Advertisements

Mad Dogs and Americans and the Noonday Sun

James “Mad Dog” Mattis is lately in the news again, and we welcome him back. The decorated war hero and four star Marine general and former Secretary of Defense has a book coming out soon, and judging by the pre-release excerpts it’s a rather scathing critique of the foreign policy of a conspicuously unnamed sitting President of the States, which strikes us as another brave and patriotic act in a long and distinguished career of public service.
Already both the left and the right are prepared to pounce on his previously impeccable reputation, of course. The left will never forgive him for volunteering to serve in the administration of the hated President Donald Trump and failing to call the president out by name, and the newly reconstituted right will never forgive him for trying to restrain the beloved president’s all-knowing gut instincts. So far as we can tell, though, he’s been a principled man to today.
Mattis came into the Trump administration with high praise from his new boss, who seemed to relish Mattis’ nickname of “Mad Dog,” although Mattis himself hated it, and Trump liked the straight-from-central-casting lean physique and wizened visage Mattis wore, but the two never got along. Mattis was accustomed to military order and a by-the-book way of doing things, while Trump clearly preferred a more chaotic management style. Mattis’ much-decorated combat experience in Vietnam and his advanced studies at the National Defense institute and his experience as commanding general of the Central Command of the North Atlantic Treaty organization had convinced him that strong alliances with the world’s leading democracies are vital to America’s national security, while Trump’s gut instincts told him that our NATO allies were a bunch of deadbeats free-riding on global trade arrangements, and he actually said out loud that he knew far more about NATO than the four-star general and former commander of the NATO alliance ever did.
Mattis eventually resigned with an exquisitely worded letter when Trump dismissed his advice against a precipitous withdrawal of American forces from Syria, which pretty much everyone was urging against, and from which Trump later backtracked. By that time the lieutenant general of the army H.R. McMaster had resigned as national security advisor, which came after he’d taken over from lieutenant general Michael Flynn’ after his resignation and conviction on felony charges, and there had also been the resignation of former Marine general John Kelly, who had clashed with Trump as White House Chief of Staff  because of his efforts to impose some sort of discipline on the White House. Trump once bragged about all of the generals who answered to him in the White House, but one by one he grew annoyed by their military tendency to tell him things he didn’t want to hear.
The left doesn’t much like military people in the first place, especially those who volunteer for service in the Trump administration, but the more sensible and centrist sort of leftists did develop a begrudging respect for the likes of Mattis and McMaster and Kelly, if not Flynn, who no longer has any friends on any side as he holds out hope for a presidential pardon. They were considered the adults in the room, the serious sort of educated and experienced men who had spent their careers contemplating the complex issues of national security, and even the most military-hating sorts of liberals hoped that they’d somehow rein in the gut instincts of Trump, which don’t seem to anyone at all well-informed.
The left still resents the exquisitely worded way all of them have gone about lambasting Trump’s policies and managerial style, without mentioning any names, but they don’t understand that the generals still feel constrained they rigid rules of military protocol they had lived their lives by. Nor does the left understand the time-tested wisdom of those rules. Trump is still the Commander in Chief, as much as that might drive the left and the generals and any seasonable person crazy, so we should all be grateful than even without mentioning any names and despite the exquisitely worded prose Mattis is plainly warning the country he long served about Trump’s gut craziness.
Based on Mattis’ carefully worded resignation letter and previous few public statements and the excerpts from his forthcoming book, he seems to believe that Trump’s penchant for fighting “twitter” feuds and trade wars and demands of protection money from such longtime and steadfast allies as Canada and the United Kingdom and Germany and Denmark and Japan and South Korea are not a good. Nor does Mattis seem to like the way Trump has “fallen in love” with the North Korean dictator and has nothing bad to say about the Russian dictator, and otherwise tends to prefer authoritarian regimes to democratic governments, and has little regard for the hard-earned international rules that have mostly brought us and the most of the rest of the rest of the world relative peace and prosperity..
This seems sound advice to us, although we lack Mattis’ educational credentials and hard-earned experience in war and peace, or Trump’s infallible gut instincts. None of the Democratic alternatives to Trump seem interested in repairing alliance or opposing adversaries, and none seem likely to solicit the carefully considered and exquisitely worded advice of the military’s best minds, but here’s hoping the center somehow holds.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

