Political Animal

The Malevolence and Incompetence of the Family Separation Policy

Less than a month into Donald Trump’s presidency, I wrote that we were witnessing the combination of malevolence and incompetence.

Electing a bully to be president who is this uninformed and incompetent is one thing. But from all indications it looks like Trump has surrounded himself with people who have nefarious motives, are equally uninformed, and have a stunning lack of experience. This will not end well.

I thought about that when I watched DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s performance at a press briefing yesterday. Before taking a look at what she said, here’s a reminder about her background prior holding this position:

Many senior staffers at DHS were stunned when Nielsen was appointed to lead the department. She had never led a large organization, let alone one as unwieldy as DHS.

Nielsen, 46, worked as a DHS staffer and adviser under George W. Bush, then spent the Obama years remaking herself as a cyber­security expert. Her high-level management experience was thin.

When Trump was elected in 2016, Nielsen was running Sunesis Consulting, a firm whose online profile listed her as its lone employee. The company’s business address was a condo in Alexandria. The firm’s phone number, still visible online, is Nielsen’s personal cellphone.

Now let’s take a look at one of the topics Nielsen addressed yesterday.

Here are two of the claims she made:

  1. parents can communicate with their children via phone and video conferencing, and
  2. a parent who is released from custody can ask for the child to be released back into their care

That is completely at odds with reporting that is coming from these detention centers. Keep in mind that DHS is the department that is responsible for adult detention centers, while the Department of Health and Human Services runs the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which takes custody of the children. Jonathan Blitzer writes that “There’s next to no coördination between D.H.S. and H.H.S.”

Blitzer goes on to explain that many of these parents don’t know where their children are, much less how to arrange a phone call with them. On the statement about children being released back to their parents, Adolfo Flores reports:

HHS was unable to provide any specific instance of a child being reunited with a parent who’d completed their sentence under the zero-tolerance policy or to provide general numbers on such reunions.

Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, who is the lead lawyer suing the Trump administration for separating immigrant parents from their children, said immigration authorities are not reuniting children and parents even after the parents have served their time, which is usually two to three days.

“Kids are just languishing for months in foster families or government facilities,” Gelernt told BuzzFeed News. “If the government is saying there is some process for reuniting them promptly, we haven’t seen it.”

But as Blitzer writes, it’s even worse than that.

No protocols have been put in place for keeping track of parents and children concurrently, for keeping parents and children in contact with each other while they are separated, or for eventually reuniting them…

Erik Hanshew, a federal public defender in El Paso, told me that the problems begin at the moment of arrest. “Our client gets arrested with his or her child out in the field. Sometimes they go together at the initial processing, sometimes they get separated right then and there for separate processing,” he said. “When we ask the Border Patrol agents at detention hearings a few days after physical arrest about the information they’ve obtained in their investigation, they tell us that the only thing they know is that the person arrested was with a kid. They don’t seem to know gender, age, or name.”

The picture this presents mirrors the way the travel ban was initially implemented: a malevolent plan rolled out with a complete lack of communication and planning. It might be that Secretary Nielsen, who obviously supports separating children from their parents, intends for the statements she made in that video to be true. But she has obviously done nothing to assure that her intentions are being carried out.

In other words, this story only begins with family separation. For the 2,000+ children who have been affected so far, there is no plan in place for keeping them in contact with their parents and, even worse, no plan for how they will eventually be reunited. That is the horror story that is unfolding as a result of this administration’s malevolence combined with incompetence.

Trump is Putting White Supremacy on the Ballot This November

When Donald Trump said that there were “good people on both sides” of the clash over white supremacy in Charlottesville, I suggested that he had crossed a line—the one dividing covert and overt white supremacy.

The majority of white people in this country are prepared to condemn overt white supremacy, but they’re not so sure when it manifests in more covert forms. With the family separation policy being administered by the Trump administration, a pattern is emerging in the more overt forms of racism we are witnessing. Chris Hayes called it a “throughline.”

Rather than assume that the public reaction to the latest outrage about what is happening on our southern border creates a problem for this administration, Nancy Cook reports that they’re just getting started.

Top aides to President Donald Trump are planning additional crackdowns on immigration before the November midterms, despite a growing backlash over the administration’s move to separate migrant children from parents at the border.

Senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and a team of officials from the departments of Justice, Labor, Homeland Security and the Office of Management and Budget have been quietly meeting for months to find ways to use executive authority and under-the-radar rule changes to strengthen hard-line U.S. immigration policies, according to interviews with half a dozen current and former administration officials and Republicans close to the White House.

In other words, Stephen Miller and his boss actually think that this is a winning strategy for the administration. McKay Coppins explains that this is basically how Miller operates.

A seasoned conservative troll, Miller told me during our interview that he has often found value in generating what he calls “constructive controversy—with the purpose of enlightenment.” This belief traces back to the snowflake-melting and lib-triggering of his youth. As a conservative teen growing up in Santa Monica, he wrote op-eds comparing his liberal classmates to terrorists and musing that Osama bin Laden would fit in at his high school. In college, he coordinated an “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.” These efforts were not calibrated for persuasion; they were designed to agitate. And now that he’s in the White House, he is deploying similar tactics.

Matthew Yglesias took exception to that characterization of Miller.

