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The ‘greatest country in the world’ can’t afford soap for kids – and it’s not Sarah Fabian’s fault

The ‘greatest country in the world’ can’t afford soap for kids – and it’s not Sarah Fabian’s fault
A single DOJ lawyer has become a lightning rod for anger over conditions for kids in US border detention facilities – but let’s not gloss over the utter absurdity of having debates over soap and toothpaste in 21st century America.

A video of lawyer Sarah Fabian arguing that children at migrant detention centers don’t need basic items like soap, toothpaste and even proper beds, to be “safe and sanitary” went viral earlier this month. Fabian instantly became an evil human representation of the uniquely uncaring Trump administration. 

News that Fabian had earlier used “dog-sitting” duties to excuse her from being present while arguments were being made about child-parent reunifications after border separations compounded her wickedness in many minds. Media figures lined up to castigate Fabian for her immorality. “What kind of a human being would stand up and argue this?”asked disgusted former CNN host Soledad O’Brien.

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It later emerged that Fabian was not, in fact, a dastardly Trump appointee, hand-picked for her allegedly low moral standards – but an appointee of the Obama administration, who had been making similarly questionable arguments in courts for years. The only difference was that the media was suddenly paying attention in a way they hadn’t before; hatred of Trump had drawn attention to border policies that no one batted an eyelid at under the Obama administration.

As I wrote last week, a 2015 lawsuit described “inhumane,“overcrowded,”“brutally cold” and “filthy” conditions in border detention facilities under liberal hero Obama – complete with a lack of “basic sanitation items.”

Fabian was there then, too, arguing for the Obama administration that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had the right to punish children by placing them in solitary confinement if their mothers misbehaved while in custody.  She has also defended Trump’s child separation policy – and previously in her career, Fabian defended a lead processing company accused of poisoning children and causing permanent brain damage.

Fabian defended herself in a Facebook post after the soap video went viral,  saying the US should do its “very best to care for kids” while in Border Patrol custody. She added that she shared “many people’s anger and fear” over the future of the country and said she wanted to “work to make it better too.” 

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Make your own judgements here about Fabian’s morality, but do so with an awareness that the personality and moral standards of one suddenly-famous DOJ employee is not the problem that needs fixing. Fabian is one of many working within a completely broken, inadequate and under-funded system. She is not an architect of that system, she is a cog in the wheel. Of course, by the very nature of her job, she is complicit to some extent in its cruelty – but focusing ire on one individual won’t fix what is broken.

Has anyone on CNN, MSNBC or Fox News asked why the United States government seems to have access to an endless well of cash to draw from when it wants to start a new war, but can’t afford to provide basic hygiene items to migrant children, who are trapped in unsafe conditions through no fault of their own? 

Consider this: A country that spends $750 billion dollars in one year on “defense” and new war toys is embroiled in a national debate about not being able to provide migrant children with soap. Then recall how often American politicians describe their country as the “greatest” in the world, the “land of the free,” the “shining city on a hill,” the “exceptional” and “indispensable” nation. There is a plentiful supply of words and phrases they use to convince us of their superiority.

Consider how often the rest of the world is lectured with self-righteous empty-talk about US “values” and “human rights” – and then let the weight of the sheer audacity and hypocrisy hit you.

Truth be told, targeting someone like Sarah Fabian is actually an easy cop-out. It allows Americans who claim to be horrified by Trump to absolve themselves of any blame. It makes them feel better to boil things down to ‘us’ the good, compassionate ones, vs. ‘them’ the uncaring, evil Trumpian deplorables. 

In reality –though blinded by imperialist propaganda, they might not know it– they too are enthusiastic supporters of the status quo in the United States – the status quo that says Washington must engineer coups, invade and destroy countless countries while pushing struggling economies to breaking point under crippling and deadly sanctions – all under the guise of democracy promotion, but truthfully in the service of US empire. 

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These policies are supported eagerly by both parties and have had a significant, indisputable causative impact on the crisis at the southern border – and yet politicians on both sides of the aisle still attempt to lay claim for America to some moral high ground among the nations of the world. 

It’s easy for Trump-hating Americans to direct a barrage of vitriol at Fabian – but it’s a distraction. If they didn’t do that, they might be forced to reckon with their own role in these tragedies.

By Danielle Ryan

Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance writer based in Dublin. Her work has appeared in Salon, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, teleSUR, RBTH, The Calvert Journal and others.

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