On the Lull Before Christmas

According to longstanding American political tradition the final days of a lame duck Congress and the last few days before Christmas are supposed to be a slow news cycle, but in the age of President Donald Trump’s newfangled conservatism such longstanding American traditions have been jettisoned. Thursday brought news that Trump’s defense secretary has resigned in apparent protest of Trump’s derided-by-almost-everyone decision to withdraw a small but effective force from Syria and Afghanistan, Trump and his remaining allies in the temporary Republican House majority are threatening to force government shutdown over Trump’s derided-by-almost-everyone insistence on a big beautiful wall along the Mexican border, and largely as a result the stock markets had yet another dreadful day instead of the traditional “Santa Claus rally.”
The resignation of Defense Secretary and former four-star Marine general James Mattis struck us as the most worrisome development of the day. Despite the “Mad Dog” nickname that Trump seemed to love, Mattis was well regarded by both the center-left and center-right consensus that had successfully guided through the Cold War and has done about as well as can reasonably be expected with the resulting and relatively low-level wars against Islamist terrorism, and his departure leaves him pretty much without any of those wise old hands.
Flynn resigned from his post in record-setting time after being charged with felony perjury charges and making admission to administration that he’d lied about his contacts with Russian officials, and he’s currently awaiting sentencing from a judge who has openly wondered in court why he’s not being charged with treason given all the credible accusations of undisclosed shady dealings with the Turkish and Russian governments, despite the special counsel investigation into the whole “Russia thing” pleading he should get no jail time because of his cooperation, which also doesn’t look good for Trump. He was replaced by McMaster, who didn’t last much longer, reportedly because Trump was annoyed three-star general’s know-it-all attitude during the daily briefings. The post is now held by John Bolton, a President George W. Bush holdover from the late and lamented Republican establishment who’s a bit more aggressive about American internationalism that even our Reagan-esque tastes would prefer, but he’s also advised against Trump’s Syrian withdrawal and might be on the way out.
The four-star chief of staff Kelly has also been pushed aside, reportedly in part because he didn’t get along with Trump’s favorite daughter and son-in-law, and he will temporarily be replaced on a moonlighting basis by acting Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney,  who will also be charged with deciding which agencies should be shut down in case of a partial government shutdown. Whatever advice Trump might be getting from the son-in-law in charge of everything from Middle East peace and the opioid crisis and re-inventing the federal government, and whatever  remains of the rest of his staff about domestic policy, the unpopular president has apparently committed to an unpopular partial government shutdown over Christmas to get a few billion in funding for his unpopular idea of a big beautiful wall along the entire Mexican border, and we don’t see that turning out well. In a few weeks the House of Representatives will install a significant Democratic majority with no political or ideological reason to fund Trump’s big beautiful border wall, much of the slight Republican majority in the Senate is already in revolt over Trump’s withdrawal from Syria and other foreign policy matters, political realities almost always prevail, and without any generals or wise old hands backing him up he seems in a weakened position.
The stock markets seem to agree, given their recent dour mood, and although Trump can plausibly partially blame that on the damned Federal Reserve Board chairman he did appoint the guy, and after what looks to be losing year on the exchanges, which can also be plausibly blamed on the yet-unwon trade wars Trump had declared on our erstwhile allies, but for now Trump  can no longer brag about delivering the best economy ever. No one’s currently predicting a recession, and we’re certainly hoping for one, but the best that all establishment forecasters are predicting is the same sort of slow but steady economic growth that has been the bipartisan norm over the decades. Perhaps Trump will eventually prove smarter than all those multi-starred  generals and economists and the newly-elected Democrats in the House of Representatives and all of us old-fashioned Republicans, as well as  the Syrian and Russian and Iranian dictators, but for now only the true believers who still shot up at the ongoing rallies  in those “Make America Great Again” ball caps seem to be betting on it.

