Putting Donald Trump in the White House is like giving a monkey a machine gun. It’s amusing to watch, but only from a safe distance. And there is no “safe distance” from the reach of the US President.
Let’s face it – this isn’t going to last.
A Trump administration cannot continue for four full years without the US becoming an entirely different country, probably with a new name, flag, anthem and borders. Forget about policy. Forget about the ACA, abortion, immigration, or taxes. Our dilemma has nothing to do with policy objectives or legislation. This is a crisis of competence. Incompetence on this scale is utterly unprecedented and lethally dangerous.
Presidenting is hard. By itself, the White House is a billion-dollar organization with a full-time staff of more than 3,000 people. White House leadership is expected to guide a trillion-dollar bureaucracy with millions of employees while operating an enormous PR operation, functioning as the nominal leader of one of our major political parties, commanding the military, formulating foreign policy, and managing the executive branch’s interactions with Congress and the Judiciary.
With so many subordinates involved in such a maddening array of issues, it takes more than high morals for a White House staffer to avoid breaking the law. Getting through a few years of successful White House service demands integrity, care, intelligence, and attention to detail. The slightest screw-up invites a partisan witchhunt. Errors don’t just get you fired, they can lead to prison.
Obama ran the first two-term administration in our modern history without any indictments. It’s an achievement testifying not just to the integrity of his staff, but to their sophistication and intelligence.
So much for all that.
A group of people who struggle to operate fancy light-switches will be lucky to escape a White House tenure alive, much less un-indicted. Complexity and partisan scrutiny combine to make this an extremely dangerous place for an idiot to earn a living.
Our new President is just such an idiot. Despite all the commotion, Trump has done very little in his first month. Of almost 700 executive branch positions he needs to fill, he has nominated fewer than 50. He has issued no clear positions on any matters of substance. Just as in the campaign, his statements on policy issues have been a series of incoherent, drunk-uncle ramblings; half-sentences that veer immediately toward more pressing matters like his crowd-sizes, his businesses, and his TV ratings.
His only major action of consequence has been a hastily assembled executive order on immigration that devolved into a train wreck. It was almost immediately shut down by the courts in a humiliating defeat. His national security advisor, who was under FBI investigation before he was even appointed, has already been chased from his job. In the increasingly tight race to the first Trump staffer assigned an inmate number, Micheal Flynn has taken a tentative early lead.
Did I mention the Russians?
Americans find themselves contestants in a great and terrible race. If we cannot accomplish an impeachment within a perilously brief time window, odds of a coup begin to rise to a realistic threshold. Unfortunately, impeachment may not be the end of this mess. It is unclear the extent to which the Vice President has been compromised by his dealings with this White House. Even if he turns out to be clean he remains burdened with a Palin-class intellect, hardly the figure the country will need in the aftermath of Trump’s removal. Whatever the fate of his boss, Pence is likely to trail shortly behind him.
Failing an impeachment or coup, we face an unquantifiable third possibility. The longer this lasts, the greater our likelihood of experiencing some “other,” a devil’s banquet of potential black swan events, each of which is individually unthinkable and unpredictable, with an aggregate probability steadily ticking upward toward an eventual certainty.
It is clear which outcome the Russians would most like to see. Their greatest dream would be an American administration interrupted by civil unrest or a coup. They have a fairly obvious plan to provoke that outcome, a plan they seem to have already launched.
They need to spark a low-level (containable) confrontation with the US military, the American institution most maniacally hostile to their interests. With a White House compromised by their meddling and a deeply anti-Russian military, the Russians could create enormous internal frictions with a few simple, humiliating incidents.
Perhaps they could engineer a small-casualty clash in Syria. The suspicious death of a US special forces solider or intelligence agent in Ukraine. A semi-accidental incident at sea. Something that would create pressure among US generals for a military response that the administration would refuse. At the same time, it would need to be something not quite serious enough to break through the American partisan logjam or prompt a popular outcry.
Their strategy is already on display. Russians have positioned a surveillance ship off the Delaware coast and breached treaty obligations with forward missile deployments. Their aircraft have been harassing US ships. With the US administration in chaos, there has not been any public reprimand or new orders on the matter to military leadership.
If a US administration so obviously compromised by a foreign power refuses to support its military in the field, how will the military respond? How will Republicans in Congress respond? Moscow is placing some bets.
If Congress fails to act on this administration’s incompetence and the generals have the patience to forbear, what are the other possibilities? Will another bizarre and arbitrary executive order spark an armed standoff between rival federal institutions. Will he initiate a conflict with or a state/local law enforcement agency over immigration policy? Will the President fumble his way into a war? What happens when the Justice Department launches a campaign to suppress Black Lives Matter? What happens when federal authorities demand that Trump abandon the lease on his Washington DC hotel and he refuses? What other normally manageable incident will spiral out of control under our corrupt, incompetent leadership?
At a symposium in Maryland this week the head of the US Special Operations Command made an ominous offhand statement. I’ll leave you with his comments:
“Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war,” he said at a military conference on Tuesday. Asked about his comments later, General Thomas said in a brief interview, “As a commander, I’m concerned our government be as stable as possible.”
A general’s “concern,” carries certain implications. We are living in interesting times.