Well, Donald Trump is in more hot water, although characterizing it that way assumes there are consequences for the things he says and does. That is no longer a safe assumption.
When Trump forced out Kirstjen Nielsen as DHS Secretary earlier this month (part of Stephen Miller’s “purge”), the president immediately named Kevin McAleenan Acting Secretary.
As we discussed at the time, McAleenan is in the habit of helping Trump crank up the fear knob when it comes to the border. Here’s what Kevin said during a press conference late last month, for instance:
For the first time in over a decade, CBP is performing direct releases of migrants when [ICE] is unable to provide bed space to relieve overcrowding. We are doing everything we can to simply avoid a tragedy in a CBP facility. But with these numbers, with the types of illnesses we’re seeing at the border, I fear that it’s just a matter of time.
McAleenan went on to say that immigrant families are suffering from chicken pox, lice, fevers, seizures and heart problems. Somehow, that’s all the fault of existing immigration policies, apparently.
Following Nielsen’s ouster, Trump would go on to remove the Secret Service director.
Amid what is being billed as a “wholesale decapitation” of the DHS leadership, dozens of sourced stories have detailed the extent to which an ascendant Miller is now putting in motion a draconian version of the administration’s already hardline immigration stance. This lines up with Trump’s own increasingly shrill rhetoric.
Late this week, The Washington Post revealed that Trump and Miller have twice pushed ICE to “round up” immigrants, place them on “buses” and drop them off in Democratic districts as a way of punishing the president’s political rivals. That is not “fake news”. WaPo is in possession of the e-mails which detail the plan, and the administration was thereby forced to acknowledge it.
“This was just a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion”, the White House said, in a statement.
Apparently it didn’t “end further discussion”, though, because just hours later, Trump tweeted this:
Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities only.
Again, Trump is undercutting his own communications team at every possible turn. That tweet directly refutes the White House’s official statement to WaPo and is just another example of the same dynamic that played out last month when Trump, without telling anyone apparently, tweeted that he was undoing day-old sanctions on North Korea. The administration crafted a cover story, which turned out to be – surprise – a lie.
In keeping with this precedent of the public (and, in some cases, the administration itself) being completely in the dark as to what’s actually going on, reports surfaced on Friday evening that Trump told the above-mentioned Kevin McAleenan to shut the border just before naming him to replace Nielsen. That, despite the fact that he had made numerous public statements (including tweets and on-camera remarks to reporters) that he was no longer considering closing the border due to what he claimed were efforts on the part of Mexico to arrest “thousands” of would-be asylum seekers.
Trump originally threatened to close the border on March 28 at a raucous rally in Grand Rapids, and repeated the threat a day later. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle advised against the move, including Mitch McConnell, who warned that if Trump followed through, it would be “a catastrophe.” During a meeting on April 2 with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump tried to walk back the threat, claiming that Mexico had “made a big step over the past two days” when it comes to “apprehending people”.
It was three days after that meeting with Stoltenberg (and one day after he threatened to slap tariffs on Mexico if the flow of drugs didn’t stop within “one year”) when the president told McAleenan to close the border anyway and, in a disturbing turn of events, allegedly promised a pardon to Kevin if anything went wrong. Here’s The New York Times:
It was not clear what Mr. Trump meant by his request or his additional comment to Mr. McAleenan that he would pardon him if he encountered any legal problems as a result of taking the action. Federal judges have already blocked the administration’s attempts to limit asylum seekers who illegally enter the country, and it is not likely that Mr. McAleenan would have ended up in jail if he had followed the president’s directive.
One of the people briefed on the conversation said it was possible Mr. Trump had intended the comments to Mr. McAleenan as a joke. But the conversation, which took place during the president’s visit to the border town of Calexico, Calif., alarmed officials at the Department of Homeland Security who were told of it, according to the people familiar with the remarks.
That would be the same trip to Calexico that found Trump essentially rewriting The New Colossus to read as follows:
As the Times goes on to write, “Nielsen had earlier refused to carry through with Trump’s desire to close the border, telling him it was illegal, but the president encouraged McAleenan to disregard Nielsen and enforce the move himself.”
