Quick thoughts on Kirstjen Nielsen, Joe Biden and more stories from this past week's mayhem

Embrace the chaos

Quick thoughts on Kirstjen Nielsen, Joe Biden and more stories from this past week's mayhem
Photo by Glenn Fawcett via U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Flickr

When I started writing this week's column, I realized there wasn't one thing I wanted to talk about. There were lots of things, each worthy of reflection for what they tell us about our society and our politics, many caught up and amplified by the intensity of our media cycle, and then spat out by its freneticism and chaos and forgotten about. So consider this a grab bag: eight quick thoughts on stories from the past week. It'll be fun, I promise. Ready? Here we go.

1. I got something wrong last week, at least in the papers that went to press before I corrected the mistake. I said that nine in 10 migrants who were part of the recent surge were crossing the border at ports of entry; that's backward – nine in 10 aren't. But that doesn't mean they're "invading." Rather, they're entering U.S. soil, finding border agents and claiming asylum. And they're doing it because they have to: The Trump administration has intentionally created weeks-long backlogs by short-staffing legal ports of entry to discourage them from coming. It is, in short, a crisis of the president's own creation to justify a wall the country doesn't need.

2. I got something else wrong, too, but it was a prediction rather than a fact. President Donald Trump did not close the border, at least not yet. Instead, he gave the country a "one-year warning" to stop the flow of drugs and migrants, and threatened to slap tariffs on Mexican imports and an absurd $500 billion fine to recoup drug-related expenses – which, I suppose, would sort of be like Mexico paying for the wall – if the country failed to do so. This threat-by-tweet undermined his own much-hyped replacement for NAFTA, which he's never bothered trying to get ratified by the Senate anyway.

3. On Sunday, Trump announced that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen – a woman who will have "threw children in cages" in the first line of her obituary – was out, apparently forced out because the president didn't believe that, the children-in-cages thing notwithstanding, she was tough enough on the people trying to escape poverty and crime in Central America. According to the New York Times, Trump urged Nielsen to simply stop allowing people to claim asylum, and when she pointed out that such a move was, well, illegal, he became infuriated.

4. A few days earlier, Trump withdrew his nominee to head ICE because he wanted to move in a "tougher direction." He also said at a press conference last week that "we have to do something about asylum. And to be honest with you, you have to get rid of judges." And while that's hardly a policy pronouncement – at this same barely coherent press conference, Trump said his father was born in Germany (nope) and repeatedly said "oranges" when he meant "origins" – it is a sign of Trump's authoritarian inclinations.

5. Trump vs. Rule of Law, part 2: On Sunday his acting chief of staff said Congress would "never" see Trump's tax returns, despite there being a law specifically entitling Congress to subpoena the IRS for Trump's tax returns. On the flip side: If progressives are going to rise up in righteous fury over Trump's (should-be-more-scandalous) refusal to turn over his tax returns, they might want to turn the heat up on Bernie Sanders as well. The Vermont senator keeps promising and promising but stalling and stalling. No, it's not the same. But there's a principle at stake.

6. Trump vs. Rule of Law, part 3: Remember how, a few weeks ago, Trump's hand-picked attorney general's four-page summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's 400-page report was a "total exoneration" of the "no collusion, no obstruction" president? Well, it seems some of Mueller's people told some associates that Barr misrepresented the report – and for some totally weird reason, didn't give Congress the summaries Mueller's team had prepared – understating the considerable evidence of obstruction and the contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, which might not have been a conspiracy so much as Trump's dipshits getting worked over by a sophisticated espionage apparatus. Shocking, I know. (Those dipshits are now running the country. Hooray.) By Sunday, Trump was back to tweeting about "Bob Mueller's team of 13 Trump Haters & Angry Democrats."

7. Two weeks ago, Trump's Justice Department backed a lawsuit to throw out the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, including pre-existing coverage protections. Trump promised that Republicans would be "the party of health care" and tasked Florida Sen. Rick Scott – whose former hospital company was fined $1.7 billion for scamming Medicare – with figuring out a plan. And then, a few days later, Trump said never mind: His party would figure out the plan after the 2020 election – just trust them, it'll be great. Because Republicans have had such good luck figuring out Obamacare replacements these past 10 years.

8. Switching gears: Joe Biden is probably about to announce a campaign for president. He's been dogged by recent allegations of inappropriate touching – not sexual so much as uncomfortably overly affectionate. His defenders argue that he should be given a pass because he's from a different generation. They're probably right. Scranton Joe was being Scranton Joe – a man of a different era. But perhaps that's exactly why he should sit this election out.


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