Amidst the numbing chaos that is the Trump administration, these past few days are worth reflecting on because three events have moved the needle in a bad direction.
1. The hiring of John Bolton highlights Donald Trump’s instability, his total lack of any coherent worldview, and most of all—and most dangerously of all—his need to feel that no limits are being imposed on him. Here’s what I mean. When talking foreign policy, sometimes Trump sounds like Bolton, with all that overheated rhetoric he’s thrown at Kim Jong Un. But at other times, he’s an isolationist. At still other times, like when he’s agreeing to meet with Kim with no preconditions, he’s a Neville Chamberlain in the making. (By the way, is Lloyd’s of London taking odds yet on whether that summit will actually happen?)
So if he wasn’t happy with H.R. McMaster and wanted new blood, he could have gone in any number of ways. That he chose the guy who will reinforce his worst instincts tells us, I think, that what he values most (aside from unquestioning loyalty) is someone who won’t hem him in; in other words, Trump may decide to launch a first strike against North Korea, or he may not. But if he does, by God, he doesn’t want some globalist ninny telling him not to. So the principle at work here is not hawkishness per se. It’s having someone who won’t tell him no.
Remember how Fred Flintstone, when he was thinking of stealing the vacation money to buy a new bowling ball, would have a little angel and little devil pop up on each shoulder making their respective cases? Bolton is Trump’s little devil, and clearly, Trump wanted things that way.
2. Trump’s slapstick handling of the budget shows us—again, but probably more than anything before it—just how massively in over his head he is in the job. As Michael Grunwald wrote in Politico last week, Trump just got rolled by Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. They didn’t get their Dreamers request, but they got everything else, and Trump got very little. Thirty-three miles of border fence but no sanctuary cities defunding, no Planned Parenthood defunding, and not much else.
Yes, it was congressional Republicans who cut these deals, not Trump. But Trump couldn’t cut them, or credibly refute cutting them, because he doesn’t know enough to do one or the other. He knows nothing about the ins and outs of the budget. And that ridiculous feint last Friday morning that he was going to veto it… He relented after a few people with some actual knowledge told him how suicidal that would be, let alone on his way out to another weekend at Mar a Lago. But it was embarrassing.
3. The Stormy Daniels story was kind of non-newsy on certain levels. That Trump slept with a porn star and behaved crudely toward her is about the least shocking thing in the world. But the threats made against her are the real story here. That’s going to be the new iteration of this story, and depending on how it plays out it stands the chance of reminding the country of something that many have forgotten, or never knew: The president of the United States has mob ties.
Here’s David Cay Johnston cataloguing a few of them, like how Trump went out of his way to use Mafia-controlled companies to pour the concrete for Trump Tower. The great Wayne Barrett was the master chronicler of all this, going back to the 1990s. All you need to know for now is that back in the day, the government of Australia denied him a permit to open a casino in Sydney because the government deemed him to be too mobbed up. Trump will say of this failure that he lost interest in Australia, but Australia also lost interest in him.
We’re bound to see some more reporting about the nature of these threats that Daniels discussed on 60 Minutes Sunday night. What else do Daniels and that swashbuckling lawyer of hers have with regard to these threats? Is Robert Mueller maybe looking into who made them on Trump’s behalf? Is Mueller going to interview Michael Cohen one of these days? That might be Mueller’s best path to Trump. Depending on where this goes, Americans could learn some interesting things about the past associations of the man who now embodies our democratic republic.
And now we hear that Trump may want to be his own chief of staff. Hey, why not? A president needs a chief of staff only when he relies on staff. When he does things like read, and look at evidence. Trump doesn’t need anyone. He has his TV. If they don’t say it on Fox & Friends, how important can it be, anyway?
As we think back over these 14 months, we recall that the madness started literally on the first day, with the speech about “carnage” and the protests about his crowd size. And every week has brought jaw-dropping moments, too many to count.
But this is different. Trump has spent a year-plus feeling that he was heeding the advice of these wise people in Washington (he wasn’t really, but in his mind he was), and it hasn’t made him happy. Now he’s finished with that.
It’s one thing to run a privately held company on the fly, trusting the same “gut” that drove you into multiple bankruptcies. But to make the fate of the country, its people, and—in the case of North Korea and possibly Iran—its volunteer soldiers, hinge on your uninformed gut is criminal. I mean that figuratively, for now. But Mueller may make it literal.
Shocking as these last few days have been, there is still worse yet to come.