In the end, Kirstjen Nielsen was not racist enough for Donald Trump's administration. That's nearly unfathomable, since Nielsen, in her role as head of the Department of Homeland Security, was behind the shockingly cruel "family separation" policy of trying to punish and discourage legal asylum-seekers by taking their children away from them.
Nielsen was also responsible for the sprawling internment camps to hold refugees and the "metering" system and "remain in Mexico" policies meant to make life hell for people seeking legal asylum. But none of it was enough for Trump, who clearly wants an even more aggressive approach to white-ifying the United States and demanded Nielsen's resignation over the weekend.
Close watchers of the White House immediately saw senior adviser Stephen Miller all over this forced resignation. Sure enough, Politico reported on this late Sunday night, writing that while it "was not immediately clear whether Miller played a role in the departure of Nielsen," he has mounted a pressure campaign to remove anyone he views as insufficiently hostile to nonwhite immigration.
Trump's official chief of staff, for now, is far-right firebrand Mick Mulvaney. But Nielsen's ouster serves as a reminder that Miller functions as a shadow chief of staff in the Trump administration, and is instrumental in keeping Trump focused on Miller's own obsession with what can only be called a politics of white nationalism.
Miller has retreated from the public eye in recent months, seemingly aware that his vampiric affect repulses people to the point where he reduces support for his own ideas simply by showing up on TV to talk about them. But as Trump's main speechwriter and a key White House adviser, Miller has clearly pushed Trump toward ever more fascistic rhetoric and has likely encouraged Trump's belief that he can and should break the law, if that's what is required to score "victories" in the immigration battle.
Miller's objection to Nielsen may have been that while she was game to inflict as much punishment as legally allowable on Central American refugees who crossed the U.S. border, she hesitated to flout the law or tank the economy in order to fulfill the Trump agenda. According to the New York Times, Trump had a habit of calling Nielsen "at home early in the mornings" to demand she refuse to accept asylum petitions from Central Americans (which she could not lawfully do). While Nielsen regained some support from the racist-in-chief by caging and tear-gassing Latino migrants, ultimately her refusal to violate existing law or to shut down the border, which would cause economic chaos, proved her undoing.
At the same time that Nielsen was being forced to resign, Trump also withdrew the nomination of Ronald Vitiello to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This was also seemingly out of concerns that Vitiello might draw the line at law-breaking and destroying the economy purely in order to block certain kinds of immigrants.
This insistence that federal officials simply start violating the law rather than allow migrants into the country has Miller's fingerprints all over it. Politico reports that Miller has made threatening phone calls to mid-level officials at various government agencies and pushing for the ouster of Lee Francis Cissna, who runs U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
What's critical to keep in mind here is that Miller strongly objects to legal immigration, on grounds that must be called racist. His attacks on other government officials and pressure campaigns on their agencies are focused on finding as many ways as possible, legal or otherwise, to prevent people from applying for asylum, getting green cards or otherwise finding ways to live live legally in the U.S.
Miller's influence is so strong that conservative Trump critic Max Boot has blamed him almost entirely for Trump's ever-more-radical attitudes on immigration, calling Miller a "puppet master" with "a long and odious agenda, which includes repealing birthright citizenship" and "cutting levels of legal immigration."
To be certain, Trump is a racist all on his own and doesn't need Stephen Miller to teach him how to hate. But Miller's influence is clear and disturbing. His single-minded focus and clear reliance on white nationalist talking points helps Trump both justify his own bigotry and focus in on possible paths to reduce the number of people of color allowed to live in the United States.
And while Trump frequently rants about "illegals," it's increasingly clear that he uses that as an all-purpose racial slur to demonize Latino immigrants, not because he's talking about people who are breaking the law. For one thing, Trump is obsessed with closing the border, which means closing ports of entry where people can cross legally. He has also quit even trying to hide that his views are rooted more in white nationalism and hatred of Latinos, rather than in particular concerns about the legal status of immigrants.
“Can’t take you anymore. Can’t take you. Our country is full," Trump said in a speech on Friday, demanding that refugees turn back.
"Our Country is FULL!" he repeated on Twitter on Sunday, repeating a meme that often appears in racist online memes and right-wing bumperstickers.
Trump clearly doesn't actually believe the nation is in the midst of an overpopulation crisis. On the contrary, his administration clearly believes that we don't have enough people, since it has embraced a full slate of anti-abortion and anti-contraception policies geared towards forcing reluctant young women to have more children.
Trump's chatter about the country being "full" is clearly a reference to the "replacement theory" that inspired both the Charlottesville rioters in 2017 and the New Zealand mosque shooter last month.
"An extension of colonialist theory, it is predicated on the notion that white women are not having enough children and that falling birthrates will lead to white people around the world being replaced by nonwhite people," explained reporter Nellie Bowles in the New York Times after the New Zealand shooting.
Trump's twofold insistence that native-born women need to be strong-armed into giving birth more and that there's no more room for immigrants only makes sense in light of an overtly white nationalist ideology: It's the government's job, according to this worldview, to make sure that white people continue to have demographic dominance.
As with all white nationalist ideologies, the inevitable result of feeling that there are too many people of color is eliminationist violence. Which we're already seeing in the tear-gassing of migrants and caging of people in hazardous conditions, as with that bridge in El Paso. Now Stephen Miller, Trump's shadowy puppet-master, is looking to up the ante, pressuring government officials to break the law in their efforts to make America whiter (again). As Kirstjen Nielsen just discovered, those who don't play along are cast aside.