The GOP and Trump’s Modest Proposals

Rowlandson, “Swift’s Modest Proposal”


A contemporary satirist has just riffed on A Modest Proposal to protest taking immigrant children away from their asylum-seeking parents. In “A Modest Proposal: The GOP Meets to Solve the Problem of Children Separated from Their Parents,” McSweeney’s Devor Blanchor has taken Swift’s satire one step further by imagining how people might actually respond to the Modest Proposer’s idea, at least if the proposer were Donald Trump and his audience were Republican Congress and Cabinet members.

Swift’s essay begins as follows:

It is a melancholy object to those, who walk through this great town, or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads and cabin doors crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags, and importuning every passenger for alms.

Blanchor, writing in the voice of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, begins her drama similarly:

Jeff Sessions: It is a melancholy object to those, who walk through this great country, when they see perfectly good warehouses fill up with the children of migrant workers.

Swift’s modest proposer, however, didn’t institute policies that would ensure children growing up in poverty whereas Sessions and Trump are actually ordering the separations. The New Yorker has a powerful article pointing out that Trump et. al. use the language of domestic abuse to defend the practice. They contend it’s not their fault they must be barbaric:

In the final scene of Frederick Wiseman’s landmark documentary Domestic Violence, police in Tampa arrive late at night to the home of a man who is drunk and a woman who is sick. The man has called the police because he is angry that the woman, who is desperate to sleep, is “neglecting” him. Minute by minute, it becomes chillingly clear that the man wants her removed from the house before his anger turns into physical violence. In his mind, the woman’s misdeeds—to be ill; to need rest; to wish to remain in her own home—transform him into an instrument of pain, one that she is choosing to wield against herself. He raises his hands over his head in a gesture of surrender. It’s all her fault. He can’t help it. One of the abuser’s most effective tricks is this inversion of power, at the exact moment that his victim is most frightened and degraded: Look what you made me do.

Look what you made me do has emerged as the dominant ethos of the current White House. During the 2016 Presidential race, many observers drew parallels between the language of abusers and that of Trump on the campaign trail. Since his election, members of the Trump Administration have learned that language, too, and nowhere is this more vivid than in the rhetoric they use to discuss the Administration’s policies toward the Central American immigrants crossing the U.S. border. Informally since last summer, and officially since April 6th, the Department of Homeland Security has been separating parents from their children at the border, taking the parents into criminal custody and handing the children over to the Department of Health and Human Services to be placed in shelters and foster families, sometimes thousands of miles away from their parents. The process is compounded in its brutality by its perhaps intentional disorder, as a Boston Globe piece detailed on Sunday: parents in custody often have no idea where their children are, how to get them back, or if or when they will see them again.

Put aside the savagery of Trump policy for a moment and look at how the GOP has responded to it. At the moment, it appears that Republicans will countenance pretty much anything that the president does (although they might have drawn a line had he opposed tax cuts for the wealthy). They may mumble quietly or send out an occasional disapproving tweet, but that’s the extent of it. Given a 51-49 split in the Senate, it would only take two Republican moderates to split with their party to make a difference, but none are willing to go that far.

Which is Blanchor’s point. In her updated modest proposal, Sessions puts forth Swift’s ultimate solution, adding in Swift’s language “which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.” Also quoting “Modest Proposal,” Homeland Security Secretary Kierstyen Neilsen adds,

What can I do? The President is angry with me. But I think what Attorney General Sessions is getting at here is that whoever could find out a fair, cheap and easy method of making these children sound and useful members of the commonwealth, would deserve so well of the public, as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.

The subsequent GOP response will ring true to anyone who has been following politics these days:

Speaker Paul Ryan: Hang on. Before you suggest eating these children, is there any way to take care of Dreamers without alienating the GOP base?


Speaker Paul Ryan: No. I guess not. But won’t the base object if we stop treating these children like human beings? If we actually propose eating them as policy? I mean, is that really a line we can cross?

Sen. Jeff Flake: Please let me retire with a teeny bit of dignity. Please.


Speaker Paul Ryan: Mmmmm. Delicious cutting of entitlements. Sorry. What were you saying?

Sen. John McCain: We can’t do this, guys.

President Donald J. Trump: SHUT UP LOSER!

Former Presidential Aide Kelly Sadler: Don’t mind him. He’s dying anyway.

Vice President Mike Pence: We cannot eat homosexual children.


Among Swift’s points is that only an extreme proposal can awaken the public’s concern about poverty, which appears so normal that people have found ways to ignore it. Blanchor believes that Trump’s excesses have also been normalized. Can her satire awaken the conscience of any Republican lawmaker?

As if in answer, here’s a recent Los Angeles Times story that takes The New Yorker’s domestic abuse analogy and makes it literal:

Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions has ordered immigration judges to stop granting asylum to most victims of domestic abuse and gang violence, a move that could block tens of thousands of people, especially women, from seeking refuge in America.

Abusers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your souls.

Further note: In her most recent column, Maureen Dowd cites an appropriate Swift quote:

Jonathan Swift said, “A wise man should have money in his head but not in his heart.” The Trumps have green running through their veins.

They have succeeded in superseding conflicts of interest with confluences of interest. Ethics bore this crew. The White House is just another business opportunity.

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