You could be excused for thinking it’s 2016 again.
After all, we’re litigating the President’s character and moral compass again. That was the central theme of the 2016 general election. I argued against his selection as the Republican nominee on those very grounds, often and vociferously. And you know what? The problem with those arguments was always that the people he ran against are hardly paragons of moral certitude.
Thus it was during the general election. Those arguments that Hillary Clinton tried, casting aspersions on Donald Trump’s character, might have held water – except they were being made by Hillary Clinton. It wasn’t that anyone thought Trump is a man of virtue. His 40+ years in the public spotlight have proven to all but the most blinded that he is anything but virtuous. But if there is one politician alive who is even more corrupt and morally bereft than the Donald, it is the former First Lady.
So, Americans went to the polls, held their noses, and elected Mr. Trump to be the 45th President. Contrary to what professional punditry claims, it wasn’t personality that landed him in the White House. It was the difference in what each party, and candidate, proffered as policy prescriptions for the United States. They chose the more conservative of those two visions. They chose Trump.
As expected, the Democrats have continued to hammer away at character, because they really have no other tools with which to engage in political debate. While there are policies President Trump has pursued that are anathema to doctrinaire conservatives, and he’s been a little squishy on some others, for the most part he has stuck to the conservative script. The adoption of those policies has resulted in an economic boom unlike anything this nation has seen in a generation. Moreover, his judicial appointments (considerable in that they are mostly Constitutionalists and in number) promise to begin stemming the tide of judicial activists that have largely torn the social fabric of the nation.
So long as he continues to deliver a robust economy and solid appointments, Republicans will continue to support him, character be damned. After all, that issue was litigated and determined to be of little importance to the general public.
Now we’ve reached another inflection point. We can be reasonably certain that not only is the President a cad, his choice in women remains…juvenile. We know this because his fixer has all but admitted he directed payments to a pornographic actress and a nude model at then candidate Trump’s instruction.
Democrats and “Never Trump” Republicans have seized on this latest revelation as if it proves the President is a mass murderer. Even their attempts at at saying he violated campaign finance laws and therefore deserves immediate impeachment have proven more hyperbole than fact, as even the FEC admits Mr. Trump didn’t endanger our republic any more than candidates Obama, Clinton, McCain, Bush, Kerry, et al. So now, they’re back to pressing the character question, as if it were a question at all.
What all of this hew and cry fails to do is respect the judgement of the voting public. The typical American hears all about yet another President who can keep his pants on around the fairer sex and thinks, “How does this affect me?”. The answer, of course, is it doesn’t. We’ve suffered (if that’s the right word) through philandering presidents more often than we care to remember, and provided they delivered results all was forgiven.
Would I prefer the President were the virtuous sort? Of course I would. But I look at our current crop of politicians and quite frankly, the only one who matches that description is the current Vice President. So, I’ll stick with the current President, thank you very much.
This weekend has brought forth another wave of editorials, essays and TV commentaries lamenting that the Republican Party is now the party of Trump. In the wake of his primary loss, Mark Sanford wrote a piece lamenting the fact that he “wasn’t Trump enough” and that voters wanted someone who is obsequious to the current Commander-in-Chief. George Will, in his usual excessive verbiage, urged Republicans to *gasp* vote for Democrats in this years mid-terms. Why the apostasy? In his eyes, Congressional Republicans have abandoned their principles to get a tax cut.
What these gentlemen, and the other old-guard types seem incapable of fathoming, is that it isn’t allegiance to Trump is not the defining ethos of the modern GOP. What they haven’t come to terms with is for the vast majority of Republicans, their views on issues, and which issues should take precedence, do not match the Bush (read: neocon) value structure at all. Elected Republicans who fail to recognize this and represent their constituents values are being removed from office at the ballot box. The intelligentsia that refuses to accept this change is being asked, often impolitely, to leave.
