“I have never had a problem speaking truth to power,” said John Kelly, the retired general, in January. “I firmly believe that those in power deserve full candor and my honest assessment and recommendations.”
Well, then. If Mr. Kelly was speaking honestly — under oath, at the hearing on his nomination to be homeland security secretary — what has he been waiting for? Why is he not out there reminding all who will listen, but particularly his boss, President Trump, of the sensible things he told senators barely two months ago, explaining what a reasonable border and immigration policy might look like?
Instead, Mr. Kelly is giving every indication that he and his vast department are fully on board with executing Mr. Trump’s fixation on protecting the nation from an imaginary siege at the southern border, while waging an all-out deportation campaign against millions of unauthorized immigrant workers and families who pose no threat to the nation. It’s a misguided, self-destructive direction to take the country. Mr. Kelly should be stepping on the brakes, not the gas.
The latest evidence, first reported by Politico, is a draft Department of Homeland Security budget that would bulk up border spending at the expense of the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Coast Guard would be cut 14 percent, from $9.1 billion to $7.8 billion. Cuts to the T.S.A. and FEMA would be about 11 percent, to $4.5 billion and $3.6 billion, respectively.
The senselessness of such cuts is obvious if you understand some basic concepts. Like, the Coast Guard guards our coasts. It plays a major role in interdicting drugs at sea. The T.S.A. keeps bombs off our planes. FEMA helps people after disasters. If your goal at Homeland Security is security for the homeland, you recognize that the job is more complicated than contracting out one 2,000-mile wall.
Mr. Kelly showed he understood this when he spoke to the Senate.
On the wall: “As a military person that understands defense and defenses, a physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job.”
On Central American migrants: “They don’t — most of the time don’t — come here for any other purpose than to have some economic opportunity and to — and escape violence.”
On drug smuggling in areas like the Gulf of Mexico: “The beauty of it down there,” he said, is that United States vessels regularly capture drug shipments “in one-ton, two-ton, three-ton lots,” whereas “a big take at the southwest border of, say, cocaine or something like that, might be five, 10, 15 kilos.”
On drug smuggling in general: “If we were to block the network so nothing could get through the southwest border, the so-called balloon effect, they would find other ways around it. The profits are so outrageous, that is why I believe it’s all about the demand.”
The entire hearing might boil down to one exchange.
“What is your highest priority when you are considering antiterror efforts?” Senator Jon Tester of Montana asked.
“Stopping them somewhere well away from our country,” Mr. Kelly replied.
That is, not at the Mexican border, or the interior. These were rational words by a seemingly sensible nominee. But in the weeks since there have been daily accounts of parents, children and students terrorized and deported in raids by ICE and the Border Patrol. The Muslim ban has been rejected by the courts and now revived.
The Homeland Security Department is considering separating Central American children from their mothers at the border, a shocking abuse of traumatized families who — as Mr. Kelly himself admits — are fleeing for their lives. He defended the policy as a way of deterring migrants from the dangerous trip. That is cruelty disguised as compassion.
His plan to create an office to publicize crimes by unauthorized immigrants — shaming and demonizing the entire population — is more nakedly vicious, guilt by association, a reflection of the old strain of American intolerance that brought us internment camps and miscegenation laws.
Is Mr. Kelly — a tough, sensible general — being silenced? If he can’t get the message to Mr. Trump directly, why doesn’t he get booked on “Fox & Friends,” the morning talk show that doubles as the president’s daily intelligence briefing? If he won’t speak the truth, he’s misusing his power.