— Bud Norman

Another Old Soldier Fades Away

President Donald Trump has announced that his chief of staff, the former four-star Marine General John F. Kelly, will soon make the latest inglorious exit from the administration. Kelly’s getting out while the getting’s still relatively good, as we see it, but not without his once sterling reputation tarnished.
Prior to signing on with Trump, Kelly commanded bipartisan respect. He not only had four stars on his shoulders but three bronze stars and numerous ribbons for valor in three wars and the 1982 Los Angeles riots on his chest, and he endeared himself to establishment Republicans without much annoying the Democrats as he led the Western European and then America’s Southern Command. When he replaced Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, the former Republican party chairman who once epitomized the effete Republican establishment that Trump gleefully trampled, both Democrats and all sorts of Republicans expressed hope that the tough-as-nails Marine could somehow impose some sort of discipline on a seemingly chaotic White House.
By the time Kelly arrived several of those “very best people” that Trump promised to appoint had already been defenestrated, including the national security advisor who has since pleaded guilty on several felony charges and been recommended by the prosecution for a minimal sentence given his cooperation with numerous other criminal investigations involving Trump’s campaign and administration, and Kelly quickly ousted several more, including that Omarosa woman from “The Apprentice” and various other Trump-related reality shows who held some high-level administration post or another, which was at least high-level enough she was the most high-level black woman in the White House. For a while the remarkable man who had served so successfully in three wars and the 1982 Los Angeles riots seemed up to the task, but over the long run the Democrats were disappointed, and so were such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves, and even Trump himself had reportedly stopped speaking to him as he wished him well on his way out of the door.
One of those “very best people” that Trump had appointed and Kelly had to fire was White House staff secretary Rob Porter, whose resume included excellent educational and career credentials but also credible and legally-filed charges by two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend of domestic violence, and when Kelly did fire him after several disastrous news cycles he did so reluctantly and dishonestly and with kind words for the defenestrated employee and nothing to say about spousal abuse that tough old Marine general looked bad all the but the die-hard Trump fans. He grimaced when Trump spoke about the good people on both sides of a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, but when all the military brass reassured their diverse personnel that they did not agree Kelly remained silent. When Trump wound up offending the family of a black soldier who had been killed in an unknown war in Niger he had ineptly tried to comfort, Kelly wound up insulting the family’s Congresswoman and personal friend, who is a ridiculous Democrat as we’re concerned, but the insult he made proved based on a lie and somehow wound up looking even more ridiculous. Along the way he also willing to make various other ridiculous defenses for indefensible White House missteps.
Kelly was also an outspoken proponent of Trump’s policy of enforcing America’s border laws as severely as possible, as was his hand-picked successor at the the Department of Homeland Security, but both fell into disfavor with Trump as border crossings into America’s still booming economy continued apace. The old school Kelly also seemed at odds with Trump on other issues, ranging from Trump’s penchant for nepotism and general lack of old school discipline, and particularly his disruptive policies toward the post-World War II era world order he’d fought so valiantly to defend. A while back Trump boasted that he knew far more about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization than the four-star Marine general who had once successfully led the West European Command, and that was when we knew that Kelly’s days as chief of staff were shortly numbered. As far as we can tell, Kelly wasn’t undone because of what he’d done wrong but rather because of what he’d done right.
At least it seems to have come a more or less fortuitous time. The special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” has lately come up with some hard-to-explain court filings involving Trump’s former campaign chairman and lawyer and national security advisor, the latest economic news isn’t much to brag about, a Democratic majority in the House is about to be installed, while much of the slim Republican majority in the Seate is revolting against Trump’s friendliness with Saudi Arabia, and for now it’s not clear who might replace Kelly. The presumptive replacement was Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, but it’s lately been reported that Trump is also consider ing dumping the obsequious Pence and Ayers has confirmed via “Twitter” that he doesn’t want the job and is also getting out of the administration while the getting’s still good.
Way back in the dark days of the Obama administration citizen Trump “tweeted” his dismay that the president had a third chief of staff in less than three years, but now Trump is searching around for the sucker to become his third chief of staff in less than two years, and we don’t expect any further “tweets” from him about it. As for Kelly, we wish him a happy retirement, despite it all.
We’ve known too many of those tough-as-nails men who fight our country’s battles to expect them to be politically correct about domestic abuse and racial issues and such, so we’ll chalk all of Kelly’s missteps up to being promoted by the wrong guy to the wrong job. He seems to have done his best to impose some discipline on Trump’s White House, and we admire any man who willingly walks into the quagmire.