President Trump is the embodiment of those values, same as Barack Obama or George Bush were the embodiments of their party’s values during their terms of office. Yes, there are aspects of his personality that are grating – but it is those same aspects that are particularly appealing to the Republicans who gave their allegiance for last quarter century to the Bush wing of the party and got very little in return for it. Those erstwhile pundits place the locus of their attention on the President’s personality while ignoring, misunderstanding or worse, belittling the values President Trump epitomizes.
During the nearly 30 years that the Bush family and their values were ascendant within the GOP, they emphasized the “neoconservative” value structure: multinational cooperation in military and economic affairs, acquiescence to multinational corporate interests, loose immigration controls, compromise on societal issues. They thought the Tea Party movement was either a validation of that value structure, a personal repudiation of Barack Obama, or perhaps both. In reality, it was a repudiation of both Barack Obama (and the post-modern liberalism he represented) and the existing GOP power structure. The 2016 election, in which the last champions of neocon ideology were electorally trounced, should have told them their days were over.
There are aspects of this new, much more conservative ideology I am uncomfortable with. I do not support trade tariffs, nor am in agreement with increasing the power of the federal government. The spending increases and failure to address – indeed, ignore – the fiscal crisis is particularly galling to me. But I’m adult enough to admit that certain aspects of Republicanism that I supported in the past – in particular, multinational trade agreements – have turned out to be abject failures for most Americans. It would behoove the most ardent neocons to look around and recognize where they failed, and to start working out the reasons.
Much of the current GOP platform is things to which the Bush wing paid lip service. They never quite understood that for the rank-and-file, the parts of the platform the elites held in disdain are the important parts. The rank-and-file was willing to back the elites play on the idealistic parts of their agenda in return for their work on those things the elites found, to borrow a phrase, “deplorable.”
The professional politicians forgot that politics is less about ideals than results. Something I constantly hear is that politics has become “too transactional.” What they forgot is that our Founding Father’s devised a system of transactional politics. Politicians who fail to deliver the results their constituents want are not reelected. For 30 years, Republicans were waiting for the GOP candidates to deliver. They didn’t. They got fired. As for the rest, they can get with the program. Failing that, they can find a new political home. They stole the GOP in the late 1980’s. Trump’s voters reasserted their control in 2016, and are continuing that purge today.
A recurring theme among our media betters is a disbelief that President Trump would treat the other members of the G-7 with so much more disdain than he treats Russia, China and North Korea. Their difficulty is because for all of their expertise and hubris, they can’t get past their navel gazing. If they simply opened their eyes and thought about it, the reason for this would be so obvious it would jump up and slap them in the face.
The reason is not that Trump is a bombastic crybaby, nor that he lacks empathy, nor that he misunderstands history. It isn’t that he disregards what are regarded as diplomatic and foreign policy norms. It has nothing to do with his narcissism or love of McDonald’s burgers.
Indeed, he gave us the biggest clue to the one driving theme of his foreign policy in the impromptu news conference prior to the start of the G-7 confab this past weekend. Mr. Trump said, “We have a world to run.” Was he talking about the assembled “world leaders” of the G-7? Or was he alluding to something else?
One of the most interesting things I constantly hear is that President Trump has no grasp of history, no concept of the United States role in shaping world affairs, or the post-WWII international order. I don’t think that’s the case whatsoever. If anything, he has demonstrated a more focused understanding of those things than the talking heads on TV, or the failed diplomats who clutter the airwaves with their talking points. They prattle incessantly about a world order that has never existed anywhere except in their minds. It was the relentless pursuit of this fiction that led to many of the disastrous American foreign policy actions over the last 25 years.
Trump regards the lesser members of the western alliance (what we usually refer to as “first world nations”) as nothing more than vassal states. For those of you who don’t understand the concept (Hi, cast members of Morning Joe!), a vassal state is one that has pledged loyalty to a larger state. It receives a promise of security from external threats and financial assistance, along with a pledge of limiting interference in internal politics. In exchange, the vassal provides some military forces and pays tribute to the dominant partner.
