Goodbye, Kirstjen, Hello Whatever Comes Next

The big news over the weekend was Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen becoming the latest sudden departure from the administration of President Donald Trump, and what comes next should be a big story in the coming days. Nielsen’s reportedly forced resignation shortly followed Trump’s withdrawal of Ronald Vitellio’s nomination as director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with Trump saying he wanted to go “in a tougher direction,” and there’s no telling where that might lead.
Despite Trump’s very tough talk and very tough actions regarding illegal immigration, there’s lately been a significant uptick in asylum-seekers and other immigrants trying to cross America’s southern border, and Trump is clearly displeased. Both Nielsen and Vitellio were fully on board with family separations and a sea-to-shining-sea border wall and other controversial Trump policies, but Trump won office largely tough talk and promises of tough action along the border, so of course he wants to go in an even tougher direction. Short of shooting any asylum-seekers or other immigrants tying to cross the border on sight, however, even the cruelest toughness might not provide a solution.
In her reportedly forced yet very gracious resignation letter, Nielsen wrote that “I hope 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 border and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse. Our country — and the men and women of DHS — deserve to have all the tools and resources they need to execute the mission entrusted to them.” Which strikes us as quite craftily worded, given the short notice.
Nielsen still endorses Trump’s legislative agenda even as she’s being defenestrated, but she slyly alludes to the fact that she’s on the way out because she felt constrained by the current laws of the land. Given that her up-to-the-legal-limits tough gal approach never fared well with either Congress or the courts or popular opinion, her hope that an even tougher successor is probably faint and at least partly facetious. Nielsen’s tough-yet-law-abiding tenure never got good press, and we noticed that the Cable New Network kept featuring the most unappealing photos of her on Sunday, even though she’s objectively rather attractive by cabinet secretary standards, and any successor Trump might choose won’t fare any better. Good luck getting the feisty Democratic majority in the House or the slight Republican Senate majority and its skittish border state members to go along in a tougher direction.
All of which is a shame, as far we’re concerned. There’s a strong case to be made for some of Trump’s immigration law reforms, although we’ll stop well short of that shooting-asylum-seekers-on-sight that he’s probably tempted to do and his die-hard fans would surely endorse, but they’re not likely to get done in the next two years. or probably a few more years after that. In the meantime the most sensible proposal seems to be the one by formerly-far-right-wing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to fund enough extra immigration judges to handle the current backlog on the border according to American law and international treaty obligations.
On the whole, we’re going to miss Secretary Nielsen. Not only was she objectively rather attractive by cabinet secretary standards, she also struck as one of the few remaining grown-ups in the administration. She’s was the protege and hand-picked successor of Four Star Marine General John F, Kelly, who had taken a hard line at the DHS, and who was briefly the White House chief of staff who was expected to impose some order on the White House, and we expect that also had something to do with Trump’s dissatisfaction. Trump seems intent on being even tougher than the law allows, as usual, but we’ll see how that works out.