— Bud Norman

The Reality Show Goes On

President Donald Trump is now calling Omarosa Manigault Newman a “low-life,” and we can’t argue with the description. Newman is now saying that Trump is a racist and sexist with diminished intellectual capabilities, and that also sounds apt. There’s no one to root for in this tawdry feud, and we don’t expect either combatant will come out of it looking at all good.
In case you’d happily forgotten, Newman is the recurring reality show villainess who once helped make “The Apprentice” a ratings hit and wound up as the highest-ranking African-American in the White House as a reward. She was obsequiously loyal to her benefactor, at one point telling an interviewer that “every critic, every detractor will have to bow down to President Trump,” but she didn’t seem to do much else for her $180,000-a-year salary but created scandals, and she was ushered out by chief of staff John Kelly. At first Newman remained loyal to Trump, although she had some choice words for Kelly and her mostly black critics in the press, but that’s no longer true.
Newman landed on her feet with a role in yet another reality show, “Big Brother,” where she whispered to another contestant that the Trump White House is even more chaotic than it seems, and that “It’s not going to be OK.” Now she’s on seemingly every channel plugging a soon-to-be-released tell-all book that contradicts every kind word she ever had for Trump. In doing so, she’s created a couple more embarrassing stories about the administration.
On the National Broadcasting Company’s venerable and usually polite “Meet the Press” Sunday morning program, Newman played a recording she’d surreptitiously made of her firing in the White House “Situation Room.” The fact that she would surreptitiously record a conversation in the White House does not speak well of her character, but that she was able to do so in the White House’s most carefully secured space does not speak well of the administration’s competence.
The tape also includes Kelly telling Newman that no harm would come to her reputation if she kept toeing the administration line in her comments to the press, which isn’t even a veiled threat about what would happen if she didn’t, and that will only enhance the Trump administration’s reputation for bullying people into silence. She’s also got a contract that was offered her by presidential daughter-in-law Lara Trump to stay silent in exchange for a $15,000-a-month job as a a “minority outreach” consultant for Trump’s never-ending presidential campaign, which included the offer that she could work at home or not all, which will only enhance the administration’s reputation for buying troublesome women’s silence.
The president should be pleased that Newman is getting some scathing press, with critics noting that she defended Trump against charges of sexism in the aftermath of the “Access Hollywood” and insisted he wasn’t racist when he found very fine people on both sides of a neo-Nazi rally, and her efforts to lament that she was the only African-American in the White House only further infuriate the many credential black conservatives who believe she blocked them from jobs. She defends her surreptitious recordings by saying that the White House is full of back-stabbers, but she still seems to relish own villainous role there.
None of which, of course, does much to help guy who promised hire only the best people and wound up with such a low-life as Newman instead.

— Bud Norman

Stock Market Swoons, Government Shutdowns, and the Alleged Wives-Beater in the White House

Thursday saw another four-digit drop in the Dow Jones average, another government shutdown after negotiations broke down on a budget-busting compromise bill no one liked, and the news still had to find room for another scandalous exit from President Donald Trump’s administration.
White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned his post after Britain’s Daily Mail reported that his two ex-wives allege he physically abused them, various media found corroborating police reports and court orders as well as an ex-girfriend with similar tales, and the first ex-wife released a picture of herself with the black eye she alleges he gave her, which ought to be scandalous enough. Worse yet, the media also reported that White House officials had long been aware that the allegations were the reason the Federal Bureau of Investigation never gave Porter the security clearance required to deal with all the classified materials that a White House staff secretary routinely handles.
Even if you’re the sort of die-hard Trump supporter who figures that the women probably had it coming, and give credit to any administration officials who were so bravely politically incorrect as to agree, you have to be unsettled by the national security implications. Apparently there are several high-ranking White House officials who also can’t pass security clearance muster, including top presidential advisor and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, who’s still the point man for China despite FBI warnings about his personal and business ties to a Chinese operative and still in charge of negotiating Middle East despite no apparent qualifications for that tough job, so it seems to be an ongoing problem. You can still rightly point to Hillary Clinton’s undeniably sloppy mishandling of classified material when she was Secretary of State, which is one of the many valid reasons she’s not the President of the United States, but that won’t solve the more pressing national security problems.
Most people will have a problem with the White House’s apparent tolerance of wife-beating, too, and Porter’s departure won’t help with a widespread public perception that Trump is a sexist pig. There’s also talk about how it reflects on White House chief of staff John Kelly, who a couple of days ago was vouching for Porter’s “high moral character” despite being aware of the FBI warnings about why they’d denied a security clearance, and whose spokesman later explained he wasn’t fully aware of the situation until the black eye picture was published. Kelly came into the White with a pristine reputation as a four-star Marine General, but he’s been criticized on the left for comments deemed racist and sexist, and by Trump for his assurances to the congressional hispanic caucus that Trump had “evolved” in his thinking about various immigration issues, and there’s speculation he’ll be one of the next to leave the Trump administration with a more sullied reputation.
The government shutdown might yet prove as short-lived as last month’s, and the market swoon might yet prove a much-needed correction on the way back to prosperity, but another scandalous example of the Trump administration’s crudity and incompetence won’t help with either situation.