Vassal states have existed for as long as human civilization. The Egyptians and Hittites both had clients in the Middle East even before anyone invented writing. (We know this because the earliest written tablets known to us, from both Egypt and Anatolia, describe those civilizations relationships with everyone from the Ammorites to the Sumerians). And contrary to popular myth, they did not disappear with the end of the First World War.
If you stop to think about the post-WWII order, this is exactly the scenario the world found itself in. There were two dominant states (the USA & USSR), and each had a collection of vassals. For the US, those vassals were the members of NATO, Japan, Australia, and other various small countries. The Soviets had vassal clients in the Warsaw Pact, China, Cuba and most of the Arab world. The occasional squabbles between vassals on opposing sides led to conflagrations that would involve the sponsors (the Arab-Israeli wars of the 1950’s and 60’s, or Vietnam, or the Korean War). Presidents from Truman through Bush 41 might have smiled at their allies, but they never treated them as equals. If they had, Jimmy Carter never would have been able to strong-arm Menachem Begin into the concessions needed for the Camp David Accords. Bush never would have rounded up the international force to launch Desert Storm. And so on, and so forth.
Like it or not, this is the world view that the President has. He sees Russia reasserting its control over her vassals (Ukraine, most prominently). He sees China moving to gain an equal footing as the United States, without any actual vassals (but not for lack of effort). He sees North Korea as a vassal of China, but one that is recalcitrant and one that China refuses to hold tight enough rein on.
Within this framework, he sees the other members of the western post-war coalition as forgetting their rightful place. He won’t treat them as equals because in his world view, they are NOT equals. They are vassals, subservient and reliant on the United States for their very existence. Additionally, he sees the fecklessness of the three administrations immediately prior to his as largely responsible for the sad state of affairs between the US and our “clients.”
In the same vein, he treats Russia and China as equals because in his world view, they are our equals. Each is a dominant nation, like the United States. While the vassals, like bratty children kicking at our shins, complain about unfair treatment, Trump is staying focused on where he believes the real international political struggle begins and ends: the battle between the three superpowers for world supremacy. He sees an opportunity to, at worst, turn North Korea into an independent player (much like Marshall Tito’s Yugoslavia was) or at best, reunify the Korean Peninsula as a client state of the USA.
He may be right in his view of a modern realpolitik. The problem he runs into as that while the client/sponsor relationship was an unacknowledged fact for the late 20th century, the 21st is somewhat different. Yes, the client states are still dependent on the US for their international security. But whereas once their economies were independently reliant on the US, that is no longer the case. The last 25 years has seen the global economy changed from one of many clients subservient to one dominant economy, to a symbiotic economic relationship between nations. What’s more, the tangle of trade agreements and international corporations is such that any disruption anywhere in the flow of goods threatens the economic order of the planet., threatening a conflagration that would make the last two world wars pale by comparison.
This is the conundrum facing the American President. During the height of the Cold War, the US economy accounted for nearly half of all global economic activity. As of last year, we accounted for less than 18%. While we may hold all the cards militarily, we are now trying to draw to an inside straight economically. The notion of returning international trade to one where most economic activities is controlled by US companies is less an economic decision than a militarily strategic one. Heck, the President said as much when he imposed the latest tariffs. In the face of this situation, our nation is faced with two choices. We can attempt to rebuild the original postwar order, or we can remove ourselves from a position of global dominance, recalling and reducing our military strength.
When you look through the prism of vassal state relationships, you can see which option the President has opted for. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, it has been his stated world view for the better part of 40 years now. That nobody in the media seems capable of grasping this is the only surprising thing about it.
I find myself, once again, having to cut through the bullcrap like a light saber through Ben Kenobi.
Look, here’s the deal folks: when Donald J. Trump, current President of these United States, was nothing more than an old lech (ok, a rich old lech), he paid to get laid by a porn star. He did this while his third wife, a former high-class skin model, was knocked up with his kid and while simultaneously having an affair with a Playboy playmate. Now, if I had more money than God (or at least, more than 90% of other Manhattan residents), I would waste my money on other things, but it’s his money. Besides, it’s part of his life-long pattern of keeping STD clinics in business.
