Stephen Miller, Kirstjen Nielsen, Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump, Sarah Sanders, and John Kelly.

Photos by Win McNamee/Getty Images, Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images, Mark Wilson/Getty Images, Leon Neal/Getty Images, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, and Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

Cover Story
Politics

How They Defend the Indefensible

The Trump administration is playing a game of choose your own facts, but every single version of this story ends with screaming children in cages.

You can call it a “policy” (Jeff Sessions) or you can call it a not-policy (Kirstjen Nielsen) or you can call it a “law” (Sarah Huckabee Sanders). You can say that yes it’s a policy but nobody likes it (Kellyanne Conway) or you can say it’s a “zero-tolerance” enforcement of a Democratic law (Donald Trump) or a zero-tolerance enforcement of an amalgam of various congressional laws (Nielsen) or a zero-tolerance enforcement of the Department of Justice’s own preferences with respect to enforcing prior laws (Sessions).

You can say the purpose of the Justice Department’s family separation policy is deterrence (Stephen Miller, John Kelly) or you can claim that asking if the purpose of the policy is deterrence is “offensive” (Nielsen). You can claim in your legal pleadings that the family separation policy is wholly “discretionary” and thus unreviewable by any court, meaning that only the president can change it (Justice Department in Ms. L v. ICE). Or you can claim that only Congress can “fix loopholes” (Nielsen) or you can say that Congress as a whole can’t fix anything because congressional Democrats are entirely to blame (Trump, Mike Huckabee).

You can blame all this newfound “loophole” action on a consent decree from 1997 in a case called Flores (Sessions, Paul Ryan, Chuck Grassley) or on a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that interpreted Flores (Nielsen) or on a 2008 law called the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (Nielsen). Better yet, you can fault some magical mashup of “the law” that forces you to defend every statute to its most absurd extreme (Sanders). By this logic, you can also claim that Korematsu—the case authorizing the removal and detention of Japanese Americans during World War II—is still on the books and thus needs to be enforced because it’s also “the law,” but that would be insane. Oh, but wait. Trump proxies made that very claim during the campaign (Carl Higbie).

You can pretend that by turning every adult who crosses the border into a presumptive criminal your hands are tied, so you need to jail children to avoid jailing children (Nielsen). You can insist that the vast majority of children who cross the border are being smuggled in by gang members (Nielsen) or that all asylum-seekers are per se criminals (which they are not) or that lawful asylum-seekers should just come back at a better time (Nielsen). You can claim you never intended your policy (if it is in fact a policy) to have any impact on asylum-seekers at all (Nielsen) but of course it would turn out you were lying and this has been the plan all along (John Lafferty, Department of Homeland Security asylum division chief).

You can say the Bible wants you to separate children from parents (Sessions). You can say again, incredibly, that the Bible wants you to separate children from parents (Sanders). But that would be pathetic (Stephen Colbert).

You can blame the press for the photographs they take (Nielsen) and for the photographs they don’t take (Nielsen). You can suggest that the children in cages are not real children (not linking to Ann Coulter) or that the cages are not in fact cages (Steve Doocy) even though government officials admit that they are cages. You can claim that the detention facilities are “summer camps” or “boarding schools” (Laura Ingraham). You can take umbrage that the good people of DHS and CBP and ICE are being maligned (Nielsen).

You can say that separating children from their parents is a strategic move to force an agreement on Trump’s wall, which would make the children purely instrumental (Trump). Or you could say that this is a way to protect children by deterring their parents, which would also make the children purely instrumental (Kelly). Or you can instead say you are protecting the children from all the harm that happens to children transported over borders by doing untold permanent damage to them as they scream in trauma (Nielsen). Because the best way to deter child abuse is through child abuse.

You can fight to the death about comparisons to Nazis or you can celebrate a candidate (Corey Stewart) who is a hero to Nazis or you can merely show a staggering lack of comprehension about what Nazis actually did (Sessions).

You can fact check and fact check and fact check these claims and it won’t matter that they are false. And the fact that nobody in this administration even bothers to coordinate their cover stories at this point reflects just how pointless it is to fact check them anyhow. It’s an interactive game of choose your own logic, law, facts, and victims, but every single version of this story ends with screaming children in cages, sleeping under foil blankets as strangers change their diapers. The trick is twisting and dodging and weaving until you get to that final page.

It is very sad (Melania Trump). Something should be done (Ted Cruz). If only there were some mechanism to stop torturing children. If only there were some way to stop litigating why we’re doing it and who is doing it and just stop doing it.