If Mike Pompeo or John Bolton were running their respective departments, would Donald Trump have gone off on a toot about how much he would like to buy Greenland from the Danes?
Aides whispered he didn’t really mean it and it might have drifted onto the tall pile of previous loopy and quickly forgotten ideas if Trump hadn’t gotten in a snit after Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called his proposal “absurd.” He abruptly called off a planned visit to Denmark later this month, after calling Frederiksen “nasty.”
At least he didn’t go on to insult her with a low-ball offer. But in a world already dangerous, Trump, for fun, created something rotten in Denmark, our previously good neighbor in the North Atlantic. If he’d let his principals do their jobs, the appropriate officials would have met, hashed it out in the Roosevelt Room, and reined in the bumptious Trump before he made himself look foolish before the world.
But who needs people who know stuff?
This isn’t just more chaos composting other chaos. Trump’s foray into international real estate is more evidence that there’s been a takeover of the Trump administration by Trump himself. He’s left the boring parts like agricultural marketing orders to others, but otherwise he’s roaming far and wide into matters of state, the economy, intelligence, and law enforcement.
That’s not to mention his armchair diplomacy—waxing delirious over the beautiful letters professing love from the Dear Leader who’s conducting missile tests, bromancing with Bibi while telling American Jews that if “you vote for a Democrat, you’re being very disloyal to Jewish people... and Israel,” and, refusing, despite opposition from all his appointees with jurisdiction, to call Putin to account. Instead Trump has given him a free pass to interfere in the next election as he did in the last. He’s even begging world leaders to pretty please let his friend back into the G7. At the G8, they could sit together.
Without anyone authorized to do a cleanup on Aisle 3, Trump freely injects toxins directly into the national and international bloodstream without being contradicted. Obsessed with the stock market and furious that there may be a recession approaching, he’s redoubled his stinging rebuke of Fed chair Jerome Powell, his choice to replace former chair Janet Yellen, whom he found too short. He also mistook Powell’s quiet intelligence for a willingness to give in to Trump’s demands to sharply lower interest rates on command to boost the economy through the 2020 election.
So Trump berates Powell mercilessly, most recently calling him “a golfer who can’t putt”—clubhouse talk, it seems, for if you don’t lower rates at your September meeting, I’ll snap your nine-iron in two and put a horse’s head in your locker.
In his effort to install a more pliant chair, Trump sought out two political hacks as potential replacements. Toadies they were, but confirmable they were not. He’s still trying.
With the deficit about to reach $1 trillion and debt as a share of the economy projected to rise to an astounding 95 percent by 2029, Trump’s jawboning about a payroll tax cut, which people in positions to know about say they don’t know about. Trump nonetheless said this week, “Payroll taxes? I’ve been thinking about payroll taxes for a long time.” Do not be surprised, then, if Trump pulls payroll taxes out of his red hat if the economy flags. His economic team may still say they know nothing about it. They’ll be telling the truth.
Shoving his cabinet out of his way is the logical extension of Trump’s boast that all the “best people” want to work for him. Who could be better than Trump himself? If ever there were the best people working for Trump, they’re gone, burnt out, used up, indicted or fighting subpoenas, or told, like Rex Tillerson, his time was up while nursing dysentery on a make-work trip to a s---hole country.
Many who remain are there in “acting” capacities, a modifier that sucks all power from the title that follows it. They are so tired of alternately being ignored or berated for minor infractions like coughing, they tend the tiny patch of governing left to them without complaint. Some like Pompeo quietly test running for an open Senate seat in Kansas. Other like Bolton look around for a tiny regime to change or treaty to tear up.
Of course, no job thrills Trump more than being his own press secretary. That’s why we see him most days in the White House driveway giving a dramatic, if cartoonish, performance of his morning tweets. A lightbulb went off in his head one day and he wondered why he would be ceding prime TV time to the likes of Sean Spicer, that turncoat Anthony Scaramucci, or Sarah Sanders when no one can lie better about crowd size than he can. Did you hear the one about his campaign rally in New Hampshire drawing more fans than an Elton John concert?
While he’s at it, he tries to make reporters look bad for shouting at the president. He can pretend not to hear questions that he doesn’t want to answer and to answer questions not asked. On his way to speak to the American Veterans of War, he referred to himself as “the Chosen One,” raising his eyes heavenward. At the event, Trump, who got four draft deferments for bone spurs, joked that he should award himself a Medal of Honor. He wasn’t laughing on the inside.
The 20 minutes he talks off the cuff—which is as long as his hair and makeup will hold up in the sun and downdraft from the waiting helicopter—provides instant gratification. By the time he boards Air Force One to fly to a (televised) campaign rally, his performance is up for him to view on all four screens.
In general, Trump leaves his very protective Attorney General William Barr alone as long as he stays securely under his thumb. While the rest of us are appalled that Jeffrey Epstein was given the freedom to commit suicide in federal custody—which ranks up there with the horror of Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald being shot dead as he was surrounded by law enforcement—Trump doesn’t blame his AG, who oversees the Bureau of Prisons, and instead merrily retweets that Bill Clinton might somehow be involved.
Stephen Miller is Trump’s only free-range aide for as long as he hates immigrants as much as the boss. Keep ’em out? You bet. Separate children from their parents—what better deterrence could there be? Lose some of them in the process? Stuff happens. During the campaign, Miller said Trump was so epic he would “alter “Western civilization.” Trump couldn’t have said it better himself. He doesn’t try.
We’re now down to a White House for Two.