The thing is, none of this should surprise anyone. After all, Trump has been a braggart about his sexploits since he first started appearing on Page Six. (What did you think was going on at Studio 54?) This is a guy who cheated on his first wife with his second wife, who he then dumped when she had the temerity to get pregnant. Long before achieving a career rebirth as a sort of lovable reality show host, he was famous for being the cad who turned Atlantic City into a hedonistic pleasure dome (albeit a badly managed, over-the-top version).
Indeed, this is the last scandal I ever expected to besiege the Trump White House. After all, only the wilfully ignorant would have thought Donald J. Trump hasn’t spent the last 50 years trying to hump every female human that crossed his path. For Pete’s sake, he’s bragged about. Loudly.
So, why wouldn’t he just fess up this time around? Surely he remembers 20 years ago. Yes, we were all skeeved by the middle aged dude boffing a barely legal intern in the Oval Office – but only the wilfully ignorant were surprised by the behavior. But what got that president into a heap of trouble was lying about it, even though nobody believed him. It cost him his legacy. 50 years from now, the only thing he’ll be remembered for is being the second President to be impeached.
The only thing I can think of is, he’s afraid of losing his base of support. But those of you who are rabid Trump fans wouldn’t abandon him over this. I mean, 5 minutes on Twitter proves that, right? So, it’s up to y’all. Already, the lawsuits are in motion. It’s Monica all over again. Shortly, the President will be forced to submit to being deposed and any missteps or misstatements in those, and he’ll have fallen into the same self-imposed trap that ensnared Bill Clinton. So, Trumpkins, save us all the spectacle. Urge him to fess up to doing the horizontal bop with a porn star named Stormy (and yes, having quite ordinary sized hands) and pay the settlements so we can all move on. There are real problems. We don’t need a lecherous old fool’s hubris to create new ones.
There are days when I feel like I fell asleep and woke up in an alternate dimension. You know, kind of like Rod Serling kidnapped me and threw me into an episode of “The Twilight Zone” without asking first. There’s been more of them over the past 26 months than in the previous 50 years of life, but I’m beginning to think all of that was just a warm-up for the past month.
You see, that’s when people suddenly became aware that men will, given the opportunity, think of women as sexual objects (and vice versa).
I know, that’s a shocking concept. Prior to a month ago, every woman in every nightclub around the world was dressed in a potato sack. Those jokes you heard about men thinking about sex every ten seconds (personally, I think those overestimate the time between thinking about sex by around 8 seconds) were invented somewhere around October 15. Marilyn Monroe was the most talented actress of all time, which is why she’s so well remembered.
Of course, all of that is bunco, but judging from the hew and cry over the past month you would never know it. This isn’t to excuse the behavior of a Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer. I’m going to be honest, before either of those guys hit the news I hadn’t even heard of the mating ritual that involved jerking off to a potted plant while your intended watched. But the sudden shock that anything of this sort was going on is, well, disingenuous, to say the least. Look, I’m not one who reads Page Six or watches TMZ. But even I recall hearing stories about the infamous Hollywood “casting couch” as a kid. You know, how wannabe starlets would trade sexual favors in exchange for roles in movies and television. To pretend that any of this is new, or that every woman who participated, was somehow abused is laughable on its face.
Now, we’ve moved on to the next target: politicians. Somehow, in all this recent fervor, we’ve discovered that not every politician is a great guy (or gal). Their effectiveness as a legislator, jurist or executive is of no matter when judging their fitness for office. Nope, the only thing that counts now is if they ever grabbed somebody’s ass in a hotel room (or, in Al Franken’s case, a dressing room). This is about as ridiculous an idea as has ever been thrown into public discourse.
The simple fact is history is replete with examples of horrible, terrible people who excelled in public service. Think where the civil rights movement would be today if Martin Luther King or Lyndon Johnson (or John Conyers, for that matter) were held to these absurd standards. The world might well be a cinder if JFK had been subjected to them. We might all be speaking German if FDR’s peccadilloes had forced him from office. The US might not even exist if Thomas Jefferson (or if John Hancock or Samuel Adams) were held to this sudden contempt we have for men who act like boors. And just imagine where the #MeToo movement would be if the sexual predations of Eleanor Roosevelt had been splashed across the front pages of her day.
