Former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Director Kirstjen Nielsen will be remembered by history as the person who helped Donald Trump put children in cages. Senior White House adviser and vivid white nationalist Stephen Miller, however, believes Nielsen was too soft-hearted for the job, and that is why she is updating her resume today. The bloodletting may not be over yet at DHS: Secret Service Director Randolph D. Alles was shown the door on Monday, with no explanation forthcoming. By Tuesday morning the word was out: Miller is now fully in charge of immigration for the Trump administration, and no DHS job is safe.
After yet another angry meeting with Trump, Nielsen was sacked via Twitter on Sunday; she sprinted to post her resignation letter and depart with a splinter of dignity intact after the meeting was concluded, but lost the footrace to the famous fingers of the Tweeter-in-Chief. She will stay on until Wednesday “to assist with an orderly transition,” she said via her own tweet — an interesting choice of words, as any “orderly transition” is fully out the window because Trump appears to have illegally named her replacement — but to all intents and purposes, she’s done right now.
Nielsen and Alles have joined Rex Tillerson, Tom Price, David Shulkin, Jeff Sessions, Ryan Zinke, Scott Pruitt and Jim Mattis in the box of broken toys outside the White House gate. As with the others, I doubt Nielsen will miss her erstwhile post very much. According to reports, Trump would call her at home in the early hours of the morning to rant about the border. He also berated her in front of colleagues for not being totally enthusiastic about separating children from their families and demanded on multiple occasions that she break the law. If I were in her shoes, I’d be tap dancing out the door like Fred Astaire.
The sudden removal of Secret Service Director Alles sent shockwaves through an already shaken DHS, and even managed to ruffle the calcified feathers of congressional Republicans. After rumors of more firings to come — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director L. Francis Cissna and DHS General Counsel John Mitnick are also reported to be on the chopping block — Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) bluntly warned the Trump administration not to fire anyone else.
“The White House,” one Homeland Security source told Axios after the deal went down, “is eating their own.” The statement begs an obvious question: Who qualifies as “their own”? Kirstjen Nielsen was not shown the door because she was terrible, though she certainly was. The Muslim ban, child separation, the very preventable deaths of several of those children while in US custody — which she famously blamed on the parents — and all the other deliberate cruelties inflicted upon migrants and asylum seekers by the Trump administration came to fruition under Nielsen’s guiding hand.
The fact is, Nielsen and Alles are gone because they weren’t terrible enough. Did Trump make that determination? Insofar as he actually decides anything beyond his breakfast order and when to hit the “Send” button on Twitter, sure, it was him … but smart money says Stephen Miller is driving this bus. Miller’s impact is being felt not just on immigration, but on the whole tone and tenor of this administration.
“Constructive controversy,” Miller said when explaining his operational philosophy to The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins, “with the purpose of enlightenment.” While “constructive” and “enlightenment” certainly depend on the eye of the beholder here, “controversy” is without question. “Frustrated by the lack of headway on a signature Trump campaign issue, the senior White House adviser has been arguing for personnel changes to bring in more like-minded hardliners,” reports Politico. “Miller has also recently been telephoning mid-level officials at several federal departments and agencies to angrily demand that they do more to stem the flow of immigrants into the country.”
Getting people fired in order to bring in more fascists while berating staffers on the phone apparently hasn’t been enough to get the racist poison out of Miller’s system. Trump’s blundering and eventually retracted threat to defenestrate the national economy by closing the southern border had Miller’s fingerprints all over it, and like as not he’s furious at all the “moderate” advisers who wisely counseled Trump to change course.
In the same vein, Miller is also seen as the impetus behind Trump’s decision to withdraw Ronald D. Vitiello as his nominee to run Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). While Vitiello is an established right-wing hardcase, he lost the pole position for the ICE job when it was revealed that he opposed Trump’s plan to close the border. Yes, the same plan Trump later dropped. Doesn’t matter, Miller didn’t like him, he’s gone. No new nominee has been put forth, but Trump made it clear that he’s looking for someone “tougher.” At the time of this printing, the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen could not be reached for comment on his availability for the position.
Stephen Miller’s profoundly racist influence has been on display from the beginning — he was the main author of Trump’s execrable inauguration speech — but circumstances have elevated him even further. He has found himself with plenty of elbow room in the policy shop. John Bolton is gnawing on the bones left over from his last White House job. Elliot Abrams is away on assignment to destroy Venezuela. William Barr is at Staples buying yards of triple-thick redacting tape. Mick Mulvaney is preoccupied with trying to blame the Boer War on Barack Obama. Mike Pence was replaced by a cardboard cutout of Mike Pence and nobody noticed. Everyone else has either quit, been fired, or gone so far underground that they’ve taken side gigs as canaries in the coal mines of Kanawha County.
The task of serving as Trump’s transplanted brain has fallen to Miller, and the results so far have been predictably monstrous. It virtually goes without saying that worse is yet to come. Trump is facing the prospect of having to run for re-election in 2020 on a platform of “fixing” the “problems” he promised to fix in 2016. “It’s a mess,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “Strikes me as just a frustration of not being able to solve a problem.”
Ideologically, politically and on policy, Stephen Miller is now running this White House. I fear his influence on immigration — which is currently criminally awful and on the verge of deteriorating exponentially — is only the beginning. Trump, in desperation, has handed the executive reins over to a genuinely dangerous white nationalist whom other White House advisers describe as “Waffen SS.” It really does not get any more blunt than that.
If Congress, and Senate Republicans in particular, do not step forward to check this rampage, we may find ourselves hurtling toward outright fascism at a speed that puts the last two years in deep shade.