I doubt if too many of us are familiar with the Curse of Ham. I am, but only by chance: forty years ago I taught a course called Black Literature, where I learned among other things, that Frederick Douglass was dead. Yes, Mr. Trump, dead. You can stop hearing good things about him.
The Curse of Ham refers to Noah’s curse of Canaan, Ham’s son. Aside from an ark builder, Noah apparently cursed people too—it’s good to have a hobby—and this attack on Canaan was once interpreted by Christians (sorry, Christians) as the explanation for black skin, for slavery, for any degrading of the rights of dark-skinned people.
Now even a cursory reading of Genesis shows clearly that this is not the case, never was. But to racists down through the years, the Bible has been their bulwark against the equal treatment of non-whites.
The Bible can be used to defend almost anything—we all know that—and yet every once in a while, the way it’s done can shock us out of complacency. Enter Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her defense of removing young immigrant children from their mothers: “It is very biblical to enforce the law, that is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible”
Now first off, something is biblical or it isn’t. It can’t be very biblical any more than something can be very maternal or very broken. But Sanders can be very something—let’s use her own description of Samantha Bee on Ms. Sanders: vile and vicious, neither of which requires a very but isn’t constricted by it.
Has any individual lost more credibility in one simple statement than she did yesterday when she chose—and she had a choice—to adopt Trump’s virulent lack of empathy and pass it off as her own beliefs? And to repeat the same tired accusations that this is the Democrats’ fault when the Republicans control every facet of government, makes her sound not only callous but stupid.
I don’t doubt that FDR’s press secretary defended the internment of Japanese Americans, and that LBJ’s defended the police tactics in Chicago. America, like every country, has endured shameful episodes and come out the other side better for it. Maybe the ignominy of having imprisoned children will engender a better country, one in which people can at least simulate empathy and treat kids, if not each other, a little better.
How Trump and Sanders come out the other side has already been decided: fools in the eyes of the world who, when the light of day illuminates their inanity, don’t even have the good sense to move into the shadows.