And please, let’s not even get started on the sexual career of William Jefferson Clinton. He may not have been a great President, but he did introduce all of us to other unique mating rituals. *ahem*
So, grow up people. Get past the junior high titillation and get back to the real issues at hand. Lord knows we have things facing our country, things that really matter, than to allow ourselves to be distracted by all this folderol.
Oh, and guys? If you feel the need to make love to a potted plant, seek professional help.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about President Trump being removed from office via the 25th Amendment (thanks, Steve Bannon). I thought all that had gone away months ago, but suddenly talking heads can’t get enough of the latest talking point. Since everyone seems to have forgotten what the 25th Amendment says, I thought I would share the following Roll Call video. It’s by far the most unbiased presentation on the topic I’ve come across.
After a year of what may go down as the dumbest protest in American history, it seems the National Football League is ready to listen to their fans and end the shenanigans, once and for all. The NFLPA should thank them, before any more of their members are made to look like communist sympathizers.
Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began this hairbrained scheme on September 11, 2016. At the time, I thought it was nothing more than a very idiotic marketing ploy by a former starter whose poor play had landed him on the bench of a bad, and dysfunctional, team. He may have claimed it was to protest police brutality, but his actions since (appearing at press conference in Miami wearing a Fidel Castro t-shirt & drawing little pigs on his socks among them) only bolstered my opinion: either he was a wannabe Che Guevara (but without the cajones), or he was desperately trying to force the league to keep him employed. When the season began with him not having a job and the outcry went up from certain segments of the sports commentariat that Kaepernick “deserved” a job, I felt vindicated. After all, his terrible play the previous three seasons certainly didn’t justify his being on an NFL roster. But that didn’t stop that rather vocal group of commentators from assuring us the only reason Kaepernick was watching the games from his couch was racism.
(As a side note: 22 of 87 NFL quarterback are black, as are 9 of the 32 starters. The NFL, as are all pro sports leagues these days, is the most egalitarian of employers. The only thing that matters is performance on the field, not race or religion.)
The NFL is a league that employs rapists, murderers, drug fiends and wife beaters, among other sundry malcontents. And until a week ago, approximately a quarter of those players were engaging in on-the-field behavior 90% of the country finds reprehensible. The outcry and backlash was the result of a few players who may have thought they were doing something principled, and a bunch of guys who get paid to have their brains routinely bounced around their skulls falling for what President Trump does best: troll.
And that was the insanity of this protest from the get-go: perceived police brutality in American cities is a topic worthy of discussion. But the moment you start using the National Anthem and the US flag as the center of your protest, the cause gets drowned out. It isn’t very positive imagery. Look, I get it: the First Amendment allows political speech involving the national symbols as props. But it doesn’t excuse you from widespread ridicule and scorn when you’re even perceived to be disrespecting them. The result in that case tends to be that your cause gets lost in the noise. Nobody cares, nobody wants to hear it – worse, your cause becomes anti-American. If you need a better example, the Supreme Court rulings that upheld disrespecting the flag as political speech were over the flag burning incidents in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. Does anyone remember what those protests were about? No. All we remember is seeing the images of people burning a flag, and the outrage and anger it sparked.
Prior to the President’s calling out the players, only a handful were engaging in carrying on Kaepernick’s egregious demonstration. But, Trump Derangement Syndrome combined with the idea of team unity, and that Sunday nearly every team was protesting the flag and anthem. The blowback has been fierce, to say the least: attendance and viewership have cratered in the intervening two weeks. The league and networks have been scrambling, and the proposed rule change is a result of all that. Of course, the better option for the NFL might be to forgo the nearly $6 million they get annually from DoD for their contrived displays of patriotism prior to kickoff. But somehow, unless Congress expressly forbids it in the next budget, I don’t see that happening.
