Schwab: Focus on southern border is obscuring lessons of 9-11

Trump’s fixation threatens to weaken the agency tasked with protecting the entire nation.

By Sid Schwab

Herald columnist

Anyone remember what happened in September, 2001? Remember what led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security? Turns out there was a massive, coordinated, long-planned terrorist attack. Turned out, also, there were hints of it known to various intelligence-gatherers, who weren’t talking to each other.

Of that revelation was born the DHS, whose mission is to prevent future terrorist attacks; to be an entity to which all others reported, coordinating information, puzzling pieces together, being vigilant. As there’ve been nothing close to 9/11-level events since, it appears DHS has been doing a decent job.

So far.

After Donald Trump was placed in office by antiquated Constitutional quirks, aided by a dangerous foreign adversary, DHS has been attending disproportionately to our border with Mexico, across which, to date, no terrorists have attempted to come.

Trump’s purging of DHS leadership is ominous. Kristjen Nielsen wasn’t “tough enough.” Perhaps she hadn’t put enough kids in cages or tear-gassed enough asylum-seekers to satisfy him. (He’s lying about the oranges of his family-separation policy, BTW. Again.) This places Stephen Miller, white-power-sign-flashing, Muslim-ban-creating sociopath, denounced by his Holocaust-surviving family members, effectively in charge of immigration.

Meanwhile, Trump has defunded agencies and programs aimed at identifying and reducing home-grown, right-wing terrorism. It’s as if his intent is to deflect attention to the back door, while the front door is being left wide open.

It’s hard to decide whether Trump’s obsession with our southern border is because of his own shallow thinking or because he counts on it from his enthralled supporters. Evidence for the former includes ending financial aid for Central America’s Northern Triangle countries, as punishment for not stemming the exit of refugees therefrom. Policy experts told him the aid has improved the dismal conditions from which their people have been fleeing, and has decreased the rate; that ending it will make things worse. He doesn’t care.

Evidence for the latter includes his threat to close the entire border, which would have produced predictably disastrous consequences for the U.S. economy. One assumes he shovels such petulant nonsense to his anti-immigrant base because he figures it validates their fears and anger enough to cause them to ignore his other harmful policies: increasing pollution, ignoring climate change, removing health care coverage, eliminating OSHA rules; skyrocketing deficits, hugely profitable corporations paying no taxes. Hey, look: immigrants!

Or, maybe, like cutting funding for programs helping Americans in need, it’s simply cruelty for cruelty’s sake. Hungry American children, caged Latino ones, who cares? Not Trumpists, evidently. If they dislike it, they’re keeping it to themselves.

There’s also the benefit of keeping the misled masses distracted from his legal entanglements and the efforts being made to keep eyes off his tax returns and the Mueller report. Who among his supporters, after all, has pointed out that if they’re indeed exculpatory, he’d silence doubters instantly by releasing them? It’s what an innocent person would do.

As with many of his ill-considered policy announcements, Trump has backed down on closing the border. It’s one thing to hurt brown people fleeing from horror; quite another to affect his backers’ bottom lines. Still, it leaves us to wonder what’s behind his monomaniacal distaste for asylum-seeking refugees, and why he insists on portraying them as a greater threat than homegrown terrorists. Not to mention foreign-grown, like those that entered here legally, far from the Mexican border.

So great is his obsession that he tried to get border agents to ignore the law and to lie to immigration judges. Of whom he wants to get rid. This is a “president” who considers laws impediments to be ignored; a man who would be king, confident his supporters love the idea.

Illegal immigrants are a diminishing problem, though businesspeople like Trump would like to keep hiring them. The thousands of emigrants seeking refuge here, however, challenge our values on many levels. How to fix it is a question that resists answers, or even serious efforts to find them. But Trump’s demagoguery is not just counterproductive: it raises troubling questions about his real intentions. As does decapitating DHS and directing its mission away from where real dangers remain.

Which raises the final word. “Spying.” That Attorney General Barr used it to describe addressing concerns about a presidential campaign’s Russian contacts confirms the obvious: he was hired to protect Trump, and is willing to do whatever it takes.

Email Sid Schwab at

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