— Bud Norman

The Strange End of the Omarosa Subplot

Omarosa Manigault Newman is another one of those reality show celebrities we’re usually happy to ignore, but it was hard to turn away from the strange story of her sudden departure from President Donald Trump’s administration.
Accounts of Newman’s departure differ, with some saying she was escorted out of the White House by Secret Service agents and others denying that, and it’s not clear exactly what led to her firing, although by all accounts it was insisted on by chief of staff John Kelly, but in any case she’s no longer on the job. Also unclear is why she was ever on the job in the first place.
Newman was once a contestant on “The Apprentice,” Trump’s popular game show, and apparently she helped boost the ratings as a confrontational and caustic character viewers loved to hate. That so endeared her to Trump that he invited her to join his presidential campaign, and she further endeared herself with her controversial and caustic interviews in his defense on television, which included one memorable exchange with Fox News contributor Tamara Holder that culminated with Newman causticly commenting on the questioner’s “big boobs.” After Trump’s unlikely victory Newman was his unlikely pick for the position of communications director for the Office of Public Liaison.
While on the job Newman made headlines with a public screaming jag with former friend and journalist April Ryan, took time out appear on a reality show called “Say Yes to the Dress,” wound up getting roundly booed after a threatening speech to the National Association of Black Journalists, and was roundly booed again by the crowd at the Congressional Black Caucus’ annual gala. Although Newman is black, and liked to brag about all the black votes she helped Trump win, her public liaisons with the black community were always especially confrontational and caustic.
Trump loves confrontational and caustic, of course, but the style does not play as well with Kelly. The four-star Marine general was hired as chief of staff to impose some semblance of discipline on White House, and by all accounts Newman resented his efforts, although the accounts of her her screaming profane threats at the decorated combat veteran are also disputed. In any case, Kelly predictably won the battle, and Newman wound up getting fired from another Trump reality show.
Perhaps Trump will replace Newman with Meat Loaf or Dennis “The Worm” Rodman or one of the other “Apprentice” contestants who aren’t currently accusing him of sexual harassment, but otherwise we expect he’ll wind up with someone better suited to the job communications director for the Public Liaison office, whatever that is. Back during the campaign Trump promised voters he’d pick all the best people, but he’s already had to fire quite a few of them, with his Secretary of State and several others clearly headed for the exits, and on Wednesday even the Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee passed on a couple of Trump’s obviously unqualified nominees for the federal bench.
Back during the campaign Trump also promised to do battle with those smartypants elite establishment types, a promised he has better kept, but he might want to consider hiring a few.