As for the players who feel strongly about police brutality and targeting, they have plenty of outlets to do something. After all, these are all multimillionaires with public megaphones in their adopted communities. They can arrange rallies and protest marches, and actually do more than simply stage ridiculous publicity stunts. They can endow scholarships. They can engage in outreach between their communities and the local police departments. Money and fame both talk, and neither is in short supply for a Cam Newton or Marshawn Lynch.
As for Mr. Kaepernick, he gave an interview on Saturday that amounted to him begging for a job. Of course, his girlfriend came out Sunday and tried to claim he was misquoted, but I suppose the cat is out of the proverbial bag now. As I thought from the beginning, he was trying to use the BLM activists to ensure his employment. Rather than celebrating him, they should be seething at this point. He used them, and in the process, turned their protest movement into a mockery of responsible public demonstration, making it a subject of abject ridicule.
As for me, I don’t watch football for political stunts and could care less about them. I tune in on Sundays to watch young men get their brains routinely bounced around their skulls, not unlike the Roman gladiators of old. Much the same as I don’t care a whit about the idiocy of the people who entertain me from Hollywood, the same goes for the ones on the gridiron. So I’ll keep watching, at least until they decide to switch from tackle to flag football.
Update: looks like the NFL isn’t going to force players to stand, only “encourage” them. Whatever, it’s their funeral. -10/11/17
Since everyone else is weighing in on the issue of DACA, I figure I might as well, too.
First, although I am opposed to illegal immigration in general, I think this particular class (children raised in the US, although not born here or granted legal immigration status) merits special consideration. For the most part, these are people who didn’t choose to come to the United States. That decision was made for them while they were minors. When we’re talking about DACA, we’re talking about people who have been raised here and are American in every sense of the word – except legally. Moreover, there are at least 800,000 of them. There could be as many as 1.7 million.
Some have become high achievers in their chosen fields, some have served in the military with distinction, others are just ordinary folk, trying to find their way in this world. Yes, some are bad apples – as you can find in every demographic group. But it is a small minority, and they can be dealt with as any nation deals with crappy immigrants.
All that being said, I applaud President Trump’s decision to terminate the existing DACA program, and for one reason: our Constitution says immigration decisions are the responsibility of Congress, not the Executive. Before President Obama created the DACA program, he acknowledged (often) that any such executive action was unconstitutional. When he issued that executive order in June 2012, it was not his intention to make it a permanent fixture. The EO included a sunset period, since renewed twice. Obama had dual intentions; first, he wanted to try to force Congress to tackle immigration reform. Secondly (and cravenly), was his intent to shore up his support in the Latino community prior to the 2012 election. He failed on the first count, but succeeded on the second.
President Trump is, in large measure, copying the Obama administration’s playbook. By announcing that he is ending the program, but delaying enforcement for six months, he is attempting to force Congress to act and giving them a window of opportunity. At the same time, he is trying to reinforce his standing among his base by at least appearing tough on immigration.
So, are Trump’s chances of getting Congress to act any better than Obama’s were? First, there is the House leadership, which so far has demonstrated that it is extremely consistent in running from their own shadows. If they can be forced to address the issue, the chances of something happening are pretty good.
In fact, something could conceivably pass this week. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) has had HR 496 pending for nearly 8 months, and it specifically addresses the DACA situation. Had the leadership scheduled it for a vote in the Spring or Summer, this issue would already be behind us. But, again, leadership is afraid of doing anything that might possibly bring about a challenge from the right, even if they personally support it. (Where I come from, we call that cowardice – but whatever). However, Coffman has about had it with the cowards in his party and is filing a discharge petition to force a floor vote. He might just get it, too. As of this writing, he was only 3 votes shy of forcing Speaker Paul Ryan’s hand.
