The Remarkable Conscience of Television

When the government seems to lack any moral grounding, it’s refreshing to find it anywhere, but especially in that surprising media, t.v. Not that I watch much, but as disclosed previously, I’m a rabid fan of “Madam Secretary,”

The episodes on 12/23/18 and 1/6/19, easily viewed at the website above, tackled the thorny problem of refugee children separated from their parents at the border. Although some would inflate the issue into hordes of criminals ransacking the country, the program shows the reality: a thin, desperate mother escaping a violent country with her 6-year old son to save his life. What ensues is painfully familiar: the child taken into “custody,” the bewildered, anxious mother treated as a criminal because she innocently asked for asylum. The viewer cringes as she promises him they’ll meet soon.

Then the joyous treat begins. When the White House hears that the governor of Arizona is behaving this despicably, President Dalton and his staff are outraged. They heap invectives about a “trumped up crisis” on the inhumane treatment, and stoutly maintain this is not who we are as a country. They immediately seek recourse in the courts and legislature. When these channels for change fail, the Secretary of State goes personally to visit the children’s detention center.

Elizabeth McCord is horrified by the scene of children, some crying, some curled in fetal positions, some numb, held in cages. She quickly dispels the myth that “it’s like summer camp” floated by Fox News, and rightly terms it a moral outrage. Indeed she acts on her convictions, is arrested by the sheriff, hand-cuffed and jailed. When the president offers to retrieve her, she refuses, since the refugees have no such quick out.

The show draws attention to the problem again, keeping firm focus on this egregious violation of human rights when we can be distracted. It raises intense concern about the numbers of children still in federal custody, a situation a Harvard child psychiatrist says creates irreparable harm. Federal agencies like Health and Human Services have such poor communication and miserable record-keeping that they can’t account for the children in their care. Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times cites a study  (  showing a four-year old boy ripped from his Salvadoran father and sent to New York, where Catholic Charities held him in foster care, unaware of his heartbroken dad.

Sure, “Madam Secretary” is fiction. But telling a story so close to truth should nudge the national conscience, remind us who we are, encourage protest and enact immediate change.

One response to “The Remarkable Conscience of Television

  1. When watching these shows as I DVR them regularly I thought the same …. “back in the day it was the “West Wing” that brought abt these same conversations and discussions

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