— Bud Norman

Arrivederci, Scaramucci

President Donald Trump started the work week on Monday with a “tweet” assuring the public “No WH chaos!,” but after that things got pretty chaotic around the White House. By lunch time the communications director was on his way out, after less than two weeks on the job and a full two weeks before he was to be officially installed, which was just the latest and surely not the last in a remarkable number of personnel changes for a still-young administration.
Anthony Scaramucci’s appointment had led to the resignations of the White House’s press secretary and chief of staff, both of whom preferred to quit rather than work with him, and his resignation set off lots of speculation about what comes next. His predecessor’s tenure had also been brief by historical standards, and his predecessor’s shorter yet, so at this point the office is starting to look like being a drummer for Spinal Tap, and so far we haven’t heard any names being floated for who’s next.
The chief of staff that Scaramucci scared away has already been replaced by former four-star Marine General John Kelly, who moves over from his post as Homeland Security secretary, so some people are speculating that the Attorney General that Trump has lately been trying to harangue into resignation will be moved over there, and that he will be replaced by someone free to fire the special counsel who was appointed to investigate Russia’s role in the past election after Trump fired the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
All of which sounds pretty chaotic to us, but still-new-on-the-job press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders assures us that “If you want to see chaos, come to my house with three pre-schoolers.” That’s not a very reassuring comparison to a White House, though, and we hope that none of Sanders’ pre-schoolers are as troublesome as that Scaramucci fellow.
“The Mooch” made a fortune on Wall Street, and although he was an outspoken critic of Trump until the future president wrapped up the Republican nomination, he was complimentary to an almost homo-erotic degree afterwards. He had no experience in politics or media, but Trump admires people who have made a fortune and likes over-the-top flattery, so Scaramucci arrived in the White House with a pair of blue aviator shades and a Trump-like tough-guy persona and plenty of hair gel and swagger. He also arrived with a $200 million dollar sale to a Chinese conglomerate of the SkyBridge Capital  firm that he has a 44 percent stake in still pending before a regulatory review board, conveniently comprised of Trump appointees. That was reportedly one of the main reasons the previous chief of staff was so adamantly opposed to bringing him on board, and the official reason Scaramucci wasn’t officially on the job for another two weeks of consideration of the deal, but Trump doesn’t seem to have any problem with that sort of thing.
Scaramucci’s tough-guy shtick probably would have carried through him such picky-picky ethical controversies, but he somehow managed to take it too far even by Trump standards. When Politico broke the story about his holdings in SkyBridge, Scaramucci immediately “tweeted” what sure seemed to be a threat to have the FBI investigate the chief of staff for leaking the story, only to have the reporter “tweet” back that her source was the public disclosure form he’d filled out for a time-holding job at the Export-Import Bank. After that a New Yorker reporter “tweeted” that Trump and Scaramucci had dined with radio host and Fox News personality Sean Hannity, which is a rather embarrassing but hardly as earth-shaking scoop, Scaramucci responded with a profanity-laden and downright-crazy rant that wound up a few minutes later at the web site of one of America’s most venerable magazines.
The rant was probably the most widely-read piece in the history of the New Yorker, far surpassing anything Dorothy Parker or James Thurber or John Updike ever wrote for the rag, and we have to admit it does make for damned interesting reading. Scaramucci once again alleged that the White House chief of staff was a a possible felon and very certain sort of “paranoid schizophrenic,” described the White House chief strategist performing an extremely difficult sex act upon himself, and threatened to either fire or kill countless other administration officials. That might not have bothered such a tough guy as Trump much, either, but in one of those ironic twists from Greek drama and the Trump administration the chief of staff that Scaramucci forced out was replaced by a former four-star Marine general who is famous for not suffering fools and idiots lightly.
This scaramouche’s exit from this commedia dell’arte was foretold in our posting of yesterday, but even with our powers of prophecy we didn’t see it coming quite so fast. Nor could our literary imaginations have ever imagined such a colorful character or such a cruel fate for him. Shortly after he signed on with the Trump administration his wife filed for divorce during her ninth month of pregnancy, reportedly in part because she can’t stand Trump, and we doubt she felt any differently when he wound up missing the birth of their child because he preferred to accompany Trump to a Boy Scout jamboree, where the president gave a speech that the Boy Scouts later apologized for. The president he showed such loyalty to accepted his resignation a few days later, the press secretary and chief of staff he forced out and all the administration officials he’d threatened to fire or kill were no doubt having a hearty laugh about it, and that genuinely tough new chief of staff might yet have something to say about that $90 million payday he was counting on.
The quick exit and the genuinely tough guy who did the bouncing are hopeful signs for the administration, at least, and we’re wishing Kelly the best. There are a still an awful lot of fools and idiots left that he’ll have to suffer, though, and it’s beyond even his formidable powers to get rid of all of them.

