Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen Is A Case Study in The 'Only Following Orders' Excuse

Multiple members of the Trump White House seem to be vying to find a slot on the list of History’s Greatest Monsters.

Kirstjen Nielsen (Flickr)

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen emerged on the national stage on Monday to absolutely own every dark suspicion, unsettling portent, and hint of freshly polished jack-boot that ever swirled around the term “Homeland Security.” In a relatively brief address, Nielsen delivered a performance that managed to be both unfeeling and desperate, manic and heartless, deeply deceptive and utterly reptilian.

Even more than previous Trump surrogates who twisted reason in an effort to find a rationale behind a policy whose only point lies with generating leverage by causing harm to both children and families, Nielsen did not run from these actions, she embraced them. And like Jeff Sessions and his recipe for biblical cruelty, Nielsen retreated behind the lament of good gulag operators everywhere—she’s only enforcing the law. She also earned a whiplash award for her wording.

Nielsen: It's not a policy. Our policy at DHS is to do what we're sworn to do, which is to enforce the law.

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Multiple members of the Trump White House seem to be vying to find a slot on the list of History’s Greatest Monsters. There’s Stephen Miller, who apparently extracted from the lessons of his family’s past only a burning desire to be the one holding the whip hand—and a boundless appetite for large scale sadism. He’s already more than earned his Ehrenarier card.

There’s John Kelly, who’s biggest complaint is that barbarism is not being applied with the degree of precision and rigor that he demands. In fact, Politico reports that Kelly is so upset by the lack of spit-polish on the skull sigils, that he’s ready to just drive this whole box car train over a cliff.

… he has told at least one person close to him that he may as well let the president do what he wants, even if it leads to impeachment — at least this chapter of American history would come to a close.

But while John Kelly tiptoes over the corpses to a better tomorrow and Miller smiles coldly over the whole affair, Nielsen may be the one person who has really stepped forward to claim ownership of the current titanic affront to decency in a long line of the same.

Nielsen is generally reckoned a member of the tribe of sycophants and quislings who claim to be privately appalled, but cringe at the passage of Trump’s shadow. However, tutored by Kelly and prodded by Trump, Nielsen has emerged as the “face” of the policy of shredding families for fun and political pressure. 

"We need Congress to fully fund our ability to hold families together through the immigration process. And until these loopholes are closed by Congress, it is not possible as a matter of law to detain and remove whole family units who arrive illegally in the United States," Nielsen said.

That is, of course, a lie. There are a number of ways that this could be done, including exactly how it was being done up until just a few weeks ago. Above all, it’s entirely possible to simply not hold these families

This isn’t an error or a unforseen event that grew out of someone slipping a comma into a policy where there should have been a semicolon. This is a deliberate, strategic effort based the idea that they know it is hideous. Trump and Miller are betting that it is so hideous, that well before Sarah Mclachlan appears with a new video, Democrats will buckle to the idea of giving him tens of billions that he can throw around in the name of “build that wall.”

Trump never had any way of getting Mexico to pay for his racist folly. He also hasn’t had great luck so far in getting Congress to make his personal monument a reality. But if holding a few thousand, or tens of thousand, children hostage will bring that other monstrosity a step closer to reality, Trump is willing to lie and claim “The Democrats made me do it” all day, every day.

And Kirstjen Nielsen has dutifully climbed on the stage to join Trump in that lie. This is one of those moments when history does not rhyme, it simply repeats. 

 

 

 

Mark Sumner is the author of the nonfiction work "The Evolution of Everything" as well as several novels including "Devil's Tower."