Donald Trump, Kirstjen Nielsen and refusing the orders of an unfit president

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In this April 5, 2019 photo, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen shakes hands with President Donald Trump as he arrives in California to visit the border wall between the United States and Mexico. | Photo by Saul Loeb - AFP/Getty Images

“They are decapitating the entire department,” a Department of Homeland Security official ominously told the Washington Post of this week’s alarming purge that included the forced resignation of Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the pulling of the pick to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the firing of the Secret Service director.

President Trump’s ouster of Nielsen was met with glee, at first, as detractors of his inhumane and barbaric family separation policy cheered on her career end with comments on Twitter like “Bye, B*tch” and suggestions that only slightly less-ghoulish characters — Skeletor was common — take her place.

But that schadenfreude quickly turned to dismay when word that Trump’s alt-right whisperer Stephen Miller was pushing for more hardliners to fill the gaps.

Even Republicans were at a loss. “Strikes me as just a frustration of not being able to solve a problem,” said Sen. John Cornyn. “Honestly, it wasn’t Secretary Nielsen’s fault. It wasn’t for lack of effort on her part. I don’t know if there’s anybody who’s going to be able to do more.”

Of course the foreboding question on everyone’s mind is, what does “more” look like? How can Trump’s anti-immigrant affront get any “more” than ripping children out of the arms of parents — a policy Trump has repeatedly defended as a deterrent — putting them in cages for weeks, if not months, and acknowledging it could take up to two years to reunite them with their families?

What’s “more” than threatening to close the southern border, eliminate immigration judges and cut off funding to asylum origin countries? What’s “more” than the president, instead of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,” saying outright, “We’re full”?

It’s troubling times — though we can throw this on top of a very tall pile of teeming trouble.

But there may be a silver lining, and if we’re lucky, maybe we’re even reaching a tipping point.

According to most reporting, Nielsen was forced out because she wouldn’t carry out Trump’s illegal orders. While it’s hard to call someone who carried out his child separation policy while openly lying about what they did “courageous,” it is comforting to know there were lines she was unwilling to cross on his behalf. And she’s not alone. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, former chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, former FBI Director Jim Comey, former U.S. ISIS envoy Brett McGurk and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions all ended their tenures in similar ways.

They understand that the country is being led by a man who is dangerously impetuous and has little if any respect for the way our government is supposed to function, not to mention common decency. They’re unwilling to simply carry out his orders.

As Stephen Collinson writes for CNN, “Unlike the president, these public servants eventually concluded that the Constitution, the rule of law and the norms of democratic governance rendered some of Trump’s behavior unacceptable.”

With too many Trump enablers in the Republican Party to count, it’s easy to lose sight of the conscientious objectors who have, though not always with the speed or alacrity we’d prefer, refused to carry out Trump’s bidding. That’s good news. God only knows what their decisions may have helped prevent or at least slow.

The problem is, of course, there’s a seemingly never-ending clown car of useful idiots willing to step into jobs they are wholly unqualified for, and so long as they’re loyal, Trump’s happy to have them.

However some jobs, like Cabinet secretaries, require Congressional confirmation, and the GOP is at a turning point. Will Senate Republicans keep rubber-stamping the president’s loyalists just to keep his ego stroked? Or will they finally tire of this disruptive and counterproductive cycle of wash-outs and busts?

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