— Bud Norman

Shaking Up the White House, Except at the Top

Last week was a rough one for the administration of President Donald Trump, and even his most stubborn apologists can’t deny it.
Trump’s campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare once again went unfulfilled, this time seemingly for good. He was publicly rebuked by the Boy Scouts as well as numerous police chiefs for a couple of widely-panned speeches he recently gave on their behalf. The House and Senate sent him a nearly unanimously-passed and thus entirely veto-proof bill that imposes sanctions on Russia and limits his ability to do anything about it, which was also unmistakably a rebuke of his Russia-friendly campaign promises. Trump continued a war of words against his own Attorney General, who had inconveniently recused himself from the various investigations about Russia’s apparent efforts on behalf of Trump during the campaign, but several important congressional Republicans sternly warned him not to the fire the guy or otherwise try to interfere with all the ongoing inquiries.
There was a Trump-“tweeted” order for the military to no longer allow transgendered troops, but it apparently was a surprise to the vacationing defense secretary, the generals in charge of such things admitted they weren’t sure if a “tweet” was an official order, several important congressional Republicans were also among the critics, and the newly installed press secretary couldn’t answer such obvious questions as how it would affect any transgendered troops currently serving in hazardous duty. The press secretary was newly-installed because Trump had also forced the resignation of his communications director, whose successor almost immediately went on a profanity-laden rant to The New Yorker that very saltily slurred the White House’s chief of staff and chief strategist and threatened to either fire or kill countless other administration officials.
By the end of the week Trump also forced the resignation of his chief of staff, but the apologists are hoping that’s going to turn things around. Newly-installed in the job is John Kelly, who comes in after rising to four-star general rank in the Marines, serving for four years as commander of the United States’ Southern Command despite his frequent clashes with the administration of President Barack Obama over Guantamo Bay and the Mexican border and other issues, and for the past six months has been doing a provably efficient job of fulfilling Trump’s campaign promises about illegal immigration as head of the Department of Homeland Security. A Washington Post headline describes Kelly as someone who “won’t suffer idiots and fools,” and he has a hard-earned reputation for imposing the military-style discipline that even the most ardent apologists will admit the Trump administration sorely needs.
Kelly certainly seems a very formidable force, and we wish him well, if only because we’re exhausted keeping up with all the news these days, but we’ll wait and see how it turns out. It’s hard to see how he would have made much of a difference last week, so we hold out only faint hope for this week.
There’s plenty of blame to be spread around the Republican party for its failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, but it’s going to take a pretty ardent apologist to argue that Trump doesn’t bear some of it, and there’s no reason to think Kelly could have changed that. Kelly’s predecessor was Reince Priebus, who had previously risen through the Republican ranks to be chairman of the Republican National Committee, and with considerable help from Obama he was instrumental in electing many members of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate as well as a Republican president. That wasn’t enough to fulfill the party’s seven-year-old promise of repeal and replacement of Obamacare, as it turns out, but there’s nothing on Kelly’s otherwise impressive resume to suggest he’s any more familiar with health care policy or has any more sway with the suddenly rebellious Republican caucus in Congress.
Neither is there any reason to believe that Kelly would have had any more luck than Priebus in dissuading Trump from making those apologized-for orations to the Boy Scouts and law enforcement. Nor do we think Kelly could have staved off that nearly unanimous sanctions bill, and given his hawkish nature we wonder if he would have wanted to. Given his reputation for rock-solid integrity, and given that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was his best friend in congress during all the fights with the Obama administration over the southern border back in the Obama days, way back when Trump was firing people on “Celebrity Apprentice” and bad-mouthing the Republican nominee’s relatively mild “self-deportation” policy, it will be interesting to see how Kelly handles all that mess and how it affects all the rest of the mess with Russia.
There are plenty of persuasive if politically incorrect arguments to be made against transgendered people serving in the military, but they’re hard to fit into a “tweet,” those 140 characters of social media can’t adequately explain to a vast bureaucracy or a lean White House Communications office how it should be carried out, and we doubt Kelly could have been any more successful in steering a more measured course of bureaucratic review and legally-hashed documents followed by a coordinated communications effort. The whole mess reminds of us when Trump “tweeted” a ban on travel from certain Islamic countries, which also had plenty of persuasive if politically incorrect arguments but hadn’t been run through any bureaucratic or legal review and wasn’t explained to the White House communications team, and what a mess that turned out to be. The cabinet secretary that Trump hadn’t bothered to consult in that case was Secretary of Homeland Security Kelly, but maybe he’ll have better luck next time.
We can, at least, hold out more than faint hope Kelly will be able impose some severe military-style discipline on that newly-installed White House communications director with the foul mouth and tough-guy persona. Former Wall Street shark Anthony Scaramucci got the job and quickly forced the resignation of the previous chief of staff, whom he had so memorably described in that New Yorker rant, but that chief strategist he even more memorably described is still on the job, and the new chief of staff is said not to suffer fools and idiots, so we figure the four-star Marine general will prove the tougher in the inevitable fights.
There’s nothing Kelly can do to shake up the White House that will shake out Trump or his daughter and a son-in-law, however, or shake away all the investigations about Russia or the increasing rebelliousness of the Republicans in congress. Trump was resistant to military-style discipline back when  his father shipped him off to a military school, hasn’t much changed at age 71, and even such a formidable force as Kelly seems unlikely to restrain his “tweeting” thumbs and oratorical impetuousness, or forestall future rough weeks.

— Bud Norman