That would be half of the equation, because as we all learned on Schoolhouse Rock, a bill has to pass both houses of Congress before it can be sent to the President’s desk. There is a companion bill pending in the Senate, S128. Unfortunately, the Senate leadership is as afraid of their shadows as their House counterparts (see: Obamacare repeal). So how could the bill make it’s way to the floor if Mitch McConnell decides to go into a corner and cower? Believe it or not, this is where the filibuster can be useful. Any senator who supports passage can tie the Senate in knots until S128 is voted on. This is the perfect time to engage in such tactics, too. In case you’ve missed it, virtually every fiscal matter facing the country needs to be addressed over the next 3 1/2 weeks. Even losing a day to a filibuster would seriously crimp on Mitch’s ability to get out and fundraise.
So yes, there is a better than 50/50 chance something finally gets done. In fact, if Congress wanted put the President on the spot, they could pass the BRIDGE Act, as is, ignoring the White House’s request to include border wall funding. But again, I doubt that happens. Congressional leadership is too cowardly to even consider it..
It’s official: Steve Bannon was fired from his role as the President’s Chief Strategist earlier today.
But before anyone starts thinking this signals that the administration will now pivot to the center, you need to stop and think about something. Bannon wasn’t much of a strategist. Rather, he was the guy who came aboard the Trump Train after last year’s Republican National Convention to help streamline and polish Donald Trump’s existing “America First” positions into something more palatable to the general electorate. In terms of strategy, he proved (at best) to be a man playing checkers on the “swamp” chessboard. Otherwise, the President would have actual legislative victories he could point to as wins – and not be where he is, almost 8 months in. Which is to say, his efforts to remake Obamacare into Trumpcare defeated, with no movement on the other big campaign promises, either: the border wall still without funding (and Mexico thumbing their noses at us), no movement on tax reform or infrastructure legislation, and efforts to renegotiate our trade deals actually going backwards.
However, this is the second major administration official in two weeks to cross the new Chief of Staff, Gen. John Kelly, and find themselves being sacked as a result. If nothing else, I’m certain other acolytes who may have thoughts of taking similar approaches – of operating the way they did for the campaign and the first 6 1/2 months of this Presidency – are having misgivings now. Kelly has made his imprimatur on the administration. Whether or not the President can abide Kelly’s style and handling remains an unresolved issue, but it’s apparent that Kelly is running the White House as he sees fit. For now, anyway.
Trump will, of course, continue to be Trump. He will continue to push his agenda, focusing on the culture wars that originally earned him electoral support. His economic agenda is actually pretty much straight from the Republican playbook (tax reform, job growth, etc) and he will find congressional support for that, regardless of whatever else he does.
As for Bannon, expect him to return to his previous vocation, agitating for a nationalist agenda. Near term, I foresee him excoriating lawmakers over the border wall funding (given the proximity of budgeting and the debt ceiling on the calendar), and making Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan’s lives miserable. Longer term, he’ll look to undermine the forces in the West Wing that undermined him from the outside. Expect to see all kinds of hit pieces on Kelly and National Security Advisor HR McMaster, along with Jared and Ivanka Kushner. I also suspect “normal” conservatives, such as Rick Perry, Betsy DeVos, and Ben Carson, could find themselves with banner headlines on Breitbart or the National Enquirer. As for the President’s economic team, Gary Cohn, Wilbur Ross and Steve Mnuchin were part of the “establishment” long before the term became fashionable. Only a fool would think Bannon doesn’t have something special up his sleeve for them.
Removing Bannon won’t end the chaos surrounding the administration. If anything, the noise is about to get louder and more ferocious (although it will almost be funny to watch the NY Times and CNN suddenly forced into defending people like Perry and Mnuchin). Strap in, it’s going to be an even bumpier ride.
In case you haven’t noticed, North Korea has been doing a lot of saber rattling over the past few weeks. If you listen to only the talking heads on television, you could easily believe the world stands on the brink of nuclear war. You would believe that Kim Jong Un is certifiably crazy, and is engaged in showing the USA (and President Trump, in particular) that he doesn’t have tiny hands.
