No One Elected Stephen Miller or Tom Cotton President

Government services are shutting down today because the president has outsourced all of his decision-making functions to the farthest extremes of the conservative white nationalist movement.

It would be simple to respond that this is because the president himself is also a far-right white nationalist-—which  is to a large extent true. But there’s more to it. Donald Trump’s racism is born of ignorance: his views on racial issues are stuck in the 1970s-era pages of the New York Post, and his views on international relations more resemble clash-of-civilizations ethno-nationalist war games than anything resembling reality. But the president’s understanding of any issue–even his signature ones–is paper thin. He’s also susceptible to being persuaded by the very last person he talked to, and liable to change his mind with maddening frequency.

That in turn makes negotiation with him almost impossible. In Minority Leader Schumer’s words, it’s like trying to make a deal “with Jell-O.” No sooner would they come to terms on an agreement very favorable to the President and his party including money for his much vaunted wall, than it would all fall to shambles because Trump was persuaded back by his far right advisers.

The president cannot make a deal on his own terms when he doesn’t even know what those terms are. The extremist march of the Republican Congress and the inability of its leadership to stand up to its worst elements means that without the president’s leadership, the radical Freedom Caucus controls the House. Ultra-conservative zealot Tom Cotton functionally runs the Senate. Within the White House, blood-and-soil racists like Stephen Miller dominate the conversation, and Chief of Staff John Kelly appears to be much in agreement. So much so, that Kelly was passing out a hardline memo of White House demands that Trump had apparently never seen and did not agree with.

Needless to say, this is not what the American people voted for. It’s not even what most of Trump’s supporters voted for. Yes, racial hostility was a key component of Trump’s appeal. But even Trump’s ugly campaign of white supremacy was more nuanced than today’s Republican embrace of pure ethnic cleansing. Trump promised to build a border wall, yes, but he also committed to protecting Dreamers, and his rhetoric around deportations was centered around “getting rid of the bad hombres.” Even many of Trump’s supporters would not have gone along with mass deportations of children and immigrants with no criminal record. And we know that Trump himself even very recently was supportive of making a deal on DACA.

Which means that White House policy is now far to the right of even the nasty virulence of Trump’s presidential campaign, simply because the president is not the president. A small band of unelected ultra-racist extremists is presiding in his absence.

It is insane that we have come to this point, but at this point the Republican Party has been overtaken by such vicious people that even Trump’s core instincts would be better than what we’re getting. Trump is awful, but he at least has the flimsy legitimacy of an electoral college win.

No one elected Tom Cotton or Stephen Miller president.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.