This year, the Fourth of July brings out my pessimism. This is what my pessimism says:

For too many years — decades, really — I believed the lie, I helped spread the lie, that the modern conservative movement had principles, even if they were ones I didn’t agree with.

It was Mitch McConnell’s decision not to even allow hearings or a vote on President Obama’s final Supreme Court pick that first made me realize just how little the Republican party, writ large, actually cared about principles.  They obviously — obviously — had a duty, clearly articulated in the Constitution, to consider his Supreme Court pick. There was simply no legitimate justification for not doing so. It was a very clear case of putting party and power over principles and country. It was, in essence, a soft coup.

The election of Donald Trump clearly indicted most of the Republican “establishment” as cowards and grifters, but I still gave most of the voters a pass, because too many good people I knew has decided to vote for him not out of allegiance to what he stood for but out of a sense of despair and desperation at the state of our country.  I thought it was terribly misguided, but I could understand it.

But as the president has refused to condemn actual Nazis, as he has cozied up to literally the worst dictators on the planet while inflicting economic hardship on our allies, as he has tolerated and offered succor to a host of lowlife operators inside his administration who were obviously using their government positions to enrich themselves — even as he uses his government position to enrich himself — it has become impossible to suggest he stands for anything other than power, corruption, and cruelty for their own sake. 

Now the Supreme Court — by the one vote the Republicans kept out of President Obama’s hands — has declared that voters disenfranchised by gerrymandering have no federal judicial standing. Both parties use gerrymandering, but state Republican parties are far more brazen and immoral about it. And let us be clear: When politicians can choose their own voters, the legitimacy of democracy is in question. This, too, is a soft coup.

It is also clearly evident that the political party in control of two branches of the government and the upper chamber of the third cares more about staying in power than it does the rule of democracy or law.

It is in this context that the detention camps for migrant children on the borders become especially troubling. There has recently been a debate about whether these can accurately be called “concentration camps” or not. My thinking on the matter is “no,” but that they increasingly resemble gulags. Terrible places where “inconvenient” people are unjustly stashed for crimes against the regime. Or for just existing.

Because, and let me be very clear about this: People who will keep children in these conditions will keep anyone in these conditions, and people who care about staying in power more than the rule of law or democracy will come to see camps like this as a political tool.

Barring a significant set-back, it is only a matter of time before camps like these are used to imprison legal immigrants, then American citizens, and then political opponents.                                                                                        

I know that sounds alarmist. I know that sounds out of bounds. This is my pessimism speaking. But history suggests that once a regime institutionalizes not-quite-gulags, they will take on a life of their own.

Look at the conditions our border patrols are keeping children in — children who have committed no crime except being brought here by their parents — and ask yourself: “Where will these people stop?”

They crowd children in cages; they deny them toothbrushes; they deny them adequate food; they separate them from their parents; they make them drink from toilets; they deny them doctors when they’re sick.

Where will it stop?

If they’ll do this to innocent children, who won’t they do this to?

Our president openly talks about the press and the opposition party as being traitors and enemies of America. He demands that the FBI investigate his political opponents. His party gerrymanders districts to ensure that it has a permanent majority, and actively works to disenfranchise minority voters. After aggressively denying President Obama his constitutional right to select judicial nominees, it packs the courts. It is making it very clear that it will break whatever laws it needs to, to stay in power.

Where will this stop?

What will stop it?

These camps should not be allowed to exist at all, just for what they’re doing now. They are atrocities. If they continue to exist, in this political climate, it is only a matter of time before their use is expanded to also contain “inconvenient” citizens.

For those who say, in the wake of the 4th of July, that this could never happen in America, I ask you again: What will stop it? What rule or norm won’t the administration break in pursuit of power?

I hope you have an answer. Today, in my pessimism, I can’t think of one. I fear that, at this point, one of America’s major political parties would be just fine with political prisons, so long as they get to be the guards.

Benjamin Wachs archives his work at com. Email him at