No Profit From Evil

Kirstjen Nielsen, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security

The New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted a few days ago that Kirstjen Nielsen did not resign sooner as head of the Department of Homeland Security because “she was aware how awful life would/will be for her on the outside” for her role in implementing and defending President Donald Trump’s heinous immigration policies.

I certainly hope Nielsen’s fear materializes.

For far too long, the odious practice of “the revolving door” between the public and private sector has stained democracy and the making of public policy. The ease with which legislators and executive branch officials become lobbyists and consultants for the industries they once oversaw gives, at the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest. There is a healthy debate in many democracies today over the extent former public officials should be allowed to utilize connections formed and knowledge obtained in previous jobs in government to enrich themselves and shape public policy on behalf of private industry.

That debate concerns former officials who behaved legally and morally in their public positions. What should not be debatable is the rewarding of corrupt and immoral behavior committed while in an official capacity. Former government employees who acted unethically should be barred from profiting from their conduct.

Detained migrant children

That Nielsen was fired from her post because Trump wants a “tougher” policy on immigration does not exonerate the former DHS head. Nielsen is the official who put babies and children in cages and separated families, traumatizing children for life. Then, she lied about her actions in congressional testimony. Nielsen did this evil work with gusto, probably to stay on the good side of her unpredictable and chaotic boss. She is also guilty of gross incompetence. She was blithely unaware of the effects of the administration’s polices (evidence of this was her painful-to-watch appearance on Capitol Hill in which she could not say how many caged people died on her watch). And, the department she ran failed to create a system to keep track of children inhumanely ripped from the arms of their parents. Just last week, the administration said it will take up to two years to identify all the children separated from their parents.

No, Trump believing Nielsen was not tough enough only tells us how truly malevolent Trump is. The original “zero tolerance” policy on immigration that led to family separation was not just inhumane; it was a public relations disaster for the Trump administration. But, the toddler in the Oval Office apparently has not learned from his past mistakes. Now, he wants to do it again. According to NBC News, Trump has been pushing to reinstate the family separation policy. Nielsen pushed back, but not because she thought the policy evil, but because DHS was prohibited by federal court orders from separating families.

Nielsen was, for the most part, a “loyal” Trump soldier, willing to do what the president wanted. That is why she must be made an example to others in the administration who decide to do evil on the grounds that they are just following orders. Anyone with a moral sense who is outraged by family separation should push to prevent Nielsen — and other evil-doers in the administration — from landing a cushy corporate or academic job after leaving the government. 

Restore Public Trust, an organization that fights for transparency in government, has organized a campaign to deny employment to senior officials in the Trump administration. The group has started a petition drive urging corporations to refuse to hire anyone responsible for formulating and implementing family separation. According to Karl Frisch, spokesperson for Restore Public Trust, “It is the moral responsibility for Fortune 500 CEOs, university presidents, and others to send a clear signal that this administration’s conduct [on family separation] crossed a line and refuse to associate” with Nielsen or her colleagues. 

Frisch says more than three dozen progressive groups launched, which has started a petition drive entitled “Attention Corporate America: Don’t Let Hate Into Your Boardrooms” and has taken out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times identifying “people who help Trump separate families and put kids in cages.” Now, it is up to progressive-minded Americans to sign the petition and to agree also not to do business with corporations that hire those responsible for family separation and other equally odious Trump administration policies. With Trump contemplating a return to family separation, it is all the more critical to pressure corporations not to hire evil-doers.

A price must be paid for doing evil. And, examples must be set. It is not sufficient to scream at Nielsen at a restaurant, no matter how viscerally satisfying that might be. No, she — and others like her — must never profit from evil.

Posted April 12, 2019

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