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By Dartagnan (Community)
As each year of this twenty-first century lapses into memory, so too has lapsed our conception as Americans of what is, or is not, "evil." The term implies making a moral judgment, one that requires a distancing or removal by the observer from what is being judged. When that evil is reduced to a constant low hum, on the other hand, the ability to distance oneself from it blurs and it becomes easier to normalize it as background noise.
In the not-too distant past there was little debate about the nature of evil. On a broad, geopolitical scale, and as famously described by Hannah Arendt, the Nazi regime with its death camps was "evil." Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward and the forced starvation of 45 million Chinese citizens that resulted was "evil." The genocide by Hutus against the Tutsi minority in Rwanda was "evil."
But evil does not require mass slaughter to manifest itself:
profoundly immoral and malevolent.
"his evil deeds"
wicked, bad, wrong, immoral, sinful, foul, vile, dishonorable, corrupt, iniquitous, depraved, reprobate, villainous, nefarious, vicious, malicious;
For a country that publicly prides itself on being a beacon of hope and a bulwark against evil, one which praises the virtues of "gallantry," "bravery" and the broadness and brightness of its flag's stripes and stars, and one that extols a morally-charged promise of "freedom" and "liberty," there seems to be a disturbing inability here, more than any time in recent memory, to recognize the face of an evil that reveals itself every day.
Donald Trump, and the Administration that carries out his policies, are "evil" by any objective, textbook sense of the word. Their actions are almost always motivated by a singular strain of arbitrary cruelty and malice to a degree that has not been sufficiently captured by a media that simply jumps from scandal to scandal.
If an official policy of snatching infants from the arms of parents caught trying to breach the U.S. border to find some low-paying job is not "evil," then the term itself probably has no meaning for those who support that policy. A government that supposedly abhors "evil" would know intuitively how horribly depraved this is. It would not matter, as some on the right have rushed to point out, that some law was being broken. That argument is an attempt to reduce and justify the abhorrent in terms of policy, but questions of morality are not so reducible. "Policy" is not an excuse to justify this type of cruel, senseless action. It's simply immoral, malevolent and wicked. In other words, it's evil.
But the Trump Administration's latest policy of separating migrant families is only the most recent of many examples of its penchant for calculated malice in its policies. Trump's embrace of race-baiting -- and the eagerness of many Americans to accept it -- was apparent from the early stages of his Presidential campaign. The dehumanizing tactics Trump used a(nd continues to use) against his political enemies -- whether in the form of rallying his supporters to "build the wall," or suggesting that violence may be an appropriate means of dealing with journalists who reported negative stories about him -- are not simply political tactics. They show a willingness to ignore an established moral divide that Americans have considered, at least historically, to separate themselves from the types of dictatorial, totalitarian regimes whom we consider as "evil."
The distinguishing feature of evil is that it causes unnecessary, arbitrary harm to others. It is often motivated by bias or hatred but it can also be motivated by deliberate, malign neglect. That is why supposedly "normal" people are reflexively repelled by it. That is why examples of the Holocaust are so often trotted out when people grasp with conveying the extent of evil. The Holocaust is the most vivid and well-known manifestation of evil in the past hundred years, the only time frame of reference for everyone alive in this world.