HOW many languages does Donald Trump speak? This is not a straight question.
It is like the one F. R. Leavis framed when he asked: “How many children had Lady Macbeth?” His was not really a question about the family life of Shakespeare’s blood-soaked Scottish monarch. Rather, it was a barb directed at a different school of literary criticism. But it came to mind as I was thinking about the President’s visit to the UK, which is due to take place next week.
President Trump’s now-reversed policy of separating children from their migrant parents on the US-Mexico border was a moral nadir, even for him (News, 29 June). It made me wonder at the source of his low levels of human empathy. Could it be, I hypothesised, that the ability to speak more than one language might help us to see things from more than one point of view?
President Trump has an extraordinarily multilingual family: his first wife speaks five languages; his eldest son, three; his current wife, two. Yet President Trump speaks only English, and, given his impoverished vocabulary and vulgarian sentence construction, he might be said to only half-speak that. But his eldest daughter, Ivanka, is fluent in two languages, and understands a third, yet seems to share her father’s rebarbative view of the world.
More than 2000 children are still lodged in what the Trump administration euphemistically calls “tender-age migrant shelters”. Critics calls them “baby jails”. This is despite a ruling by a US judge that they must be reunited with their parents within 30 days, or within a fortnight for those under five.
President Trump’s inhumane zero-tolerance immigration policy will doubtless be the subject of many of the banners of protest that will greet him on his arrival here. Some 50,000 people are expected at the biggest anti-Trump rally in London next Friday. As many as 22 other protests are being organised across the country in Cambridge, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Edinburgh, and outside Blenheim Palace, where the President will be dining.
The Trump administration seems not to be making any special efforts to reunite the 2300 children it has torn from their parents. It has developed no system to keep track of the estranged families or allow parents even to talk to their children on the phone. By most accounts, the immigration and adoption services, the two federal bodies responsible for implementing the Trump policy, do not even communicate with each other.
The US press is full of heartbreaking accounts of the on-the-ground reality. One mother recounted how she was told that she would be deported, and her daughter given to a US family for adoption. Another spoke of how her six-year-old son said that he would hug her as tightly as he could, so that the US immigration officials could not prise him away from her. Children have been moved to foster homes as far from the Mexican border as New York State and Michigan.
One mother, asked by reporters whether she had any message for President Trump, replied: “May God forgive him for what he has done.”
God may forgive him. Many others will not, as next week’s protests will show.