose right wing opponents despised the man with Birther-esque intensity, and “better Hitler than Blum!” was an actual slogan at the time. (After the invasion, he was shipped to a camp in Germany where he spent the rest of the war, though he didn’t die). There was fertile soil for Vichy long before the war, mostly in the form of conservatives who’d never truly accepted a republican form of government and leapt at the chance to bury it.

      • wengler

        And then there’s the bitter irony of Petain. He made his mark as the general who fought and won against the Germans, and then the second go around became their willing puppet.

  • LeeEsq

    Civil disobedience is based on the idea that not only should people not obey unjust laws but that they should have a pretty easy time knowing what laws are unjust. The problem is that many people do not see the law that way. To use a neutral term, they are basically lawful, the law is to be followed even if it dumb or cruel. If the law, in the form of the EO, states that no alien or LPR from x countries should get in than many people are going to simply shrug and say that’s the law.

    There are many other people who believe differently though and did stand up to an unjust law in the form of civil disobedience. I actually think that partisan, tribal politics might have helped. There are times in living memory where an EO like Trump’s would have been greeted with fewer and smaller protests that were less effective.

  • The banality of evil is a real thing. And so is the Nuremberg Defense, unfortunately. These people will have the full weight of the Justice Department behind them, no matter what they do. The government is now being run by people who think that the main problem with Abu Ghraib is that someone leaked the pictures.

    • i8kraft

      And will be whenever Republicans run the government.

  • LeeEsq

    The Nazis were able to get the help of many ordinary people because there were also over a thousand of years of Jew-hatred stretching all the way back to pre-Christian Antiquity. The Jews were the bogeyman of the Western imagination for over and we were the bogeyman for many different contradictory reasons. The passions that the Nazis stirred did not originate with them but came elsewhere.

    • No doubt. Antisemitism ran very deep with the German people, as it did through most of Europe and even over here in the good old USA. You can say the same thing about Islamophobia, and why I will not be surprised when work camps populated by Muslims start popping up.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        Work camps? Pollyanna!

  • BiloSagdiyev

    Thanks for the unpleasant screencap, Erik. I’ll never forget that scene.


    Based in Argentina in the 1980’s, a woman who has adopted a baby eventually figures out that her husband got it from the torture state, where babies were stolen from female prisoners.

    When she confronts him about it all, he smashes her fingers between a door and door frame. There, now you can all feel as queasy as I did.

    P.S. Er, if that pic is what I think it is!

    • Yep!

      Good times.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        Boy, you probably liked Death and the Maiden, too.

    • RPorrofatto

      For anyone who hasn’t read it, this amazing story shows that plot isn’t at all farfetched. Plus it gives me a chance to celebrate the recent disinterment of the corpse of Elliot Abrams.

      • Gregor Sansa

        There are a lot of those stories from Guatemala. Here’s another.

        Guatemala’s high murder rate today has a direct connection to the habits of violence and of submission learned in the war, and to the organized maintenance of impunity (and thus hamstringing of law enforcement) by its worst perpetrators. The UN mission that’s fighting impunity (MINUGUA) is truly a beacon of hope there, and the fact that Trump will almost certainly scuttle it as soon as some genocidal Guatemalan scumbag gets his ear is among the (many) notable dangers of Trump in my book.

      • BiloSagdiyev

        Abrams walks among us!


        Four books about religion, eh, Elliot? (Barf.)

    • prostratedragon

      That movie, and the story of the Dirty War in general, strike me as fine examples of the banality of evil. It happened right in the midst of polite, educated middle class society. Glad to see it mentioned so prominently here.

  • AndersH

    What most people think when they ponder whether they would stand up to fascism is being confronted by a man with a skull helmet who’s probably cackling while manhandling a virtuous woman. In truth, to stand up to fascism you must first identify what makes a fascist order different from, say, the order to evict a homeowner in the wake of the 2007 crisis.

    • CP

      Rehashing a point I made yesterday, the problem with fascism is that its prejudices by definition are the same as those of society at large. This can make it difficult for people who’ve internalized these prejudices by osmosis to identify the problem in the first place, much less respond to it.

      • so-in-so

        I suppose we make the effort to lean the other way – assume all orders are fascistic by default until determined otherwise. Our society leans heavily on the “follow orders”, at least when they come from Republicans.

      • brewmn

        I am sure most of the people who laugh at me for talking about the arrival of full-blown American fascism into the mainstream genuinely believe that I am overreacting to Trump’s election.

        I’m not sure which group scares me more: the people who think I’m being ridiculous, or the people who don’t but support Trump anyway.

    • Philip

      One happened because of the soulless monstrosity of fascism while the other happened because of the heartless monstrosity of capitalism?

      • wengler

        The beautiful thing about capitalism is that it’s not the system’s fault if a person dies because of it, it’s the individual’s fault for not excelling in the ‘equal’ playing field that capitalism provides.

  • Nick never Nick

    The border guards are the ideal place to test out authoritarian plans — they are vile people. My in-laws from Thailand came to visit us for a month in Canada, and decided to fly down to visit a relative in South Carolina. I was apprehensive about this, because they are elderly farmers who don’t speak any English, it was kind of daunting to imagine them negotiating their way alone through the United States. Anyway, I wrote a detailed letter for Customs and Immigration, explaining who they were, where they were going, and how they would be surviving and returning to Canada.

