In imperial Rome, the peace was said to be maintained among an increasingly restive populace by ensuring ready availability of food in the form of cheap subsidized bread, along with entertaining distractions in the form of horse and chariot races and other free public diversions at the grounds of the racetrack (the "circus").
Here in modern America, we don't need bread and circuses. We have the Trump administration.
After a tumultuous several weeks of lowbrow comedy in the form of leaks and unrelenting (and sometimes appallingly derisive) tweets, not to mention scurrilous language emanating from the new White House communications director, this past Friday the president revealed that he was replacing his current chief of staff, Reince Priebus, with John Kelly, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Each has only been on the job, give-or-take, for about six months — barely enough time to get your feet wet, particularly for Kelly who has been reigning over a large bureaucracy with many different and competing missions, one of which, immigration, is not only legally and technically demanding to understand, but a source of great controversy. Kelly, we hardly knew ye.
Readers will know that one of the mainstays of Trump's campaign, and his presidential agenda, has been to right the immigration ship and re-instill a modicum of balance and law enforcement into administration of the nation's immigration laws. Kelly was his choice to guide that task at DHS. Now he's gone, leaving the department in the hands of Deputy Secretary Elaine Duke, whose background is in management, not operational matters. What's more, her bio says that she came to DHS as a former appointee at the State Department during the Obama administration.
It seems like a curious time to leave DHS rudderless, with so many pressing things left unfulfilled at the department, things the president campaigned on: building a secure border barrier; ramping up the agent numbers at both the Border Patrol and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement); dismantling vicious transnational gangs like MS-13 and the Mexican cartels that plague both sides of our southern border region; etc., etc.
Moving Kelly over and Priebus out was easy enough because the chief of staff job doesn't require congressional approval. Not so with Kelly's replacement at DHS — he or she will need to go through Senate confirmation, a process that has been excruciatingly slow and plagued with Democratic obstructionism. Literally thousands of jobs remain unfilled because of the deliberate slow-walking of each candidate. It may be many, many months until there is a replacement to head the sprawling department so vital to the safety of the nation's homeland.
Some have suggested that President Trump may have in mind trying to move Jeff Sessions, who has been the subject of so many demeaning presidential tweets lately, out of the attorney general job and over to DHS. Although I have no doubt he would be excellent there, he may not want the job. He's doing an outstanding job where he is, and Senate Republicans have rallied around him, saying they will make it very difficult for the president to replace him at the Justice Department if he is shoved out, with some going so far as to suggest they will refuse to hold advice-and-consent hearings on anyone nominated for the attorney general if Sessions goes. And if he did go, he would need to be reconfirmed for the DHS secretary's job and that raises significant questions about exactly how resistant Democratic members of the Senate would be toward that process. Very resistant, I would imagine.
How all of this will play out is anyone's guess, but if Sessions were to depart the Justice Department, I doubt anyone would be ready, willing, and able to push forward his immigration enforcement agenda on matters there — such as cracking down on sanctuary jurisdictions, prosecuting alien felons who reenter after being deported, providing prosecutorial support to gang suppression and anti-smuggling efforts — with near the energy or expertise he has shown.
So any way you look at it, there is a good possibility that the ongoing White House version of musical chairs, however entertaining as public spectacle, will in the long run be injurious to one of the president's oft-stated priorities of restoring integrity to the nation's immigration system, including a regimen of balanced enforcement.