Countless pundits are praising the hiring of John Kelly as the new chief of staff. But one can only praise Kelly’s professionalism relative to the ridiculousness of the Scaramucci/Spicer/Conway circus. It’s the bigotry of low expectations, given such clownish predecessors. But when it comes to bigotry, we have to ask about John Kelly’s bigotry. He is no Mooch clown. He is something far scarier. Kelly helped bring us the ugly, chaotic, and illegal Muslim Ban. You need to have willful amnesia if you want to celebrate John Kelly’s hire as chief of staff.
John Kelly was Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and he was one of a very small handful of officials directly responsible for the Muslim Ban. The team started Trump, Steve Bannon, and Stephen Miller, but Kelly was the very next member of the team and the chief of its implementation. He did not know the details or the exact timing of the announcement, but he knew the general outline of the plan. CNN reported, “Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Department of Homeland Security leadership saw the final details shortly before the order was finalized, government officials said.” He was not as responsible as Bannon and Miller, but he failed to control the process, and he developed the almost-as-bad Muslim Ban 2.0. Benjamin Wittes (the conservative Trump critic) summed up these events perfectly: “Malevolence tempered by incompetence.” Bannon and Miller were more incompetent, but Kelly shared their malevolence.
Keep in mind how transparently the original “travel ban” was actually a discriminatory Muslim Ban. Here is just a summary of its many legal and administrative problems:
- It initially privileged minority religious groups in these seven Muslim countries, an obvious legal loophole designed for Christians rather than Muslims. Trump admitted so explicitly on Christian Broadcast News.
- It included Iraq, which created a military and diplomatic crisis.
- The announcement and application was one of the most chaotic, confusing, uncoordinated government events in memory, perhaps in history. I challenge anyone to name a more chaotic proactive government event in modern American history (reactions to events like Pearl Harbor, 9/11, or Katrina don’t count).
- The State Department had no warning or notice of this order. We’re talking about the STATE Department.
- No one had any clue how the ban applied to Green Card holders, student visas, or any number of non-citizens with some kind of documented legal status. Many family members and refugees were callously left in limbo or had years of plans completely upended. It wasn’t just funny chaos. It was nasty and brutal chaos. The news reports blame others more for this chaos, but Kelly played a big role in it.
- The 120-day “temporary pause” period for studying alternatives (“extreme vetting”) was always a pretense, but it has been utterly exposed. The 120-day period from the ban’s announcement passed on May 20th, and there is still no evidence that the administration has made any attempt to develop alternatives. There have been many legal proceedings to demonstrate this necessity and any progress, and the Trump lawyers have not offered even an attempt to explain this process. As the official in charge of the department suppostedly working on “extreme vetting,” this is Kelly’s fault more than anyone else’s. The “temporary” ban was just the start of a permanent ban, either due to Kelly’s incompetence or his malevolence or both.
- Considering how disastrous Muslim Ban 1.0 was, I would think a responsible leader would have taken a big step back after the court losses to change message, approach and tone. But Muslim Ban 2.0 was more like Muslim Ban 1.1 (only slightly modified from 1.0). It was basically the same message and the same approach.
There is a lot more I could say here, but I’ll just link to the stories that elaborate on Kelly’s bias and incompetence: Here, here, oy, I could list more and more stories. But this N.Y. Times story, “How Trump’s Rush to Enact an Immigration Ban Unleashed Global Chaos,” is particularly brutal to review.
Please, pundits, recall these events from just six months ago, and how those events continued to unfold chaotically and unconstitutionally under Kelly up to now. They are a reminder that the move from Priebus to Kelly is nothing to celebrate. It’s potentially a shift from Republican insider incompetence to anti-Muslim militaristic competence (or perhaps, just a bit less incompetence). Have mercy if Kelly is more effective in his policy goals than Priebus ever was.