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Globe Staff photo illustration/Adobe Stock

IN BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS, migrant children separated from their parents are required to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, in English.

Why? “We tell them, ‘It’s out of respect,’ ” one employee of a facility holding these children told The Washington Post. Out of respect for what? A country that doesn’t want them, is breaking up their families, and is at growing odds with the loyalty pledge these kids are being forced to recite?

“. . . one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

With President Trump in the White House, the country sure feels a lot less “indivisible.” America, of course, fought a civil war; throughout its history, it has been deeply divided over foreign policy, civil rights, and cultural issues. Baby boomers well remember the painful schisms of the Vietnam War era and, since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there has been more internal conflict over war and religion.

But asking children from other countries who have been separated from their parents to pledge allegiance to a country torn over Trump and his policies — that’s new and shameful. These kids left behind poverty and violence in a quest for a better life here. If we’re not going to share it, what right does anyone have to make them pledge allegiance to it?

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America in 2018 is all about nonstop bickering that leads a restaurant owner to ask White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave the premises. As David Axelrod, longtime political adviser to President Obama tweeted, “Now we’re divided by red plates & blue plates. #sad.” The petty divide-and-conquer strategy, of course, starts at the top. Not once since his election has Trump tried to bring the country together. Whether the issue is race, religion, immigration, heath care, or guns, for Trump it’s all about picking at the scab and making matters worse. It also means blaming former President Obama and periodically reviving animosities toward “Crooked Hillary.”

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Trump’s so-called leadership style inspires an ugly race to the bottom. It leaves us with Roseanne Barr posting a racist tweet about former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, and Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, responding “Womp, womp” to an anecdote about a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was separated from her parents at the border. On the left, there’s Samantha Bee using a vulgarity to describe Ivanka Trump and Robert De Niro directing the f-word to Trump himself.

These are unquestionably uncivil times. But it feels like more than incivility. Every day, there’s a new rip in the fabric of the country, with people pulling ferociously from each side. Even sports, which once drew people together, now tears them apart. When NFL players took a knee to protest injustice against black Americans, Trump used it to stoke division. Another president might accept it as the symbol of a country strong and free enough to absorb dissent.

That’s why people continue to risk everything to come here. They still look across the border and see a land of opportunity. They still believe in a country where people settle their differences with a vote and then work to find common ground. That’s what brought the parents of these children to our border. Yet there they were forcibly separated. Now those children are scattered throughout the country, in foster homes and shelters, with no known plan to reunite them with their mothers and fathers.

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Their parents believed in the promise of America, but in 2018, the reality is something very different. And for that they are supposed to chant, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands”?


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.