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Let Us All Eat in Peace

As regular readers of this publication are well aware, we’re not fond of President Donald Trump, nor are we fond of any of his administration officials, except for a few who are frequently on Trump’s bad side. Still, we wouldn’t refuse any of them service at our restaurant, in the off chance we had one and the even more off chance Trump or any of his administration officials happened to walk into it, nor would we attempt to boo any of them out of any public space we somehow happened to share.
That’s just our old-fashioned Kansas conservative way, though, and it seems a number of more well-helled and up-to-date liberal types in Washington, D.C., and Lexington, Virginia, disagree. White House senior policy advisor Stephen Miller and Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen were both recently heckled by numerous fellow diners and driven from Mexicans restaurants in Washington, Nielsen was later awakened by an angry crowd chanting outside her home before dawn, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her party were asked by the owner of restaurant in Lexington to leave. In the all the discussion that ensued from all the brouhaha some leftward media expressed solidarity with the hecklers, and California’s Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters got some headlines by urging her followers that no Trump administration be allowed to gas up their car or buy groceries or eat a restaurant meal without harassment.
As much as we dislike Trump for our own old-fashioned Kansas conservative reasons, and have to admit that his urging his followers to punch out protestors and promising to pay their legal bills and other vulgar utterances have also debased the civility of our public discourse, and despite the chuckle we got out of a late-night comedian saying that it takes some serious chutzpah for either Miller or Nielsen to visit a Mexican restaurant, we’d rather both sides of America took time off from these dreary debates for mealtimes and grocery-shopping and theater-going and other previously sacrosanct moments of a human being’s life.
The venerably pre-Trump conservative magazine National Review agrees, and so does the old-fashionedly liberal editorial board of the The Washington Post, as well as most of the the rest of mostly apolitical America. Still, there’s clearly more than a few on both the left and right fringes of the political spectrum who seem to be itching for a fight.
The aforementioned Waters has been a racialist demagogue since before even Trump got into the game, and first became nationally-known by encouraging the constituents in her ever-shifting district to continue the Los Angeles riots of 1992 until some Korean immigrant shopkeepers started effectively firing back with semi-automatic weapons, and after all these years we’re even somewhat less fond of her than Trump. Her more or less clarion call for mobocracy are not uncommon on the leftward edges of the political spectrum, too, and that’s one reason we’re still old-fashioned Kansas conservatives.
Meanwhile, the racialist demagogue Trump has “tweeted” back at the “low-IQ individual” Waters that he’s got plenty of his own supporters who are also itching for a fight. Several of them have already egged the Red Hen Restaurant that denied Sanders service, except that they mistakenly egged an entirely innocent restaurant of that name in Washington, D.C., rather that the admittedly guilty one in Lexington, and one way or another that fight the farthest fringes seem to be itching for will likely end badly.
The good news is that both National Review and The Washington Post are calling for a political time-out during eating and grocery-shopping and theater-going and family and sleep time, and that most Democratic and Republican politicians agree on this point. Somehow, the center might hold.
Still, longtime readers of this publication know our recurring nightmares about the last days of the Weimar Republic in pre-Hitler Germany, when the Commies and the Nazis were brawling it out on the grimy streets of decadent Berlin. We’ve always figured that in such incomprehensibly dire circumstances we would seek asylum elsewhere, but in this mean old world we don’t know where we might have found it. When we challenged a post-Trump Republican friend of ours that he would have defended iconic Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to turn back the St. Louis ocean liner full of Jewish refugees, he admitted he would do so even now knowing with the 20-20 hindsight of history that it condemned all the passengers to concentration camp deaths, and that if by historical chance we’d needed the chance we would have also been passengers on that voyage, and given her racialist demagoguery and the demographic make-up of her district we’re sure Waters would have gone along with it as well.
At this point we’re willing to let the “Trumpanzees” and the “lib-tards” brawl it out on the decadent of streets of America, at least as far as possible away from our surprisingly serene streets of Wichita, Kansas, and hope that the center will hold, and our daily meals will at least be peaceful.

