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Principles for thee, but not for me

| Tuesday, March 30, 2021

One of the most remarkable things about politics is what it does to people, rather than for them. In a year when the stakes were enormously high, believing that our overarching goals were good, many of us at one point or another defended some pretty bad behavior on the part of politicians. In pursuit of an ultimately good end, we become so hellbent on ensuring the triumph of our own side that we fail to recognize wrong along the way. Sometimes, our principles take a backseat to power.

Republicans typically claim to revere the U.S. Constitution and the American system. On November 2, 2020, I would have believed that they did. They are the patriots, right? In the days after the election, however, I was not so sure. I saw people who claim to love America willing to destroy it and shatter all norms just so their beloved president could stay in office. People who had said if Trump lost the election, they would “get up and go to work the next day” and continue on with their lives, living in total denial of the results as they were certified in the following weeks. A few Republican voters even said to me, as it became clear that Joe Biden had secured enough electoral votes to win, “Just wait. This will go to the Supreme Court, and they’ll settle everything.”

To the people who had this mindset, I ask: What would you say if Hillary Clinton had behaved this way after the 2016 election? Better yet, what would you say if, in 2020, Donald Trump had received 306 electoral votes as well as approximately 7 million more popular votes than Joe Biden, but Democratic voters insisted that the election was not over and that recounts and court cases would set things straight? You would call them sore losers, fascists and traitors. Are you now not the same?

My point, however, is not really about Trump. We’ve moved on to a new administration, and I will not harp on the past. While Trump is now gone, however, this cognitive dissonance remains. A record-high number of migrant children are arriving at the southern U.S. border, likely prompted by President Biden’s more lax immigration rhetoric relative to his predecessor. According to BBC News, as of March 21, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is holding more than 15,500 unaccompanied children in custody. Additionally, “At least 5,000 children have been kept for over 72 hours, the legal limit after which they are meant to be transferred to the custody of health officials in the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).”

As supposedly better-equipped ORR facilities have reached capacity, the Biden administration is reopening temporary overflow facilities. Journalists have thus far been denied access to the facilities — I imagine because the government is afraid of what conditions the journalists will find. A photo of the facility in Donna, Texas, released by Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, shows migrants huddled together, unable to maintain social distance and sleeping on foil blankets on the floor.

To those jumping through hoops to downplay the humanitarian crisis at the border, I now ask: What would you say if this situation occurred under President Trump? What did you say when a similar situation more or less did in fact occur? Kids in cages, families being torn apart, inhumane conditions. What’s so different about this time? Spare me the arguments over “cages” under Trump versus physically nicer structures now. The core issue is effectively the same: Children crowded into facilities, apart from their parents or families — this time during a pandemic caused by a highly contagious virus.

It’s tempting to see only the good in our preferred political side and overlook its shortcomings, especially when we think its cause is the most righteous overall. However, in the political haze, the only way to maintain a clear vision of morals and justice is to look at everything through the same lens. If a certain behavior is a problem when the opposing side does it, it should also be a problem when our side does it. We cannot determine the morality of an action based on who is performing it. “What do you think about so-and-so scandal?” “Hold on, let me check whether the candidate I voted for is involved, then I’ll get back to you.”

Sure, in a system where we elect representatives from typically only two real choices, we probably won’t agree with everything that either one of them says and does. Casting our ballots is almost always a compromise — we simply choose which candidate is more closely aligned with our priorities. But still, we cannot let this turn us into “yes-men” for our preferred candidates, abandoning our capacity for critical evaluation of their policies and actions. Otherwise, we will end up excusing politicians — and we do — for unethical behavior regarding topics we do not particularly care about, so long as they deliver on the topics we consider most important to us. We cannot in good conscience adopt this attitude.

Just because Joe Biden supports the Equality Act doesn’t mean he gets a free pass on the border. Just because Donald Trump cut your taxes doesn’t mean he gets a pass to embolden white supremacists. We must keep our principles and remain vigilant, ready to call out any official for wrongdoing. Don’t sell your soul for an election win. Parties come into and fall out of power. Movements rise and fall. Candidates and leaders come and go — but the precedents they set, the policies they enact and the way we behave in response to their time in office will have consequences that long outlast them.

So, when your favorite officials — or even the candidate for whom you begrudgingly cast your ballot — come under fire for something they said or did, don’t be so quick to defend them. Instead, ask yourself: What if the other side did it?

Eva Analitis is a junior in Lyons Hall majoring in political science and pre-health. Even though she often can’t make up her own mind, that won’t stop her from trying to change yours. She can be reached at [email protected] or @evaanalitis on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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