If I had never seen a photo of Don Trump, Jr. posing with a South African buffalo he had just shot, I might feel a tiny bit sorry for him. There he was, just going about his life as the father of five and a billionaire, when he was thrown into his father’s bombastic presidential campaign. And in an effort to make his dad proud, he agreed last July to meet with a Russian government lawyer and several other pro-Russian operatives after they indicated they would share with him damaging information about Hillary Clinton. “Love it!” he wrote. The meeting has become part of an ongoing investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to throw the U.S. election, which is a very necessary step because it’s not the least bit obvious that anything like that happened.
Don Jr. – his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, also attended the meeting – has claimed the Russian lawyer had no good info anyway; the group just discussed adoption instead. And millions of eyes started rolling, because really?
The reason adoption is even being brought up is because of a law called The Magnitsky Act, which was passed by Congress in 2012 to punish Russia for human rights abuses. The law’s namesake, Sergei Magnitsky, was a Russian tax lawyer who was imprisoned and tortured to death after uncovering a massive tax fraud scheme implicating Putin and top government officials.
Putin didn’t like the sanctions imposed under the new law, and in retaliation, he banned Americans from adopting Russian children.
The story of Don Jr.’s meeting has saturated the news for days and days now, and every discussion includes the word “adoption” at least once or twice. It took me a while to figure out why I was so bothered by this, but a couple of days ago I did 100 double-unders and 90 kettlebell swings and started hallucinating, and it came to me. Everybody’s talking about the claim that they discussed adoption at the Trump-Russia tea party, but nobody believes it because NOBODY GIVES A SHIT ABOUT ADOPTION. Even Don Jr., who first mentioned it, has never said a single word about the issue he claims was the sole topic of the meeting that’s being investigated. President Trump has taken up the rallying cry as well; after coming under scrutiny for a private meeting he held with Putin at the G-20 summit, he said they discussed adoption.
Really, President Trump? What did you say? Did you discuss the children whose adoptions were halted by Putin’s sudden ban? Did you ask to see the conditions in which they’re living? Did you reach out to the prospective adoptive parents whose waiting sons and daughters are instead growing up in institutions?
Understand this: the ban on Russian adoptions isn’t about Americans not being able to bring home adoptive children. It’s about thousands of children, many of them with disabilities, robbed of the ability to grow up in a family, and instead being sentenced to languish in the ghastly pits of despair that double as orphanages.
Approximately 30 percent of Russian children born with disabilities are sent to institutions by their parents, often after being pressured by health care workers. Those disabilities include, but aren’t limited to – blindness, deafness, Down Syndrome, mental illness, and physical limitations. As a result, 45 percent of children living in orphanages have some sort of disability. According to Human Rights Watch, those kids aren’t having fun. A 2015 study reported that: “Children described how orphanage staff beat them, used physical restraints to tie them to furniture, or gave them powerful sedatives in efforts to control behavior that staff deemed undesirable. Staff also forcibly isolated children, denied them contact with their relatives, and sometimes forced them to undergo psychiatric hospitalization as punishment.”
Yeah, that’s indicative of intrinsic, systemic discrimination that will take decades to change. But in the meantime, you know who wants to help those kids? Americans. We have better health care, and a more developed social structure allowing for children with special needs to grow up happily and reach their potential. Hundreds of prospective mothers and fathers want to offer forever homes to some of these children. But we can’t adopt them now. Because Putin is a psychopath.
If the Trump people are so interested in adoption, and they must be if it’s the topic of every damn conversation they have with Russia, then why aren’t they talking to anyone else about adoption? Why aren’t they discussing the rights of Russian children? Why aren’t they demanding that Putin ensure the health and safety of these kids?
AND ANOTHER THING: the way Vladimir Putin chose to punish the United States for the Magnitsky Act was to punish the neediest children in his own country. To clarify – we inflicted sanctions on Russia for a human rights abuse, and Putin said, “Oh, I’ll show you human rights abuse. Americans are no longer allowed to rescue our poorest and sickest children.” What kind of evil resides in that train of thought? And why does any U.S. official want to treat him like he’s a decent man?
Listen, I’m furious about Russia interfering in our presidential election. I’m appalled at how the Trump administration has rolled back environmental regulations. In some ways, this adoption red herring is just a little salt in a blistering national wound which may never heal. But damn, as an adoptive mom – and as a human – it’s really bothering me.