— Bud Norman

Reality v. the Reality Show

There are all sorts of serious issues afoot these days, such as immigration policy and yet another continuing spending resolution that’s soon required to keep the government funded, not to mention that whole messy “Russia thing,” and ideally they would all be resolved by the merits of angrily shouted arguments. These days, though, one must also take into account all the soap operatic subplots of the nation’s ongoing reality show in the age of President Donald Trump.
The United States Senate, once known as “The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body,” took up the immigration issue on Tuesday with testimony from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and for the most part it was the serious sort of discussion of a serious issue one might wish from one’s government. Nielsen struck us as well-informed and well-spoken, made a better case for Trump’s policy of strict enforcement of current immigration laws and a more merit-based system than he ever could, and handled the Democrats’ mostly reasonable questions without resort to any of the taunting nicknames Trump routinely relies on.
She also struck us as a strikingly comely DHS secretary, which of course has nothing to do with the merits of her well-stated arguments, but it’s nonetheless worth mentioning in the context of this ongoing reality show in the age of Trump. We noticed that the Washington Post and the Associated Press ran the most unflattering pictures they could take along with otherwise fair coverage of the hearing, and if you’ll forgive some frivolous fan talk about the reality show we think we missed a bet. United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is also quite attractive, as is that communications director Hick Hopes, who’s lately been subpoenaed by another Senate committee looking into that “Russia thing,” prime time spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway has her own Cruella Deville sort of appeal, and the left should be making the very convincing case that Trump prefers women’s beauty over brains.
Nielsen would have overwhelmed that argument with her well-spoken and well-reasoned testimony, though, if only a couple of Democratic senators hadn’t asked her about Trump’s widely-reported comment to a bipartisan gathering of senators about immigrants from what he called “shit-hole countries,” which has lately been the biggest subplot in our nation’s ongoing reality show. A credible Democratic senator is staking his political reputation by insisting the president did use that vulgarity, a credible Republican senator has more or less verified the account and even claimed some discreet credit for raising his objections to such language, which the Democratic senator has praised him for doing, and the president’s more sycophantic senators are only saying they can’t recall what the president said.
By now even Fox News is reporting that yeah, the president actually said that, and anyone who’s been following this reality show since Trump descended down that Trump Tower escalator to launch his campaign with a speech about Mexican rapists knows it sure sounds like something he’d say. When Nielsen said that she couldn’t recall Trump saying that at the meeting she’d attended, only that she’d heard foul language from everyone but herself and the senator who as asking the question, she lost not only lost all the credibility she’d earned with her well-informed and well-spoken arguments for Trump’s immigrations but also killed our emerging crush.
All of which complicates the far more serious matter of a looming deadline for dealing with all those telegenically sympathetic “dreamers” who will be kicked out of the country if action isn’t taken by Congress and signed by the president. Trump himself claims to be the sympathetic to the “dreamers,” but he’s also wed to the more rock-ribbed and hard-sorted sorts of Republicans who have some very serious arguments about why America should strictly enforce its immigration laws and enact others that are even more merit-based, and his by-now undeniable comments about “shit-hole countries,” and his DHS secretary’s futile attempts to deny it, have made those arguments harder to make.
Which in turn makes it all the harder to get yet another continuing spending resolution to keep the government running. These every-few-months-or-so annoyances are always complicated enough, but this time around the Democrats have that “dreamers” issue as a negotiating position, probably even Trump and surely the rest of the Republicans majorities in the House and Senate know they’ll take the inevitable ┬ápublic relations hit for a government shutdown, and the argument is unlikely to be decided on the merits. If these sorts of things were decided on the merits, though, we’d have annual budgets passed budgets passed by bipartisan majorities of both houses of Congress and signed by a president of one party or another, and honest people of both parties should admit that stopped happening long before the Trump reality show debuted
There’s also that ongoing “Russia thing,” too, and even Trump’s most die-hard apologists have to adit that’s pretty much unprecedented. Another Senate committee is calling for under-oath testimony not only from the aforementioned comely Hicks but also Trump’s former campaign and administration “chief strategist” Steve Bannon, now entirely disowned and dubbed “Sloppy Steve” by Trump, and that involves more reality show subplots than we can explain here. Bannon was quoted in the best-selling but widely disputed book “fire and Fury” that was was last week’s big story alleging that Trump’s son and son-in-law were “treasonous” by taking an admitted meeting with a Russian lawyer they knew to be connected to the Russian government during all that “Russia thing,” and his under-oath testimony about that will likely be the next big subplot in the nation’s ongoing reality show.
Elsewhere in the real world the stock markets are up, the unemployment rate is down, and despite the recent spate of cold weather around here most of the people we run into are pleasant enough. We’ll hold out some faint hope that our reality somehow prevails over all that nastiness in the reality show of the news.

— Bud Norman