There is no good argument to be made that journalists should not be critical in their coverage of the Trump administration. After all, to hold the president to account, to inform the public on the consequences of his policy choices, “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” as that famous saying goes, is all in the job description. It’s just a pity they only decided to take the responsibility seriously when Trump took office.
Why should anyone believe that their showy displays of grief and horror are sincere now, given their silence during the Obama years, when many of the same policies causing outrage now were also in place then?
The same thing goes for the Democrats, who are eagerly attempting to cast themselves as the party of compassion. Joe Biden railed against Trump’s “deportation state” in the Miami Herald this week, despite having served as vice president under Obama, dubbed the ‘Deporter in Chief’ by immigrants rights activists.
The Obama administration deported more migrants than any previous administration, with children “moved to the head of the line” to be turfed out.
Two years before Trump appeared on the scene, in 2014, 445 people died attempting to cross an increasingly militarized border. Obama boasted in 2011 that the number of border patrol agents had more than doubled since 2004 — proud that he had continued the increases that had begun under the Bush administration.
The University of Arizona’s Binational Migration Institute explained in a 2013 report that “segmented border militarization”had resulted in “the redistribution of migratory flows into remote and dangerous areas such as southern Arizona.” Rights organizations spoke up about the “alarming rise of migrant deaths on US soil.”
It would be inaccurate to say that there was no coverage of the crisis while Obama was president. There was some bland, less-emotional coverage. There was also some in-depth reporting which captured the extent of the crisis — but there was no mass media mobilization against Obama himself. The facts and death tolls were not plastered across the cable news networks night and day. No one argued that Obama was shaming America.
A clip of a Trump administration lawyer arguing that migrant children did not need soap and toothpaste to be “safe and sanitary” went viral last week. It was jarring to listen to, but again, there was nothing new here — only the willingness of some to suddenly be moved to outrage.
A 2015 lawsuit described “inhumane” conditions in border detention facilities under Obama. Men, women and children, it said, were “packed into overcrowded and filthy holding cells with the lights glaring day and night.” They suffered “in brutally cold temperatures; deprived of beds, bedding, and sleep,” were denied adequate food, water and medical care, as well as “basic sanitation items” like soap, toilet paper and diapers. This all while the media treated Obama with kid gloves and liberals sang his praises.
There were no deaths of children in Customs and Border Protection custody under Obama — and there have been six under the Trump administration, so it is fair to argue, that with the implementation of some more extreme anti-asylum policies and perhaps an even greater lack of caring, Trump has taken an already dysfunctional, inhumane and under-funded system — and simply made it worse.
There is a case to be made that he has done this on purpose; to make the situation as unappealing as possible to those who might be tempted to make the treacherous and potentially fatal journey to and across the US’s southern border — but the reality is, however unappealing he tries to make it, for many, it will still be more appealing than the alternative.
The biggest elephant in the room, however, is not that the Obama administration was guilty of many of the same things as the current one. It’s that every single US administration for decades has been guilty of contributing to the creation of this crisis through an abominable imperialist foreign policy that has ravaged the very countries these migrants are coming from.
Democrats and Republicans have spent decades enthusiastically destabilizing Latin America under the guise of democracy promotion. In reality, they have stolen its wealth and resources, engineered military coups and installed dictators, funded and equipped death squads — and imposed deadly economic sanctions. Where are all the liberals crying about that? How could such inhumane policy have led to anything else?
It’s hardly the first time an image of a dead child has been used to serve a political agenda. Remember Omran Daqneesh, the five-year-old boy who became the face of Syria’s war after a photo of him, covered in ash and sitting shell-shocked in an ambulance, shot around the world?
Regime-change activists within the mainstream media commentariat had the audacity to use that image to call for more Western bombing — so, seeing some of the same crowd using the image of Valeria Martinez to frame Trump as uniquely evil in the history of the US presidency is no big surprise.