Leading US Democrat Nancy Pelosi says the Trump administration’s migrant family separation policy, now hastily rescinded, “leaves a dark stain on our nation”.
Well, perhaps it does. But against the broad sweep of history, it pales into insignificance against other stains on the American soul. American history is littered with episodes the nation would doubtless prefer to forget, most of them involving appalling mistreatment of vulnerable minorities.
There were massacres of Native Americans, of which Wounded Knee is the most infamous example. There was the Trail of Tears – the forced relocation of American Indian tribes from their ancestral homelands, which resulted in thousands of deaths from exposure, disease and starvation. There was slavery, and later the institutionalised oppression of the descendants of those slaves. There were mob lynchings of black Americans – too many to count, and often accompanied by acts of unimaginably sadistic cruelty. There was the Ku Klux Klan, whose brutal enforcement of white supremacy was often condoned and even encouraged by politicians. There was organised crime and corruption on a massive scale, its perpetrators secure in the knowledge that the people charged with enforcing the law could easily be bought off. In foreign affairs, the US government has repeatedly propped up repressive totalitarian regimes - another stain. And even on the battlefield there has been at least one act of unfathomable American savagery, the My Lai massacre.
America remains a fundamentally decent society, its people genuinely committed to doing the right thing. That’s apparent from the widespread revulsion at the forced separation of migrant children from their parents. But there’s something distasteful about Pelosi making political capital out of the migrant crisis and indulging in sanctimonious, hand-wringing hyperbole by calling it a dark stain on the nation, when she must know that far, far worse things have been done in and by America – many of them, moreover, perpetrated by Democratic Party governments.