Whatever else Kim might be, a crazed megalomaniac looking to annihilate Guam for the sake of a show of force is not it. He was literally bred to lead his country. Like his father and grandfather, he is dictator for life, assuming the reins only after the death of his predecessor. In olden days, we would have called him the third king of the Kim dynasty. Like monarchs of previous centuries, after assuming the throne he engaged in a purge of anyone who might challenge his power: family members, military leaders and others. To the modern mind, those moves seem outdated, bizarre, surreal; the actions of a madman.
Put in the proper context, they are anything but the actions of an insane megalomaniac. They are the actions of a cold, calculating monarch entrusted not only with leading his nation, but ensuring that the dynasty continues unabated. And if you judge Kim by that standard, then the current situation becomes much easier to understand.
North Korea is a small, isolated country of limited resources and not much material wealth. As it’s leader, Kim has certain responsibilities and like the monarchs of ages past, one of the most important is ensuring his subjects are fed. World history is replete with examples of monarchs who failed in that respect and the results have never been particularly good for them or their families. King Louis XVI lost not only his empire, but his head in the French Revolution. Czar Nicholas II was forced to watch his family’s executions before finally losing his life during the Russian Revolution. Kaiser Wilhelm II was forced to flee to the Netherlands when even his army turned against him.
Rest assured, Kim is well aware of all those historical precedents and has no intention of joining their ranks.
His current situation is dire. As mentioned above, his nation is isolated and materially poor. Historically, ensuring the North Korean people are fed is difficult enough – and this year, they’ve suffered their worst drought since at least 2001. Kim knows unless he can secure an imported food source, and the means to pay for it, he faces a winter of mass starvation, a discontented populace and internal unrest. Even if the people are unable to overcome generations of indoctrination and rise up against the regime, there still exists the very real possibility of the army deposing him.
So, what stands in Kim’s way of securing enough food to keep his nation fed? As it has been for the past 67 years, the United States and South Korea.
What Kim wants is to enter into direct negotiations with the both countries, with three ultimate objectives: 1, getting the current sanctions against North Korea lifted; 2, getting grain from the US and 3, obtaining a security guarantee. To that end, he has reverted to a standard North Korean negotiating tactic, threatening to tear up the 64 year old armistice and resuming hostilities.
After all, threats of open warfare worked for both his father and grandfather. It works for one reason: nobody wants to see a shooting war on the Korean peninsula again, particularly South Korea. During the 1950-53 war, the US suffered nearly 60,000 deaths – but South Korea lost over a half million people. (Nobody is certain how many North Koreans died, but most estimates put the number just shy of a million). The capital city, Seoul, was conquered and recaptured on 4 separate occasions. Fast forward to today: Seoul is home to over 10 million people (with another 15 million living in its suburbs) and sits only 35 miles from the border. It is within easy striking distance of conventional artillery, to say nothing of aircraft and rockets. Should the Korean War get “hot” again, it’s generally accepted that South Korea would suffer over a million civilian casualties on just the first day.
This is why ratcheting up the rhetoric always worked in the past. Even if the US is reluctant to grant anything to the North, pressure from the South (who desperately wants to avoid reopening hostilities) has led to begrudging acquiescence.
The calculated gamble Kim is making now is based on that history. The reason he’s amped up the rhetoric even more than in the past is he knows that unlike previous administrations, the current US leadership is unlikely to be swayed only by the pleas from what is currently a scandal-plagued South Korean government. By threatening a US territory, he is hoping to force Washington to the negotiating table.
It’s not that Kim actually wants a war with the US, He knows that in such an event, he wouldn’t last long. During the 1950-53 conflict, it took the combined power of China and the Soviet Union to stave off total defeat for North Korea. Of course, the wild card in all this is President Trump. He is unconventional, for certain. But what Kim has certainly factored into his consideration is that, thus far, the Trump administration has not deviated all that much from the past 25 years of US foreign policy, despite all the bluster.
Of course, the possibility of open conflict remains if Kim thinks he has no way out of the box he’s created – or if Trump decides that enough is enough and preemptively strikes. But I still don’t think that either will happen. I suspect that even as we bustle about our daily lives, backchannels are being opened and the first tentative steps towards negotiation are under way.