I suspect that part of what horrifies Americans is not the novelty of Trump’s policy, but its familiarity. Americans are fighting a part of themselves that they naively thought they had vanquished. From chattel slavery to American Indian schools to convict leasing, child-snatching has been a tradition in America since before there was an America. If one is convinced that the parents are not truly human, then the children cannot truly be children, and what should be unthinkable becomes inevitable.
The sins of the past are not guardrails. There is nothing to prevent them from being committed again, except for the dedication of the living to creating a better world. The people in the past who convinced themselves to do unspeakable things were no less human than you or I. They made their decisions; the only thing that prevents history from repeating itself is making different ones.
“It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives. He cannot withstand the influence of habit and associations that surround him,” Solomon Northup wrote. The architects of the Trump administration’s family-separation policy have no such excuse; they have purposefully chosen to enhance the cruelty of the system they inherited. The president insists in his defense that America must have borders, but America had borders before the Trump administration began deliberately shattering families to make a point.