On separating families, the human tribe spoke loudest

"CBS This Morning" co-host John Dickerson shares his thoughts on the big stories of the week in our series Reporter's Notebook. In this installment, he looks back at a week marked by outrage over President Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy.


The president's tribe rallied because the critics were the usual ones – liberals, elites and supporters of looser immigration. The president blamed the Democrats. The attorney general said the Bible approved and the secretary of Homeland Security said the separations weren't happening at all. None of this was true, and that felt familiar also. Meanwhile, the children that were officially not being separated from their parents kept being separated from their parents.

But then the pattern broke. The president's allies in Congress abandoned him. Religious leaders – even sympathetic ones – were appalled. Splitting families could not be defended by splitting hairs. In the pulpits and at picnics, purple momentarily replaced red and blue. People, whose elitism was defined only by having children or having once been a child, all agreed. But what did they agree on? They agreed to oppose splitting families: the basic unit of love that binds our common humanity.

The Obama administration put unaccompanied minors in cages, too, but it did not split children from their parents as regular policy. That was the difference; Americans were objecting to their government as the author of fresh misery for ragged-sleeved, worn-thin fellow human beings whose only shield against their misery was kinship and hope.

And breaking families meant punishing children. The stories piled up. The young boy whose mother had sewn notes with the phone numbers of his relatives in his clothes watching his father being taken away. The boy who cried himself into convulsions. And a 6-year-old girl repeatedly saying her aunt's phone number after her mother was taken away.

In the end, the president had zero tolerance for his own policy because even in a time of tribal shouting, the human tribe spoke louder.