When he was the star of the TV reality show “The Apprentice,” Donald Trump would end each episode by dismissing one of the contestants vying for a job with his firm. His closing line was always the same: “You’re fired!”
Now, he seems to be trying to turn the government — or at least the executive branch — into “The Apprentice – Part Two.”
Since he became president, we have seen Cabinet secretaries come and go at a dizzying pace. Anger the boss (Mr. Trump) and you undoubtedly will face public ridicule from the White House. Disagree with him and maybe you can leave on your own terms (I give you the case of former Defense Secretary James Mattis). Fail to carry out his policies and he will show no mercy. You are gone.
Right now his target is the Department of Homeland Security. And perhaps the best word to describe what is happening there is the one that keeps popping up time and time again in headlines. It is a “purge.”
Kirjsten Nielsen is out as DHS secretary. The head of the United States Secret Service — the part of Homeland Security entrusted with protecting the nation’s leaders — is being replaced. The nomination of a new chief of ICE — Immigration and Custom Enforcement — has been pulled. And by the time you read this, the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service as well as the top lawyer at the Department of Homeland Security may be gone. Undoubtedly, there will be more.
All this at a time when DHS is under incredible stress as it copes with an increasingly complex mission.
Founded after the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks, The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for safeguarding the nation’s borders and coasts, its immigration system, and its cyber-networks. It also plays a leading role in federal disaster response and — through the Secret Service — in providing a safety cordon around the nation’s leadership.
It is important, vital work. And since its inception, stability at DHS has been a top priority for successive presidents. Not anymore.
Donald Trump is the president of chaos. He is furious that unauthorized migration is on the rise… that courts are ruling against his policies to separate families at the southern border or force would-be asylum seekers to wait in Mexico… and that his number one campaign promise is going unfulfilled.
The result is the DHS purge… and a lot of confusion at a cabinet department that was created to provide the public with some much needed peace of mind after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.
Senator Ron Johnson — the Republican Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee put it this way on Twitter: “… I am concerned with a growing leadership void within the department tasked with addressing some of the most signifiant problems facing the nation.”
He wasn’t the only Republican to speak out. Senator John Cornyn — who hails from the border state of Texas — said simply “it’s a mess.” And Joni Ernst of Iowa told POLITICO, “I would love to see some continuity. I think that’s important.”
Sorry, Senator Ernst. I don’t think anyone at the White House is listening.
It seems the person who has Donald Trump’s ear on all this is Stephen Miller — a senior aide who backs a hardline immigration stand and has been pushing the president to clean house at the Department of Homeland Security for some time.
With Miller calling the shots, it is likely that the departure of the leadership team at DHS will result in an even fiercer immigration agenda — perhaps even a return to Trump’s controversial decision last year to separate migrant children from their parents. He could also put new limits on who can be granted asylum and maybe even send more troops to the southern border.
No one knows. But we do know that by removing the top tier of leaders at the Department of Homeland Security, the president is getting rid of those who might urge a more cautious approach.
What we also know for sure is that the 2020 presidential campaign in the United States is already underway and Trump is ramping up his rhetoric in order to energize his base – especially on matters related to illegal border crossings.
Jonathan Meyer, a former top official at DHS, predicts the president will continue to pursue immigration policies that are overturned in the courts simply because the issue is so important to those core supporters.
Meyer told the New York Times: “He is willing to move forward and do things even when he knows he’s going to be sued for it and the legality is in question.”
Ahhhhh. So for our reality-tv-star-turned-president this is all about the show? Bring on the drama!
Forget about the pain of the migrants and the violence and poverty that has compelled them to make the difficult journey to the United States. Forget about the cries of the children separated from parents who desire nothing more than a better life for their sons and daughters.
These are the people who Trump once referred to as “animals” — a word used by many would-be authoritarians throughout history to dehumanize others.
And now, because of his burning desire to show his base that he can rid America of this “scourge,” we have a key cabinet department likely demoralized and in disarray at the top.
“They are decapitating the entire department,” one DHS official told the Washington Post.
And how did the Department staff learn about the purge?
Officials at the Secret Service said they were caught by surprise when their boss was axed. They found out the news by watching the story unfold on CNN.
It’s a fitting twist for the latest episode of that classy Trump show “The Apprentice – Part Two.”