Of all the charlatans, sycophants and moral sellouts surrounding Donald Trump, no one comes close to Kirstjen Nielsen.
Not Steve Bannon, the neo-fascist strategist who glued a thin veneer of ideology on top of the particle board flakes that fill the cranium of a bankrupt property developer.
Not Paul Manafort, the ostrich jacket-loving former campaign chairman now serving seven years for being a liar and fraud after servicing a motley crew of tyrants.
No, there is no one quite like the departing secretary of homeland security, who forced some of the world’s most vulnerable people to pay any price and bear any burden to assure the survival of her own career.
In Trump’s ninth circle of hell, there may be more ideological hardliners than Nielsen and there certainly are more wingnut sociopaths.
But Nielsen has deployed all the skills of a careerist technocrat to oversee the two greatest scandals of the entire human misfortune that is the Trump presidency: a death toll of more than 3,000 in the criminally negligent aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and tens of thousands of children illegally imprisoned and forcibly separated from their parents at the southern border.
Long after we have forgotten how to spell her name, there will be children suffering from the permanent separation from their parents because Nielsen was too incompetent and inhuman to track them or their parents.
Those children are just the collateral damage of someone pretending to be tough enough to be part of Trump’s band of bullies.
Perhaps Nielsen’s only skill was a doggedly determined drive to lie at every downward spiral of her own career. That continued on Sunday afternoon, as news emerged of her long-anticipated departure, when she successfully spun her firing/resignation as a principled stand against even more illegal and repressive policies at the border.
This may be the kind of lie Nielsen tells herself to fall asleep at night after reading all those emails about the victims of sex abuse in the child prisons she built at vast expense.
No doubt the officials who built the Japanese American internment camps also believed they were protecting America with a gulag that was nowhere near as bad as Stalin’s.
A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the US-Mexico border on 12 June 2018 in McAllen, Texas.Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images
But the lies, big and small, are the giveaway that all this talk about protecting America is really just a cover for the political punishment of the weak and voiceless. “I hope that the next secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse,” Nielsen wrote in her resignation letter.
If you locked Nielsen in one of her own Ice iceboxes, the hieleras where her officers detain immigrant men, women and children for hours on end, she would admit within minutes that the “discord in our nation’s discourse” is in fact the product of one man and a team enabling his racist fantasies.
What is the point of securing the nation’s borders if you think the legal and legislative checks and balances – established by the constitution – are to blame for so much of the unpleasantness in our national conversation?
That is not to say that Nielsen has entirely failed in her quest to fool a gullible proportion of the nation about Trump’s fake border crisis, and the foundation for an entire industry of human suffering.
As border crossings have spiked in the last few months, the media has swallowed every deceiving word from every overworked official about the supposed flood of people that must – by implication – be drowning the entire border in their foreign culture and lawlessness.
This requires a certain amnesia and implicit bias in reporting that for some reason propagates the notion that it is normal to lock up tens of thousands of undocumented migrants.
According to Nielsen’s official numbers, there were 76,103 apprehensions at the south-west border in February. That was about 25% higher than the previous three months. But it was also 80% lower than the peak of apprehensions in 2000. If this “crisis” continued every month for the rest of the year, the total would still be far lower than the regular levels through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.
Yet somehow America survived all those floods of migrants. Somehow undocumented immigration sharply declined after the Great Recession and never really picked up again in the same way. Somehow all those draconian anti-migrant laws passed in the anti-terror psychosis after 9/11 never stopped all those Mexican terrorists because there never were any.
Which brings us to the essential madness at the heart of Nielsen’s old department: homeland security. We now spend more on border security than the combined budgets of all the major criminal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the DEA and the Secret Service. Locking families up in prisons costs 10 times more than keeping them monitored in the community, and family caseworkers have a 100% track record in court appearances.
The Department of Homeland Security is a vastly expensive and vastly immoral catastrophe
A fraction of that money could be spent on programs to stabilize the Central American countries whose children are fleeing the gangs that represent the only law and order on the ground. Instead, Trump wants to cancel that aid, which includes the Mueller-like investigation of a corrupt president’s family in Guatemala.
The Department of Homeland Security is a vastly expensive and vastly immoral catastrophe. Its Fema agency botched Puerto Rico’s recovery from Maria to the point where thousands died needlessly for lack of power, food, water and medicine. Its anti-immigration forces are a self-sustaining prison-industrial complex of more officers, more apprehensions and more prisons, supplying judges who are barely worthy of the name, some of them with deportation rates of more than 90%.
All in the service of a self-sustaining “crisis” fabricated by a delusional demagogue. The only reason the numbers are spiking now is because desperate Central Americans fear Trump really will close the border entirely. Trump’s supposedly deterrent policies of hurting families, or militarizing the border, have been a colossal failure.
So spare us your self-serving excuses, Kirstjen Nielsen. You lied to Congress and the nation by saying repeatedly there was no family separation policy, when you knew full well there was. You kept the policy secret for months before it became public just in time for an election your party lost. And you sustained it for months after you pretended it ended.
You may well pick up lucrative contracts as a pundit, lobbyist and speaker. But you sold your soul so long ago that you can never claim a refund.