I am a rock
I am an island
With the President’s sacking of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, and their replacement by the hard right Trump loyalists Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, the administration seems increasingly like an echo chamber for Trump’s prejudices and predilections.
Pretty much everyone who has tried to say no to him, or to deflect him from some of his more outlandish, less-thought-out ideas, pretty much all of them are gone. Perhaps the last one who will stand up to him is Secretary of Defense James Mattis. And he’ll probably be gone the first time he actually does stand up to Trump.
Pretty much everyone who has tried to say no to him, or to deflect him from some of his more outlandish, less-thought-out ideas, pretty much all of them are gone.
Moreover, the President has disregarded and jerked around his allies in Congress. He has repeatedly changed his mind about legislative strategy after the House and Senate Republican leadership have painstakingly negotiated outcomes he said he wanted, only to have him reject the deals. Congressional Republicans may at this point believe they have no choice but to support him because his base is their base, but they surely have no love for a leader who takes them utterly for granted.
He’s still got his base, that 40 percent of the electorate, and that seems to be all that matters to him. But the many camps and interests of Republican elites are increasingly on the outside. Gone are the advocates of multilateral collaboration with our allies, replaced by truculent unilateralists exemplified by John Bolton. Gone are those who argued that raising tariffs and risking a trade war would harm our interests more than help them, replaced by advocates of just such a trade war. Gone are those who favored keeping the Iran nuclear deal rather than abrogating it. Long gone are those who tried to defend the Paris Climate Accord. Gone are those who pushed for compromise on immigration. Gone are those who thought tax cuts needed to be paid for by reductions in spending. The list goes on.
The administration increasingly looks like the Trump Organization, where one man rules absolutely and those who can’t fit in are fired. Now, when he fires off a tweet that completely reverses the stated policy of the administration, his minions will salute and smartly about-face.
But what if there are things he needs to hear that conflict with his prejudices? Take the case of American agriculture. Farm produce like soy and corn are our most important exports. Put tariffs on China’s exports and the Chinese will retaliate against American agriculture. These are people, these are whole sections of the country that voted overwhelmingly for Trump, their oxen are getting gored big time, and they have no one in place who can deliver that message to Trump.
One remaining area of complete incoherence is North Korea policy, where Trump upended long-standing hostility to North Korea by accepting Kim Jong Un’s invitation for a summit. Trump clearly relishes the idea of going mano a mano with Kim, but accepting the invitation was impulsive and fatuous. By appointing John Bolton as his National Security Adviser and Mike Pompeo as his Secretary of State, Trump has probably guaranteed that the summit with Kim won’t happen. But he doesn’t have to personally pull the plug.
So what happens when things start to go wrong? When agriculture and industry can’t find the labor they need because of Trump’s immigration crackdown? When soybean farmers find they can’t get a decent price for their crops because of Chinese retaliation? When Iran calls Trump’s bluff? When war with North Korea becomes increasingly likely? When Robert Mueller finally reports, and Trump is implicated?
What happens is that all the allies, domestic and foreign, that Trump has abandoned or offended just stand back and watch Trump’s island sink beneath the waves.