Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
May 29, 2019

A Defining Image of Trump’s America: The Cage Seller

Photo Mark Peterson. Border Security Expo for Bloomberg Business Week. 4/19/19

If you had to choose one photo to illustrate the immigration crisis, this is literally the money shot. In fact, Mark Peterson’s photograph, taken at a recent border security trade show (a revealing exercise in itself), might serve as the defining image of Trump’s America.

It’s a great example because of the Trump mantra, born from the chants of those early primal rallies and the GOP convention, to lock people up. But what’s brilliant about the photo is how unabashed it is about the ultimate motive. Clued by the velvet rope, it’s about detentions, yes, but in service of the greenback.

Behind lock them up is “show us the money.”

In her 2007 book, “Shock Doctrine,” activist Naomi Klein detailed how war and other manufactured civil and international crises serve as the means to sustain and grow a wide swatch of oppression industries. Mandatory sentencing for non-violent crimes and the grossly disproportionate maligning of people of color sustains the prison industry. The fetishizing of the military and the veneration of broken veterans, in tandem with trumped-up foreign threats, sustains massive arms and defense industry. Same with “energy independence” and the propagation of fossil fuels.

At the same time, toothless or negligible campaign finance practices keep politicians (as well as media outlets) indebted to weapons manufacturers, oil and gas conglomerates, drug producers, etc. And the revolving door remains alive and well, as politicians continue to enable their patrons as they ultimately joint the private sector. Germane to the picture, John Kelly just joined the board of the parent company of Comprehensive Health Services, the private company operating migrant detention shelters for the US government under hidden terms and privileged arrangements.

Art of the Deal

Sadly, too many remain wedded to the idea this administration is concerned about policy or ideology for its own sake. But it’s Trump we are talking about. Two things drive him: dominance over others (especially weaker others) and personal gain. His disdain for weakness powers his hatred, his bigotry, and his continuous gaslighting. Pair that with his abject narcissism and “divide and conquer” and “conflict of interest” (emphasis on the conflict) are just ways of being.

Let’s be clear. For the president, the immigration issue turned “immigration crisis,” is, and has always been, about shaking loose funds. It’s not ideological for the president any more than his employment of all those undocumented workers under-the-table. Instead, it’s rooted in the same oppression and rough justice, the same profit and opportunity that once institutionalized slavery. Simply, it’s the device, as the photo illustrates, that turns the till.

Perimeter Intrusion

So welcome to the lair of Network Integrity Systems and its perimeter detection technology. Of course, integrity here means the whole and undivided allegiance to the “principles” of eradication and the undermining of immigration law. And the perimeter, of course, is about political boundaries (think gerrymandering or Mitch’s rules) authorized by impunity and paranoia.

The tell here, of course, is the fenced-in salesman. At the scale of soul-selling going on, the dirt is everywhere. When it comes to the eclipsing of human rights to line a few pockets, though, the scene is literally a siren. I’m sure Peterson couldn’t believe his eyes, turning down vendor aisle number eleven to discover such a metaphorical breach of the moral perimeter. But it’s not even that complicated. Blunt as the president himself, it’s an emblem of America in the cage.

— Michael Shaw

(Photo: Mark Peterson for Bloomberg Business Week via Instagram. Caption: Border Security Expo, April 19, 2019.)

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