Joe Biden was asked on Friday about the outrageous treatment of Haitians at the U.S.-Mexico border—specifically, the instantly infamous scenes of Border Patrol agents menacing people on horseback. (Initial reports that the agents were using whips have been replaced with clarifications that they were swinging ropes used by horse riders in a whip-like manner, which does not actually make too much difference.)
Here is what Biden said:
Ah yes, the good old “it’s not who we are” defense. Whenever America gets caught doing something awful, out comes that hoary old line. It’s always a revealing response, in a psychological sense—a country that is pathologically unwilling to confront its true nature, that clings to mythology rather than deal with the realities of its character. It never seems to matter that “not who we are” incidents happen over and over and over and over again, or that they kind of form the underpinning of the United States. It’s the narrative that can never be killed off.
I sometimes wonder how many “not who we are”-style events have to happen before our leading politicians or pundits admit that this actually might be who we are. 200,000? A million? A trillion? Surely if you counted up all the things that were “not who we are” over the nearly 250 years of this country’s existence you’d have a staggering sum.
Biden also said this about the abuse against Haitians:
And here we have the other gold standard deflection: the bad apple defense. “Those people” will pay. They are the problem, a hermetically sealed bunch of deviations from the normally virtuous Border Patrol, and they will be dealt with, and then we don’t have to think about anything beyond that, because, you guessed it, it’s not who we are. It’s just what some people did, but people are not “us,” and we need not be troubled by their choices.
The terror meted out by Border Patrol this past week is rooted in many different things but it happened in part because this country is so highly adept at coming up with soothing ways to explain away the rot at its heart. Joe Biden has touted his supposedly progressive and anti-racist credentials time and time again, but in perpetuating the fiction that “this is not who we are”—and, more pertinently, in perpetuating the horrors at the border, and denying Haitians their legal and humanitarian right to asylum—he shows exactly how limited that vision really is.