The Atlantic

A Choice Between Cruelty and Mercy

A 2,500-year-old play illustrates the emptiness of the administration’s arguments about enforcing the law.
Source: Reuters / CBP

“The man the city sets up in authority must be obeyed in small things and just but also in their opposites,” declares the tyrannical king in the ancient Greek tragedy Antigone. The plan to which he demands obedience calls for separating a brother and a sister across the city’s border—an act terrible in its cruelty but, he argues, necessary for security. The king wants to reestablish order in the city, and he is using the brother’s fate as a deterrent.

In the family separation described by Sophocles, the brother is not just exiled but dead; the king, Creon, has left his body to rot outside the city walls without a burial. The Trump administration has not

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