Trump believes torture is motivational — and now he's displaying that on the border
Kirstjen Nielsen is far—far—from a hero. That she left Donald Trump foaming over unrequited demands to cause more large-scale human misery exactly for the purpose of causing misery might be admirable, had she done it the first time she was asked. Instead, she was a willing leader in causing physical and emotional distress on a scale not seen in this country since World War II internment camps. If she now claims that her participation was less than enthusiastic, that will not comfort one grieving family or reassure one frightened child. There is just one word for the policy that Donald Trump is conducting on the southern border of the United States, the policy that Nielsen both advocated and enforced for the last two years, and that word is “torture.”
Donald Trump believes torture is motivational. He’s made it clear, over and over, that he supports the use of torture as a questioning technique. Trump has shrugged off all evidence that torture does not provide good results. He absolutely spurned any thought of “human rights.” He made his open, enthusiastic, unlimited support for torture a part of his campaign. That’s what Nielsen and all the other members of Trump’s regime signed on to support.
And there is absolutely no doubt that torture is the point of Trump’s policy on the border. Trump believes that if he he takes the people who have come to America seeking asylum and tortures them badly enough, long enough, and publicly enough, it will act as a warning sign to keep more asylum-seekers away. That’s the start of Trump’s policy. That’s the end of it.
Images of hundreds of people forced to huddle behind barbed wire in filthy puddles under a bridge abutment is the point. Images of thousands held in stifling desert tent gulags is the point. Images of children torn screaming from their parents or children sitting crying in cages is the point. They’re not side effects of the policy. They’re the policy. Trump is conducting mass torture on the theory that if he makes things bad enough, learning to live with roaming bands of militants and violent gangs won’t seem so bad. Not compared to the treatment given to people who dare come to his United States, by God.
Nielsen didn’t just go along with that; she organized it, while knowing the intent. Her departure doesn’t absolve her of her involvement … but it is a signal that Trump is prepared to make things far worse.
Trump’s fantasies of violence don’t end with women in vans and blue duct tape. Trump’s fantasies of violence aren’t fantasies at all. They’re being enacted on women, men, and children at the border who are suffering deliberate harm at Trump’s demand.
But Trump does seem to be running out of people who can both keep up a reasonable appearance of being reasonable while still believing that just-following-orders remains a legitimate excuse. As NPR notes, there are now three “acting” members of Trump’s staff at the cabinet level alone. Kevin McAleenan is now the acting secretary of homeland security. This likely means he has already agreed to take any actions at which Nielsen finally quailed.
At the start of the year, Patrick Shanahan became acting secretary of defense, and David Bernhardt has now become acting interior secretary. They’re the ones who will continue Trump’s policy of deliberately wrecking America’s most vital alliances and deliberately destroying the environment. Though to be fair to Bernhardt, it’s hard to believe he’s willing to do more in regard to purposely destroying the nation’s public lands than the outgoing Ryan Zinke, because it’s hard to believe there was anything Ryan Zinke wouldn’t do.
Those positions are just three of many in Trump’s staff currently held in an acting capacity. In many cases, those acting heads preside over deputies also serving in an acting role, and are supported by advisers and panels who have also never faced any form of oversight, congressional or otherwise. As the Washington Post reports, that’s exactly how Trump likes it.
“I like acting because I can move so quickly,” Trump said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” in February. “It gives me more flexibility.”
With Nielsen’s departure, Trump now has someone in place who he believes will carry out his plans for DHS. Or rather, Stephen Miller’s plan to re-architect DHS into an agency capable of generating the proper levels of fear and compliance.