ROTTING AT THE MOLECULAR LEVEL

Aunt B. has not stopped posting about the ordeal of Juana Villegas De La Paz, and she has been passing along the tireless, relentless work of Tim Chávez (Chávez finally got the attention of the New York Times).

What bugs me to no end about this particular story is that it reflects a disturbing national political disease that was amplified and concentrated– if most definitely not initiated– during the Nixon years. In fact, to call it a disease is to mischaracterize it. It is a congenital defect.

The founders of the U.S. wrote protections for chattel slavery into the original constitution. The “land of the free” was home to one of the most brutal institutions ever to endure for so long. Though the 13 Amendment technically abolished slavery in the U.S., the eventual ratification of three more amendments (the last over a hundred years after the 13th) in support of the ostensible liberation and equality of the descendants of slaves demonstrates just how ineffective the 13th was at mitigating the damage that the original compromise had done.

In their book American Terminator, Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies describe how our nation’s founding mythologies– and other mythologies that have grown out of the originals– serve to mask the continuing decay and self-destruction of our erstwhile republic. The passage of the statute that facilitated the torture meted out to Juana Villegas De La Paz and her newborn infant is indicative of this dynamic. What electorate did the representatives of Tennessee think they were representing when they passed such a statute without any protections for the ‘accused’? How did an entire chain of command of law enforcement let a pregnant mother get treated in so inhumane a fashion? And if either of my readers is now thinking “well, she could have avoided it by not being here illegally,” then I say you have no shame and no decency. Under what circumstances would you consider this treatment acceptable if the victims were your own wife and child? What about if it were your daughter and grandchild? I won’t hold my breath until you come up with a reasonable answer that justifies what happened to Señora Villegas.

Hypocrisy and prejudice are less than uplifting manifestations of human nature. They were both encoded into the DNA of the U.S., and it should not surprise us to see them out in full force. Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were not even the beginning, and they certainly aren’t the end. There is T. Don Hutto, and there is 287G. There will be more to come. When the virulent authoritarian impulse has its fill of brown people (does it ever, though?), it will turn on everyone else. Maybe that’s when people will finally say they’ve had enough. If I’m around to see that, then I’ll believe it.

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