The greatest country on Earth. That's how the United States describes itself. A shining beacon of freedom, democracy and decency, helmed by the so-called leader of the free world.

That rosy, self-congratulatory propaganda couldn't be further from the truth this week. It is hard to find words strong enough to adequately condemn our powerful ally.

When more than 2300 children, some not even old enough to walk or talk, are ripped from their parents and imprisoned in cages, the only word that springs to mind is shame. Every American should be deeply, viscerally ashamed of their country.

Children do not belong in cages. Such a statement should be uncontroversial. Agreeing with such a statement should be the bare minimum requirement of human decency. Yet Americans turned it into a debate.

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There is no debate here. I usually welcome differences of opinion. Not this time. This one is black and white. If you thought that it was okay to forcibly remove a small child from their family and imprison said child in a cage, you are a monster. Case closed.

There's no nuance. There are no mitigating factors. The children who arrived on the border of the United States only to be separated from their families by immigration officials had no say in the decision their parents made to flee their home countries. They were being punished for a set of circumstances they had absolutely no control over. Even worse, they were being used as leverage.

If you can consider that concept without feeling queasy, you have a stronger stomach than I.

The idea that politicians would use the abject trauma of children to force through a piece of legislation makes my stomach turn. Yet that is exactly what Donald Trump et al. were trying to do.

Who cares about a few thousand traumatised children - likely to suffer for the rest of their lives as a result of the complex psychological issues created when they are forced from their families - when you can use their suffering to push through a bill that will allow you to build that bloody wall?

It backfired, of course, although the practice of imprisoning children had been happening for more than a month before Republicans finally decided that outrage had reached such a fever pitch that it may have affected their midterm election prospects.

Make no mistake, the half-baked Executive Order President Trump signed on Thursday had nothing to do with mercy and compassion, and everything to do with political expediency.

Throughout the saga, Trump had tried to blame it on the Democrats. According to him and his accomplices, it was the Democrats who were using innocent children as pawns because they wanted to blame the Republicans for the situation in the media. Which was an actual argument that I heard a Republican surrogate attempt to advance on CNN. Try to wrap your head around that one.

None of it held water. Nowhere in American law is there a clause that states that refugee children must be separated from their caregivers and imprisoned. The policy of family separation was a Trump Administration tactic, and the responsibility for the fallout belonged squarely at the Administration's feet.

US politicians were trying to use the trauma of children to force through a piece of immigration legislation. Photo / Getty Images
US politicians were trying to use the trauma of children to force through a piece of immigration legislation. Photo / Getty Images

Deep down, Republicans knew it, and they were scrambling. Their conflicting stories were perfectly summarised in a tweet by Bloomberg reporter Sahil Kapur, "Trump: Democrats did it, Kelly: It's a deterrent, Miller: We did it and we're proud, Conway: We did it and we're not proud, Sessions: It sends a message, Sanders: It's biblical, Nielsen: It's not a policy."

High profile Republican governors like John Kasich, John McCain and Ted Cruz publicly condemned family separation. All four living former First Ladies spoke out against it. The widespread condemnation proves just how important the free press is to American society.

Had major news outlets not published audio of children screaming for their parents, I wonder whether the Executive Order would've been signed.

One of the most frustrating parts of watching this American horror story unfold was the sense of powerlessness that comes with being a foreign bystander. Being a New Zealand citizen, I couldn't exactly call a member of Congress in the States to ask them what the hell they thought they were doing. If any New Zealand Prime Minister attempted to separate thousands of small children from their parents and lock them in cages I'd march in the streets in disgust, but marching through the streets of Auckland seemed unlikely to change opinions in Washington DC.

This recent display of barbarity has real consequences for all of us. I thought back to Nazi Germany this week and felt a chill run down my spine. We often wonder how Hitler came to be able to do the horrific things that he did. Ripping children away from their families and imprisoning them in concentration camps was one of them. Lest we forget what the Anzacs died for.

In this post World Wars age, none of us should sit by and watch these kinds of atrocities happen. The USA is one of our allies. It is a country that we regard as a friend. To put it simply, real friends tell each other when they're acting like assholes. The USA has been very firmly in asshole territory this month.

As much as we don't like to meddle in the internal affairs of sovereign nations, there are some things that we cannot turn a blind eye to and retain our dignity. Tearing families apart and traumatising children in the process is one of them.

At times like this, it is the responsibility of allies to speak up and tell the United States that its conduct is reprehensible. And while we're at it, we should drop Australia another line to remind them of their similarly shameful immigration policies.

As the saying goes, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to say nothing.