I received a lot of supportive feedback about my last post in which I criticized Gov. Mary Fallin for trying to boost her reelection campaign by generating collective anger towards the refugee children now housed at Fort Sill in Lawton.
Fallin’s campaign has started a petition drive that aims to force President Barack Obama to move the Central American children—most of whom are fleeing violence in countries such as Honduras and Nicaragua—from the federal facility in Oklahoma. The petition drive is superfluous. Its only purpose is to create anger among conservative Oklahoma voters and activate them to support Fallin, who has been sinking in the polls recently.
The children are part of a widely reported exodus of Central American young people seeking asylum and refuge in the U.S. They have been labeled “migrant” or “illegal aliens” by the media and right-wing here, but the reality is they’re political refugees and victims of botched U.S. international and immigration policies.
The Oklahoma governor’s message is clear and simple: We don’t want these children in Oklahoma. As I wrote, this is a craven message and really tests the limits of Oklahoma voters. Do they really have that much hate inside themselves that they would allow children to suffer and even die and revel in it? Fallin’s campaign is banking on it. It’s also banking on the fact that voters won’t look more deeply into the issue and note a policy enacted under former President George Bush has prevented the federal government from acting more quickly to resolve the issue. Blame Bush, not Obama.
Here are some more extended arguments about the issue:
(1) Both the Catholic Church and, more importantly for Oklahoma, some Southern Baptist Church leaders have come out in support of giving aid to the children and treating them humanely, but the local right-wing religious folks have been fairly silent on the issue. Fallin’s campaign ploy really sets a new low in arousing “group hate” against a group of vulnerable children. It sets an unbelievable precedent in hatred and cravenness. The fact that Southern Baptist Church leaders here, in particular, aren’t fully criticizing Fallin’s lack of compassion shows how craven this religious denomination—rooted in racism—has become at the local level.
(2) To extend the argument further, I think about all the sanctimonious Oklahoma people who make mission trips to impoverished countries, preaching their gospel and undoubtedly furthering the anti-abortion cause among people. But now that these brown-skinned people are in their home state in the U.S., the home-grown “missionaries” turn their backs on them and become red in the face with anger and indignation. These people simply lack moral compunction. Their religious beliefs are twisted and sordid.
(3) What about American “exceptionalism,” the right-wing canard? So our country is so exceptional that we’re going to deport children back to countries in which they face death and misery and impoverishment?
(4) The cliché is that Oklahomans are so nice, but what type of craven people would support a politician who agitates essentially for the mistreatment of children? What type of people would get some type of visceral thrill by mistreating children? Let’s be clear: Many, many Oklahomans are not “nice” at all in any traditional sense. They burn inside with hatred and spite. It’s the state’s shame, and the dirty little secret you won’t find on any state tourist brochure.
(5) Let’s also be clear about this: Fallin’s campaign ploy is racist. If these children were white, would there even be a question about helping them? Fallin’s attempt to agitate the hateful mob is rooted in the darker side of the American story, the racist story, the one coated over with euphemisms in our elementary-school textbooks.
Conservative politicians, of course, have a long history of whipping up anger among voters in order to get votes while deflecting attention way from issues that matter, such as income inequality. So there’s nothing really new here, with the exception that these are young children who need our help. Fallin may well reverse her slide in the polls, but let it be noted at the very least that doing so at the expense of vulnerable children is an ugly way to do so.
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