Beware the Bully in Chief

April 8, 2019
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President Donald Trump talks to reporters during a meeting with Ken Blackwell, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other conservative leaders and administration officials. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Kirstjen Nielsen’s departure from the Trump administration should be a warning to the few remaining honest Trump appointees: You can never appease a bully. President Trump is the classic schoolyard tormentor. You give him your lunch money and he’ll come back with demands for your tennis shoes, the shirt off your back, whatever you can filch from your mom’s jewelry box.  

Nielsen tried to appease Trump. She was Trump’s enforcer on his “zero tolerance” policy to separate parents from their children, which resulted in children housed in warehouse cages, court orders striking down the policy as unconstitutional, and a chaotic effort to reunite families that leaves perhaps thousands still separated.

She sat by silently when the president shut down the government for 35 days when he couldn’t get congressional funding for his  wall, went along with his emergency declaration to reprogram other appropriated funds for building the wall, and most recently stood by his side during his charade in Calexico when he touted as proof his promised wall was going up a section of repaired fencing that had long been in the works.

But apparently her obeisance wasn’t nearly enough. Trump wants to stop asylum, reinstate family separations, eliminate immigration judges, and if he doesn’t get what he wants, shut down the border with Mexico. Did she balk? We don’t know, but behind the scenes reports suggest that Trump’s behavior has become increasingly unhinged and one of the prime movers has been Trump aide Stephen Miller.

Known for his hardline immigration views, Miller was quoted by a former White House colleague as once saying he “would be happy if not a single refugee foot ever again touched America’s soil.” Miller is believed to be behind Trump’s pulling of the nomination of Ronald Vitiello to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement and is pushing for the firing of the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Lee Francis Cessna, according to Politico.  Miller’s animus toward immigrants is long-standing. He has worked for years, including when he was a congressional aide to Michelle Bachman and Jeff Sessions, with the immigration restrictionist groups Federation for American Immigration Reform, Center for Immigration Studies, NumbersUSA and other population extremists that I and others have written about at length. When President Trump says “America is full,” he is echoing both Miller and the restrictionist groups that would like to see a dramatic decline not just in immigration but in U.S. population.

If Stephen Miller and President Trump get their way, the country will shrink, and it will not end well.  We are already experiencing a significant labor shortage, which is putting pressure on economic growth. American birth rates are falling, a pattern that puts the U.S. on a path that has plagued other industrial countries. With an aging population, growing debt, and less immigration, the U.S. will not be able to sustain standards of living we have come to expect.  

Building walls, shutting the border, and reinstating family separations will not solve the problem. Someone needs to stand up to the Bully in Chief. Clearly, anyone in his administration who does so will be short-lived. Nonetheless, it’s time to say no. Trump’s immigration obsession threatens our economy, as well as our national values.  Republicans in Congress, are you listening?

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is a former Reagan White House official and director of the Becoming American Initiative.