Joe Biden made major inroads in November by portraying himself as a decent person, one who would restore kindness and normalcy in our political life. He and his party had incessantly portrayed the Trump border policy as heartless and cruel, a betrayal of American values and of America’s history as largely an immigrant nation.
Less than two months after assuming the office, Biden’s border policy has required a dervish’s dedication to spin to obscure the unfolding disaster on our southern border. Instead of thoughtfully retaining things that may have served to protect people on both sides of the border, and finding ways to alter those that might be improved, the Biden policy has been simply to do the opposite of what Trump did.
Except that has proved impossible. Children are being separated from their parents more definitively than ever because they arrive in the U.S. already without their parents, making the task of reuniting them with parents probably more difficult and expensive than it was when the parents were in a nearby facility. Children are being placed in overcrowded facilities, some running last week at more than seven times their capacity. Press access has been cut off so that the illusion of humanity and of being better than Trump can be preserved for a little bit longer. COVID is said to be present among the detainees, but the unctuous concern for social distancing and masks is not present here, nor for the communities into which the administration wishes to release them. Apparently, by opposing the Orange Enemy, we don’t need to be concerned about this or any other disease being brought to our country, though that is not true of those already in America. Perhaps in the catechism of wokeness, there is a necessary belief that being unwoke makes one a disease carrier whereas the intersectionally advantaged are immune.
The latest Biden move, prompted by a softball from Clinton-trained anchorman George Stephanopoulos, is to announce that no one should leave home — not yet. Yet our border remains open all the while — wink, wink, hint, hint. And we citizens (with over 70 percent of us in a recent Rasmussen poll showing concern about the border, and almost 50 percent saying they are “very concerned”) are supposed to relax and just believe that Joe has it all in hand and a magic solution will appear with just a few more right moves by his highly competent bureaucrats.
Boundaries in their best sense bring coherence and focus.
For living in the world in which such abstractions rule, simply having a great thought in mind is all that is necessary to set in motion any and all kinds of sweeping policy actions. Why deal with the concrete realities of the world when simply having a big idea is so much easier?
The big idea here has been open borders. Its supporters paint the utopian picture of a world without boundaries, where our common humanity is all we need. To the believers in this idea, nationhood itself is backwards thinking, and national boundaries are more so.
Of course, it is not all so rosy in reality. First of all, evil is assigned to all opponents of this great idea’s indiscriminate and total implementation — racists all. What else could they be?
It is not as if the idea of a common humanity is not a great and necessary idea. The place where Americans might unite in criticism of open-borders policies is that this is not the only idea that is important and necessary, and that to implement sweeping actions as if it were all that needs to be considered is reckless.
In Hebrew, the word for “boundaries” and the word for “Egypt” are spelled the same, though they are pronounced differently. Tradition has long derived from this the timeless relevance of the story of the Exodus, for each person faces boundaries and limitations that they must overcome to become a free person and to leave slavery behind.
At the same time, we find that in Scripture and its traditions, boundaries are protected (“Cursed is the one who encroaches on his neighbor’s boundary”) and intended by God (“He set up the boundaries of the peoples”).
What emerges from considering both of these ideas together is a concept of correct and incorrect boundaries. This complex concept appears in many places, and it always pushes us to consider the nature of the boundary we have in mind and how it interacts with the real people involved.
For example, Scripture is quite clear that no one has final property rights on anything in the world. God, who created the world, extends to us a user’s license, not an absolute title. That means that, simultaneously, we may own property and that we are obligated to give of it to help others. We are forbidden to steal — there is a boundary between that property and my own — but we are also commanded to give a significant percentage of it to those in need as part of the conditions for enjoying the use of the world’s wealth.
There is not much difference between the boundary of one private person’s property and the boundary of the many individuals and families gathered together in a national home. No nation is free of moral obligations. Every enjoyment of God’s world comes with conditions. Just as a family is obliged to help feed and clothe the poor especially by making education and business opportunities available, so too nations must help those who need.
But just as a family’s obligation does not require them to have their doors wide open (whether of the house, the refrigerator, or the bedrooms) to every comer, so too no nation is required to be indiscriminately open.
Boundaries in their best sense bring coherence and focus. We humans do not have unlimited wealth, unlimited knowledge, or unlimited energy. Having a big good idea does not magically catapult us out of our finiteness. Our limited power to bring about positive change can be quickly diffused with no lasting good effect.
The humility that this perspective brings enables us to act with the efficiency that only humility can bring. We don’t have to waste energy in political spinning and pretending — we can simply do the good it is in our power to do and set an example for others at the same time. We all thrive on well-defined tasks, and, given freedom to tackle those tasks that come within our boundaries, we can do a tremendous amount of real good.
So, Mr. Biden, if you wish to have the substance of American decency and good sense, not just the sellable illusion of it, please respect our boundaries and our laws and our common sense. They cannot be trumped by one Big Idea, entirely out of context, treated as if the idea itself were a divinity of infinite power.
Politicians don’t have a great record as substitute divinities, much less as divinity-makers. We have our God, whom we serve, and we have our Constitution and laws, which we respect. Your border policy and all your others would be a lot better if they were constructed not only with a sense of service, but of respect as well.
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