A regency happens when a monarch is too young, too sick, or too incompetent to rule. It became more evident this week that we are living in the Trump Regency.
This is not unprecedented in the US: Edith Wilson was effectively in charge for more than a year after Woodrow Wilson’s incapacitating stroke. It wasn’t acknowledged, but anyone in Washington who paid attention knew. Alexander Haig famously informed us that he, as Chief of Staff, was “in charge” after Reagan was shot.
Note that we had a Vice President at the time of both these incidents, and the 25th Amendment was in effect under Reagan. In neither case was the Vice President a factor in the “regency.” Where is Mike Pence in our present “regency”?
The latest incidents of his minders having to walk him back were striking.
Confronted with the threat that his base would abandon him if he failed to Build the Wall, Trump (in Mark Shields’ memorable words) “folded like a $2.00 suitcase.”
The first concerned the ongoing government shutdown, when Trump initially agreed to a compromise with the Democrats that would have kept the shutdown from happening, but without funding for The Wall. In this case the minders were in the right-wing media (Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter) and their allies in the White House such as Stephen Miller. Confronted with the threat that his base would abandon him if he failed to Build the Wall, Trump (in Mark Shields’ memorable words) “folded like a $2.00 suitcase.” It was clear that he is so much a prisoner of his base that he can’t negotiate to end the shutdown, even though he set it up and proudly owned it. I wrote about this recently.
Then there has been the controversy over Trump’s surprise announcement that, having defeated ISIS in Syria (this was news to most people) he would immediately withdraw our troops from that country. Completely blindsided by the announcement, Secretary of Defense James Mattis resigned, with a public letter that was a courteous but devastating critique of Trump’s overall approach to world affairs. It was widely thought that Mattis was the last of the true “grownups” in Trump’s inner circle, but as of today we know that John Bolton, of all people, has assumed the position.
Bolton, the National Security Adviser, is well-known as a vocal advocate of a muscular American foreign policy. There was some shock that he would accept the position under Trump, who has repeatedly called for cutting back on American commitments abroad. But here we see that Bolton has got his hand on the tiller: he announced that, regardless of what the president said about withdrawing troops from Syria, the troops will stay until ISIS is eradicated.
This announcement makes sense from a conventionally conservative foreign policy perspective, such as Bolton’s. We have been the keystone of an uneasy coalition of Sunni powers (Saudi Arabia and Turkey), Sunni Syrian rebels, and Sunni Kurds, opposed to the Shi’a coalition of Iran with the Syrian government of Assad, armed and bankrolled by Russia. Everybody wants to defeat ISIS, but the Turks primarily want to defeat the Kurds (as do the Iranians and the Syrian government). Russia, Turkey and the Saudis all want primacy in Syria. The Israelis (Trump’s Best Buddies in the Middle East) want to get the Iranians out of Syria.
So if Trump pulls out, he hands Syria to the Russians and the Iranians, leaving the Turks and Saudis out on a limb. He opens the Kurds to attack by Turkey, even though they have been faithful US allies. Bolton is no dummy; he can see this, and he hastens to Jerusalem to assure our closest allies that they needn’t worry overmuch about Trump. The grownups are in charge.
It does give one pause to think that the standards for grownups in this pathetic excuse for a government have sunk to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and John Bolton.
I keep coming back to George Will’s characterization: “This sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.”