Peter S. Temes
On June 1st President Trump said, “America is founded on the rule of law.”
In fact, the United States of America is founded on Natural Law – that is, human rights. Read the Declaration of Independence. We are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights. Law follows these rights; it does not lead ahead of these rights.
And when the law is wrong, “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it. . .” The president is wrong on the facts here, which might matter less than the fact that he is wrong on the nature of humanity, on human rights, and on what it is to be a decent man and a decent leader.
This attempt to rewrite the founding impulse of the American nation helps explain the connections between border politics and the extraordinary wave of protest that has swept across our country in recent days focused on police killings of African American people.
The statement “Black Lives Matter” is elegant and positive, affirming a human fact about the preciousness of all lives. As a protest sign held by a small girl at a recent demonstration explained, “We Said: Black Lives Matter. Never Said: Only Black Lives Matter. We Know: All Lives Matter. We Just Need Your Help Because: Black Lives Are In Danger.”
The lives of migrants are also in danger. Their lives are also precious. The rights with which we are all endowed are as deeply woven into their lives and their hearts as they are in ours. A passport is irrelevant. Governments are created, the Declaration tells us, to secure these rights, and the consent of the governed is necessary for governments to be just.
We see images of African American people being deprived – by their government – of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: the images of George Floyd, Addie Mae Collins, Emmett Till, and as we recall our history, literally millions more.
“The consent of the governed” is an underappreciated phrase. Who is governed by the forces of our nation? Citizens, certainly. Others as well. The woman detained by ICE and deported is being governed. Every soul in detention under lock and key in this nation is being governed. Every child and adult in a tent in Matamoros – affirmed by an agent of our government to have credible fear of persecution and pushed back across our border to wait in squalor – is governed.
We are in ten thousand different struggles now, for better policing, for humane borders, for the legacy of George Floyd, for the 2,500 souls in Matamoros and the vast number of others pushed away from the U.S. without reason beyond our fears and our brute force. Each name we can name is a separate struggle. Each is evidence of the same unmet promise, the same unfulfilled truth. All of us, created equal, are endowed with these rights that have been denied for too many, too often, in the squalid tent camps at the border, in our cities where police strike down people of color, and in the towns where no one sees dark deeds done in our names.
One can almost see the dots being connected today. And the demand: We deserve better. We will not have this done in our name.