Sometimes doing the right thing in politics is far larger than any individual, no matter what position that person may hold. There are times when real leadership comes to the fore amid decision-making that is counter to common logic and proper respect for human decency.
When United States President Donald Trump moved to quash a programme implemented by his predecessor, Barack Obama, to protect children brought to that nation at a young age — and who willingly opened themselves to government scrutiny — to participate fully in the American Dream, it set off alarm bells throughout the nation.
There were mass demonstrations across the nation in protest against placing nearly 800,000 young people on a list for deportation as undocumented people, even though many had achieved college and university degrees before becoming active in many areas of American life in teaching, military service and countless other professions.
Trump’s plan would give the US Congress a six-month period to come up with a scheme that would avoid deportation. Most of the young people involved know only America as home, and this touched a nerve with some Democrats and Republicans.
What caused many to react with rage was that the White House appeared to display little regard for the human aspect of uprooting people for what some observers felt was Trump’s determination to take action he knows would please his support base.
Obama lost no time in issuing a powerful statement describing Trump’s action as “self-defeating, wrong and cruel”. Obama added that America would gain nothing in carrying out such a scheme, and that to do so would actually amount to a loss of people needed to keep America growing.
Of course, there are those Trump supporters who still see him as their political saviour, and who are reluctant to be critical of anything he says or does.
However, just as it seemed Washington had hit a new low in political conflict over various issues, two leading politicians, Senator Nick Durbin (Democrat) and Lindsey Graham (Republican), put aside their party allegiances and jointly condemned the President’s actions as demeaning and counter to American values.
They vowed to leave no stone unturned in protecting people who know no other country as home. To see these men standing together for justice was a lesson badly needed today that human values are greater than any political entity. It was not only refreshing to hear them speak of values and respect for human dignity, but it also sent a signal that they were not willing to stand by and watch the administration take action concerning people’s lives that they felt was unfair and wrong.
Both senators know it will be an uphill battle to convince colleagues that they should get on board with keeping what is known as the dreamers programme, which was initiated by Obama, because it stands for protecting people serving the country from deportation on the basis of being undocumented, after their parents brought them into the US as infants. Many of those parents managed to escape violence in hoping to give their children a future in a country that provided opportunities.
Although the President said he had compassion and love for these young people, he still elected to end a programme that made them feel protected. It seems similar to pushing someone off an aircraft without a parachute while saying: “I am sorry to do this, but rules are that you should not be here.”
The point is that there should be no rules that circumvent respect for human dignity.
What we need here in Bermuda is a willingness to shake off divisiveness, especially in the political arena, and adopt a more bipartisan approach on crucially sensitive matters. Obviously, that is easier said than done in an atmosphere where allegiance for this or that group often prevents a cohesive approach to work things out together.
A lot will depend on signals sent from our leaders, who must strive to unite our very diversified communities. This will always be a challenge, mainly because of the struggle to move the island from the era of social injustice into a new day of respect and dignity for all.