I happen to think they’re both right: Miller is a hardcore racist who thinks that agitating the public by implementing racist policies is a winning formula. We heard this kind of thing pretty regularly from Steve Bannon, who said this to Robert Kuttner:

“The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

The primary way to make sense of that kind of thinking is to keep in mind that, in order to be a hardcore racist, you must also be completely devoid of empathy. Since people like Miller, Bannon and Trump have no ability to sense what other people are feeling, they simply project their own emotional processes onto other white people. They think that the majority of Americans are angry, hateful racists who don’t speak up because of political correctness.

The problem is that they’re not completely wrong about that. While the majority of Americans aren’t hardcore racists who consciously hate people of color, there are an awful lot of white people (almost all of us) that have been imbued with a feeling of discomfort about race, combined with a fear about “others” and an ignorance about how the world looks from the eyes of people of color. In other words, our covert white supremacy leads us to be complicit in doing/saying racist things.

That is what the hardcore racists in this administration want to operationalize via agitation. Rather than defend their own inhumane policies, take a look at some of the ways Miller and Trump have framed the issues. Here is Miller talking to the New York Times about the family separation policy:

You have one party that’s in favor of open borders, and you have one party that wants to secure the border. And all day long the American people are going to side with the party that wants to secure the border. And not by a little bit. Not 55–45. 60–40. 70–30. 80–20. I’m talking 90–10 on that.

Here’s what the president tweeted this morning:

If they can tap into the fear of immigrants, while suggesting that those who oppose their inhumane policies are really in favor of open borders and don’t care about crime, they think they’ve found a winning formula. That is why they lie about immigrants constantly. Fear is the ticket that triggers a racist response.

I’m not saying that these tactics will work, but I’m not ready to write them off completely. That’s why it is important to keep getting the facts out there. In their blind racism, Trump and Miller have once again stepped over the line because it is hard to paint infants and toddlers who crossed the border with their parents as somehow dangerous. They’d rather tell us lies about MS-13 and how immigrants are pouring in to “infest” our country, just as Hitler lied about an infestation of Jews.

What I’m describing is the Trump plan the midterm elections, and all of the Trump wannabes are sure to follow suit. In other words, we’re about to learn whether white supremacy is a winning formula for political success in this country. Let’s not make the same mistake we did in 2016 and confuse the issue. We need to be very clear about what is on the ballot this November.

John Kelly Won’t Leave Administration He Wants to End

How is this for a profile in political leadership from John Kelly, the White House chief of staff?

…Kelly’s status in the White House has changed in recent months, and he and the president are now seen as barely tolerating one another. According to four people close to Kelly, the former Marine general has largely yielded his role as the enforcer in the West Wing as his relationship with Trump has soured. While Kelly himself once believed he stood between Trump and chaos, 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.

What kind of person continues with his or her job beyond the point at which they’ve given up on being effective or preventing an historic disaster? Who doesn’t seek to exfiltrate themselves from a situation in which high crimes and misdemeanors are being committed in their field of responsibility? How do we view a chief of staff who gives up on leading either his boss or his staff and then just sits there occupying space, making apologies out of one side of his mouth and leaking excuses out of the other?

And this is too generous to Kelly, because he’s been a hardliner on immigration and discouraged the president from making any kind of deal with Congress. If the administration is now committing a crime against humanity at the border, Kelly owns every part of that policy, and all the more every day that he remains in his position. He just sits there like a bump on a log while the president praises the character of Kim Jong-un, says Russia properly owns Crimea, and lobbies to have sanctions lifted against Russia and the country returned to the G7.

Now he sounds like he’s eager for his whole administration to be frogmarched out of the West Wing because it will end the nightmare we’re all living through. Does he think he’ll escape the Tuff-tie hand restraints?

I don’t know how to define this behavior because cowardice doesn’t seem to quite cover it.

A Voter Purge Could Be Coming Soon to a State Near You

Almost a year ago, a lot of people thought that Vanita Gupta, who led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama, was being overly alarmist when she wrote that, “The Voter Purges Are Coming.” I wasn’t one of those people. She was as serious as a heart attack. Back then, Gupta noted that:

Lost amid the uproar over the commission’s request was a letter sent at the same time by the Justice Department’s civil rights division. It forced 44 states to provide extensive information on how they keep their voter rolls up-to-date. It cited the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, known as the Motor-Voter law, which mandates that states help voters register through motor vehicle departments.

The letter doesn’t ask whether states are complying with the parts of the law that expand opportunities to register. Instead it focuses on the sections related to maintaining the lists. That’s a prelude to voter purging.

Usually the Justice Department would ask only a single state for data if it had evidence the state wasn’t complying with Motor-Voter. But a blanket request to every state covered under that law is virtually unprecedented.

Last week, the day after the Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s plan to purge their voter rolls, the Trump administration implemented their next step in the forced voter purges that Gupta warned about.

The [Justice] department sued the state of Kentucky on Tuesday to force it to “systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the registration records”—and Kentucky quickly agreed to comply…

The Trump administration sued Kentucky under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which was supposed to make voter registration more accessible by allowing people to sign up to vote at motor vehicle offices and other public agencies. The law also contained a provision requiring states to make a “reasonable effort” remove ineligible voters from the rolls…

If not done with proper safeguards, voter purges can cause eligible voters to be removed from the rolls. In 2006, a state court in Kentucky blocked an effort by then-Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a Republican, to purge the voter rolls, finding that more than 8,100 eligible Kentucky voters had been removed.

In case you live in a blue state and assume that you are safe from voter purges, it is important to note that the Motor-Voter law gives the Justice Department the authority to determine whether states are making a “reasonable effort” to remove ineligible voters from the rolls.” So a voter purge could be coming soon to a state near you.