So Kirstjen Nielsen, whose legacy will be the most heartless and lawbreaking immigration policy this nation has known in at least 70 years, wasn’t heartless and lawbreaky enough for Donald Trump, who accepted her resignation Sunday evening so he can move immigration policy in “a tougher direction.”
Hard to imagine what kinds of border moves this foretells. Gotta treat those people worse. Trump thinks they’re all a bunch of criminals anyway, down to the 3-year olds, so I take it what we’ve seen to this point has been pussy-footing. I’m sure Stephen Miller spent Sunday night giddily writing up a list. Out: Mylar blankets. In: surplus Soviet-era sandpaper bath sheets.
A while back, you’ll recall, Trump shut down the government for the longest period in American history (remember? Everyone’s forgotten!) because there was a “crisis” at the border that existed in his head but not in real life. But that was then. Now, there actually is a crisis at the border, as you may have read. Detentions are way up, to highs not seen in many years.
But it’s a crisis largely of Trump’s making. We—yes, we; you and I, in whose name these hideous people are acting—are spending billions of dollars separating families and keeping kids in cages, billions that could have been spent trying to fix the asylum system. Trump is, we must concede, right about that—the asylum processing system is horrible, with a million-case backlog. But he has just made it worse. We could have been spending those billions trying to speed the process along.
But that’s no fun. That’s called governing. That’s making responsible decisions and treating human beings with some basic minimum level of dignity. And Trump has no time for nonsense like that.
In virtually every area of governance, Trump’s “policies,” such as they are, are entirely symbolic in the most reactionary and mean-spirited possible way, proceeding from a set of assumptions that make Archie Bunker look like William F. Buckley. And then, from there, he has his people go enforce the most extreme positions imaginable. Israel is good, Palestinians are bad. So, cut off every kind of aid to the Palestinians they can think of, more than $200 million worth, even including the paltry $25 million we give to hospitals that serve Palestinians. You’re a Palestinian in East Jerusalem with cancer? Well, tough. You’re probably a terrorist of some kind or another. Go die.
There are many examples of this, but in no policy area is it worse than immigration. They’re all criminals, hustlers, rapists. Remember at his announcement of candidacy when he said that famous line about all the immigrant rapists? At least, then, he followed that with a sentence that went: “And some, I assume, are good people.” Now, even that afterthought-ish sentiment is gone.
Americans don’t like this. Make no mistake about that. When the border policy was initiated in 2018, polls showed that people overwhelmingly opposed the policy. A Quinnipiac poll in June 2018 found 66 percent of respondents against the policy and only 27 percent in support. But lo and behold, Republicans backed it, 55 to 35, and to Trump, that’s all that matters. Only Republicans are Americans, because only Republicans agree with Trump. People are against the wall, too. Opposition to that usually registers in the high 50s to low 60s. But this too makes no difference to Trump.
Now a typical president approaching his reelection fight would canter a bit toward the center, try to look like he was interested in compromise even if he actually wasn’t, to win over a majority of the swing vote. Bill Clinton signed welfare reform when he was running for reelection. Neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama did anything that dramatic, but both made small but telling gestures toward the center. That’s what incumbent presidents do.
Not this one. If Trump were a normal president, he’d throw a bone in the direction of the idea that we are the United States of America, we’re the shining city on the hill, we’re the beacon of hope, and we’re going to treat people driven here by desperate circumstances decently. Instead, he’s headed in the opposite direction. It’s time to crank up the mean.
And as for Nielsen, well, keep your eye open for summaries of her tenure that strain to explain what a “difficult situation” she found herself in and how she “did her best” under impossible circumstances. Bullshit. She was awful. If there’s any justice in this world, she will spend her coming days thinking twice before traveling overseas for fear of being arrested for crimes against humanity. If the Netherlands was high on Nielsen’s bucket list, she’s badly out of luck.
Nielsen has experienced what so many others have, what Bill Barr is living now. You choose to become part of Trumpworld, you leave corrupted and polluted. Reduced to his level. Yet somehow I just know that after holing up for a year or so, she’ll be back on the Washington bagel circuit, appearing on Heritage Foundation panels.
But she’s not our main concern. Our main concern is the human beings fleeing violence and risking everything to come to this country and enter through a legal process. Nielsen, as ghastly a figure as she was, was the buffer between them on the one hand and Trump and Miller on the other. One shudders to imagine what the next few months hold for these folks.