We would again suggest that a completely objective, dispassionate take – i.e., devoid of partisanship – is that America is now running pretty quickly down an increasingly dangerous path and nobody with sufficient clout seems willing to step in and put on the brakes. Over the past week alone, we’ve learned that Trump and Miller are pushing for the rounding up and “bussing” of immigrants to the districts of the president’s political foes and that the president apparently ordered his DHS secretary to break the law, forced her resignation when she refused and, prior to ousting her, instructed her subordinate to carry out the order anyway, promising a pardon.
Of course if you ask Trump, this is just more “fake news”. Here’s what he tweeted on Saturday:
Another Fake Story that I offered Pardons to Homeland Securiy [sic] personnel in case they broke the law regarding illegal immigration and sanctuary cities. Of course this is not true. Mainstream Media is corrupt and getting worse, if that is possible, every day!
You can draw your own conclusions as to whether this was “fake news”.
Meanwhile, Trump on Friday evening posted (and then pinned) a tweet featuring a short clip of Ilhan Omar talking about 9/11 followed by graphic images of planes hitting the Twin Towers. Of course, the clip of Omar was taken entirely out of context. Omar’s remarks were delivered last month at an event hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, where she spoke about stereotyping. Here is the full quote:
Here’s the truth. For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and, frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties. So you can’t just say that today someone is looking at me strange and that I am trying to make myself look pleasant. You have to say that this person is looking at me strange, I am not comfortable with it, and I am going to talk to them and ask them why. Because that is the right you have.
Incidentally, Omar “misspoke” – The Council on American-Islamic Relations was founded in 1994, not after 9/11. A spokesperson said she meant to emphasize that the group’s membership grew after the attacks.
The New York Post subsequently ran a heinous cover that played up the words “some people did something” and conservative media in general have piled on.
The full story – including all of the facts – is available from The Washington Post here, and you are encouraged to read it. It will come as no surprise that almost everything the conservative media (and some Republican lawmakers) have said over the past week is either grossly distorted or, in many cases, an outright lie.
“The President is inciting violence against a sitting Congresswoman—and an entire group of Americans based on their religion”, Elizabeth Warren said Friday. “It’s disgusting. It’s shameful. And any elected leader who refuses to condemn it shares responsibility for it.”
Trump’s Friday evening tweet caused extreme consternation, especially considering the FBI arrested a Trump supporter earlier this month for calling Omar’s office and threatening to kill her.
This isn’t the first time Trump has taken aim at Omar. The president has variously accused her of being an anti-Semite (an ironic comment from a man who has faced withering criticism for his failures to condemn white nationalism and, in some cases, for failing to explicitly condemn actual neo-Nazis). Trump also suggested that Omar “hates America” during a wild CPAC rant on March 2.
All of the above is obviously disconcerting. It seems to suggest that Trump has, himself, become a slave to his own narrative. He has a long history of saying provocative things for the sake of causing controversy and his track record with regard to making derogatory remarks and otherwise demonizing minorities is legendary.
But, we would argue that this is new territory for him. He is creating an atmosphere that is reminiscent of some of the darkest moments in human history. Additionally, the president’s legally dubious actions with regard to implementing his immigration agenda appear to suggest that he isn’t too far away from simply firing anyone and everyone who refuses to carry out Stephen Miller’s plan (whatever it is) and promising pardons to those who run afoul of the law in the process. At that juncture, it’s not entirely clear what anyone can do to stop him, although if the Pentagon refuses to participate in a broad border crackdown, that would complicate the logistics for the White House.
We’ll just leave you with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s response to Trump’s tweet about Omar…
Members of Congress have a duty to respond to the President’s explicit attack today.@IlhanMN’s life is in danger. For our colleagues to be silent is to be complicit in the outright, dangerous targeting of a member of Congress.
We must speak out.
“First they came…” pic.twitter.com/ygOX1vhE9j
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 12, 2019