Ideas

Opinion | Luke O’Neil

Keep Kirstjen Nielsen unemployed and eating Grubhub over her kitchen sink

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 12, 2017, Kirstjen Nielsen listens as US President Donald Trump nominates her as next US Secretary of Homeland Security in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. - US President Donald Trump on Sunday, April 7, 2019 announced Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the front-line defender of the administration's controversial immigration policies, would leave her position. "Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position, and I would like to thank her for her service," Trump tweeted. (Photo by Mandel NGAN / AFP)MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images/file 2017
Kirstjen Nielsen.

ONE OF THE biggest regrets of my life is not pissing in Bill Kristol’s salmon. I was waiting on the disgraced neoconservative pundit and chief Iraq War cheerleader about 10 years ago at a restaurant in Cambridge and to my eternal dismay, some combination of professionalism and pusillanimity prevented me from appropriately seasoning his entree. A ramekin of blood on the side might have been the better option, come to think of it. He always did seem really thirsty for the stuff.

I was reminded of that episode this week when Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, the purportedly reluctant triggerman for Donald Trump’s inhumane policies of ethnic cleansing, announced she would be stepping down from her post at the president’s request. The news comes a little over a year since she took the job, and about nine months since she was infamously shame-marched out of a restaurant — a Mexican one of all things — in Washington, D.C., by a group of protestors just as the news of our official policy of separating families at the southern border was first being reported on. What a delight it was to see.

Around the same time, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and others in the administration or associated with Trump — such as Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, Mitch McConnell, and white nationalist and dirty coward from the zombie movie who gets everyone else killed Stephen Miller — were themselves being shown the door at restaurants and movie theaters around the country.

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It was the last time I remember being proud to be an American. It was also one of the only times it seemed like any of the architects of this ruinous xenophobic pre-pogrom might be forced to contend, however briefly, with the consequences of their policy decisions.

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And then, well, you remember what happened: The cops arrived, by which I mean the invertebrate lanyard-clutching submissives of the Beltway class, who scolded the protestors for violating the standards of civility.

“Kind of amazed and appalled by the number of folks on Left who applauded the expulsion of @PressSec and her family from a restaurant,” David Axelrod tweeted, echoing a common refrain across the media spectrum from CNN to Fox News to the Twitter pages of very concerned legacy media pundits with no-show jobs. “This, in the end, is a triumph for @realDonaldTrump vision of America: Now we’re divided by red plates & blue plates! #sad.”

“I guess we’re heading into an America with Democrat-only restaurants, which will lead to Republican-only restaurants,” said Ari Fleischer at the time, who like his war horny peer Kristol likely prefers his steak bloody, echoing a common refrain across the media spectrum from CNN to Fox News to the Twitter pages of very concerned legacy media pundits with no-show jobs.

“Do the fools who threw Sarah out, and the people who cheer them on, really want us to be that kind of country?” he added.

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Yes. I do anyway. Then again, I am not a part of the sinecure media class, which is really what that sort of fear about escalating direct action was about. Ideology is one thing, but we can’t have the rabble feeling emboldened to confront people like us, they as much as said.

Sadly, the scolding seems to have done its job. It’s been a while since we’ve been treated to a soulless Trumpist going viral for going hungry, and the sacristy of the restaurant seems to have held.

Writing in an otherwise solid piece about what should become of Nielsen in the New York Times this week, Michelle Goldberg called for the barring of the former Secretary from a cushy corporate or academic landing.

“Nielsen did not create Trump’s monstrous policy of separating migrant families, but she should be known forever as the person who carried it out. She put babies in cages, traumatized children for life, and then appears to have lied to Congress about what she had done. She did this evil work with either blithe incompetence or malicious sloppiness, failing to create a system to properly track kids who were ripped from their families.”

She was not saying, she made clear, that people should “scream at Nilsen in restaurants.” Heaven forbid.

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Over the past two years, at least 22 immigrants have died in ICE detention centers; rape and sexual assault against vulnerable people in our custody, including crimes perpetrated by ICE and DHS officials, have run rampant; and the numbers we have about them are likely wildly underreported. Numerous suicides have been reported. Thousands of families have been separated at the border, and over a thousand plus more have been lost or misplaced. Uniting them ever again may not even be “within the realm of the possible,” the administration itself admitted in February. The Government Accountability Office found in October that the administration took no steps and had no plans for how to reunite families. The cruelty, as has often been said with anything when it comes to Trump, is the point.

Yes, much of our mistreatment of migrants was ongoing long before the Trump gang came along. Throw the Obama-era lot in prison too, for all I care. At the very least, throw them out of a restaurant.

If recent anonymous administration officials quoted in news reports are to be believed, Nielsen wasn’t always comfortable with Trump’s and Jeff Sessions’ draconian tactics — which are sure to get somehow even worse once her replacement takes over. Regardless, Nielsen carried her orders out dutifully. I’m not sure which is more disgraceful: being a true-believer in the white ethnostate like Miller, or merely getting along and going along, like Nielsen is said to have done, all the while lying about it along the way. No matter, the intentions don’t really do much to assuage the pain we’ve caused so many human beings.

A petition has been circulating from a coalition of progressive groups called Restore Republic Trust calling on corporate CEOs around America to refuse to give jobs to former members of the Trump administration going forward. “The cruelty of the [separation] policy was matched only by the incompetence of its execution,” they wrote in an open letter.

That’s a nice start, and we can certainly add our names to the list, but it shouldn’t be all we do. Living in Boston, we’re no strangers to visitors from any administration, whether they’ve been given a lecture role at a school like Harvard — which doesn’t seem to have any compunctions about welcoming literal comic book-style villains to campus — or of any of a number of other prestigious tech or academic institutions in the area. Invariably the bad guys, like the rest of us, will have to eat. And when they show up in our restaurants, you have my permission, as an official member of the mainstream media, to tell them where to go and what they can do with themselves when they arrive there, but, you know, said in a more specific and traditional Boston colloquialism.

As for the waiters out there, I’m not saying you should tamper with anyone’s food, as that could get you into trouble. You might lose your serving job. But you’d be serving America. And you won’t have any regrets years later.

Luke O’Neil is a journalist from Massachusetts who writes the newsletter “Welcome to Hell World.” Follow him on Twitter @lukeoneil47.