    Anyway, at the border their time was tight — two hours to change planes, go through Immigration, get to the new plane. The border guard refused to read the letter, just let it lie on the desk, and kept asking them questions. I had warned them above all to not say “Yes Yes” (as is their wont) if they didn’t understand, but to shake their heads and say “No English”. This went on for half an hour. They kept trying to push the letter towards the guard; the guard refused to pick it up and look at it. Eventually, they were let through, I can’t remember if the letter was read or not, and they nearly missed their flight. My in-laws, some of the most pro-American people you could meet in the world, found it one of the most upsetting and frightening experiences of their lives — they were dumbfounded by the total unreasonableness of it to them, in their own country it would have indicated someone wanted a bribe, but here there was no purpose to it at all.

    It’s a small thing in the scale of affairs, and it didn’t end in disaster, but in my opinion, small things can tell you something about the larger whole. Many people who work on the border hold foreigners in contempt, prefer intransigence or outright violence to common sense, and see guarding the country as a zero sum game where any little fun they feel like having is justified and probably affirming to their own self-image.

    • Nick never Nick

      On the way back, they had a cooler full of deer meat, leaking blood . . . Naturally, Canadian customs pulled this out and had a dog sniff it — the dog went kind of crazy, crawled all over the cooler, snuffling and drooling, and when the handler tried to pull away, broke free and ran back. All of the inspectors started laughing, and apologized in sign language as they threw all the meat out.

      Their description of the two borders was very interesting — their picture of the US was a very grim one, of dour armed people shouting, glowering, and threatening. I’m not saying that the Canadian border guards are any angels, but the US side is something else.

      • ColBatGuano

        We used to have a boat that we sailed from Seattle into the Canadian San Juans. Going into Canada the immigration service would pop over, ask a few questions and then wish us good day. Coming back into the U.S. San Juans we were invariable subjected to an unpleasant inquisition about where we had been and what we were carrying, as if this were a major smuggling route.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      I spent too much of my life thinking that racism was mostly just a mechanical thing about economics and competition for wages. I slowly realized in the past ten years: Nope. Some people really want somebody else to shit on. Just being able to humiliate someone is a big reward to them. Not being able to yell the N word out their car window at some little old lady is the tyranny of political correctness.

      And, of course, for the 28% that Hold America Hostage, their only problem with the world is that it’s full of furriners.

  • libarbarian


    • farin

      Vital advice for current police officers, too.

  • Nick never Nick

    One could perhaps think of fascism, or a fascist tendency, as the group of people who are happy to feel that they aren’t required to make moral choices — well, the President has required the 5-year-old be handcuffed and imprisoned, time to do it.

  • LeeEsq

    My experience with an immigration lawyer leads me to believe that many civil servants are able to switch to meet the tone of the current administration rather easily. Some people at USCIS are basically greeters and others guardians. There are many that seem to be able to switch between greeters and guardians based on the signals they are getting from the current administration though. That’s another problem. People aren’t necessarily consistently bad or good.

    • so-in-so

      People who easily act as bad people, are bad people who occasionally “act” good.

      • LeeEsq

        In my experience many civil servants do try to guess what the current mood of the elected officials are at the moment at act accordingly. George Bush issued an EO asking that Chinese immigrants be given special consideration after Tiananmen Square. The asylum grant rate jumped up pretty quickly from around 30% to nearly 80% for Chinese asylum seekers simply because of this order. The Asylum Officers and Immigration Judges decided that the President wanted Chinese asylum seekers to be treated generously and acted accordingly.

        • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

          But there’s a big difference. All immigration policy is essentially a political decision favoring certain groups above other groups of applicants. When the priorities of the leaders change, then the line employees need to follow the new ones unless ordered otherwise by a court.

          Treating people poorly is just a reflection of the immorality of the workers who are harassing the people, absent some clear indication that the person seeking to enter the country represents an immediate danger to the workers or the country. Only assholes handcuff a 5 year-old absent very unusual circumstances.

  • Miksa

    My experience was different. In the late 1980s I did a spot of pro bono work before the then INS. I was shocked to see how much random, if low-level, cruelty there was in the INS offices when I went there to file paperwork, etc.

    On a broader level, it brings to mind a common saying in interwar Hungary that “an anti-semite is someone who hates Jews excessively.” This seems to be the feeling of many trumpistas and their apologists that you’re only a bigot if you hate your target group (Jews, Muslims, people of color, LGBTQs, etc.) excessively.

    • CP

      “Excessively” is, of course, a shifting set of goalposts, and in practice they’ll continue to make excuses for The Right People as they shift further and further into blatant racism. See also the average NeverTrumpist who’s spent the last three months loudly scolding anyone who thinks racism might have a lot to do with either the Trump administration or its support base for their insensitivity and elitism and political correctness, even though in many cases they said the exact same thing during the primary.

    • LeeEsq

      There is still a lot of randomness in USCIS. I’ve been at adjustment interviews where the officer tried to re-litigate the underlying visa or application and others where the officer just asked some background information and went straight ahead to the yes or no security questions.

  • citizen

    You know, if you want to join the Cook County (Chicago) Sheriff’s Department, you have to spend the first two years of your career as a prison guard (ok, correctional officer). How’s that for good training in how to treat the citizenry?

  • drpuck
    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

      Beat me to it.

      I now realize that while I read about them as cautionary info, others were reading them for useful techniques.

  • q-tip

    Seeing all the sub threads on Eichmann, “good Germans,” and so on makes me want to share the obituary of George (nee Juergen) Wittenstein, a member of the White Rose who survived the war – including a stint as a medical corpsman on the Eastern Front and in Warsaw – and lived in Santa Barbara for 60ish years. I wonder what he’d be saying now.

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