The politics of payback

Both sides of the aisle see the Trump Administration's separation of children and parents as a humanitarian crisis

“Womp womp.”

That pretty much sums up the reaction from the Trump administration and its supporters over the uproar of separating children from their parents trying to cross at the Mexican border.

“Womp womp,” said former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski while mocking Democratic strategist Zak Petkanas during a discussion on Fox News. Petkanas was relating a story about a 10-year-old Mexican girl with Down syndrome separated from her mother.

It was so stark and so dismissive of the serious discussion that it has lit up not only social media but every news outlet across the country.

“NEVER let me in a room with this man,” WROR morning personality Lauren Beckham Falcone, the mother of a daughter with Down syndrome, posted on social media with a link to Lewandoski’s puerile retort. “NEVER.”

But a step-back view could give a clue as to why President Trump and his followers are digging their heels in on an issue that a majority of people on both sides of the aisle are seeing as a humanitarian crisis that can easily be rectified with a stroke of the presidential pen.

The churlish response by Lewandoski, a Lowell native and failed state rep candidate, is emblematic of why a hardcore minority of administration officials and Trump supporters cheer on the policy: Because they won the prize and it pisses off liberals. That is likely why Trump retains his standing with the Republican conservative base, no matter what he does. It drives the left nuts. It is the ultimate in the victor rolling around in the spoils.

Trump continually – and falsely – blames Democrats for the problem. But no Democratic Congress ever passed a law mandating ripping children from their parents. No Republican Congress has either, for that matter. Rather, it stems from the heightened “zero-tolerance” policy being enforced by the Department of Homeland Security and defended by the likes of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Ironically, both have been targets of Trump’s anger but have become his fiercest defenders on this policy.

The debate is dominating local and national news and politics. Gov. Charlie Baker has rescinded his decision to send a National Guard helicopter and some Guard members to the border for enforcement help, citing the furor over the child separation. Other governors have followed suit.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has exercised her right to put a hold on the nomination of Kathy Kraninger to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and called for a review of Kraninger’s involvement in budgeting for the separation policy while at the Office of Management and Budget. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and members of the state congressional delegation have joined the national chorus denouncing the “inhumane” policy.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

But, at its core, the sights and sounds of frightened and helpless children is what’s driving the debate. At least a dozen Senate Republicans have signed onto a letter urging Trump to stop the practice, though to no avail. Trump wants Congress to send him an immigration reform bill that includes funding for his wall and then, he says, there won’t be a need for separation.

In the end, whatever Trump decides to do will be okay with his base because they know he’ll do whatever makes them happy. Because it annoys the hell out of their opponents.

“Womp womp.”