Morning Briefing: Our Isolated, Mentally Unstable President Is Appealing to Lunatics
Yesterday, Rex Tillerson not-so-subtly threw his own boss under the bus when he suggested he and the rest of the American people share a common set of values, but as for Trump’s values? “He speaks for himself.”
I don’t think Tillerson is a particularly bad person. I think he was a successful business guy for a lot of years. He’s a smart guy, and I think he thought he could take over as Secretary of State and — by hiring the right advisors and putting his nose down — he could figure the job out and make a difference. But Trump hasn’t let him hire the right advisors, and he’s not been given the opportunities to figure the job out appropriately. It’s like this: I’m a huge Leftovers guy. I rewatched and studied the hell out of that show for three years and then based on that, someone decided to put me in charge of Game of Thrones midway through the fifth season. However, instead of giving me the source material, the only research materials I am given are 4Chan and Reddit threads.
That’s basically the position Rex Tillerson is in. He could quit — and by many accounts, he really wants to — but he fears that if he does, the entire State Department will be guided by 4Chan and Reddit threads. Word from Axios is that Trump may make the decision for Tillerson sooner rather than later by firing him and potentially moving Nikki Haley into his position.
That would be unfortunate, because it would remove one more smart, sane man (albeit one well out of his depth) from the Administration, but I mean: Look at the state of affairs right now. You got a guy who has absolutely no clue what the hell he is doing, incoherently yelling at his advisors, ‘Tariffs. I want tariffs!’ and he’s got almost no one left in the White House that he trusts. Bannon is gone. Priebus is gone Sean Spicer is gone. Scaramucci is gone. No one pays attention to Sarah Huckabee Sanders anymore. Sessions and Trump hate each other. Trump and Congress hate each other. Jared and Ivanka, as Vanity Fair writes, are irrelevant:
But outside the White House, a key problem seems to be, as one Washington veteran told me, that Kushner and Ivanka don’t have the necessary self-awareness—don’t understand how to behave when you roll into Washington as the creature of someone else. Most such people take a seat a little off to the side, at least until they get their bearings. “What is off-putting about them is they do not grasp their essential irrelevance,” this veteran told me. “They think they are special.”
So, who is left? We’ve got three generals — McMaster, Kelly, and Mattis — who are conservative men, but not particularly political, who are babysitting our President. I honestly do feel that they are sticking around for the good of the country because they know what would become of the United States if Trump were left to his own dangerous impulses. Meanwhile, on the economic side, we’ve got a centrist Gary Cohn — who spoke out against his boss last week — and Steven Mnuchin, a clueless centrist who is probably not a huge fan of his boss, either. Mnuchin and Cohn have, at the very least, prevented us from trade wars that could derail an economy that Obama painstakingly pieced back together over 8 years.
Otherwise, we have a clueless, idiotic President who is increasingly isolated. He has only three moves: Appeal to his base, undo anything that Obama was involved with, and call out anyone who disagrees with him on Twitter, and since everyone disagrees with Trump, he calls out everyone. He’s an old, doddering fool watching Fox News and lashing out on social media. He’s still got a lot of power to f**k shit up with executive orders (see, e.g., the directive banning transgender military recruits and the idiotic decision to revoke ten days before Hurricane Harvey an Obama-era rule that roads/bridges be designed to survive rising sea levels), but in a lot of ways, Trump is a dictator constrained by democratic institutions and being babysat by generals while waiting for a special prosecutor to bring the hammer down.
That’s where we are right now. The country is being run by a man who appeals to the lunatic fringe (and by fringe, I mean: About 30 percent of the country). So what can we do? We have to do the same thing that Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly are doing: We can’t control the lunatic fringe, but we can do our best to manage and contain them. What happened in Boston last weekend (and San Francisco this weekend) is the perfect example. It’s because of public pressure that Bannon and Gorka are out. The chaos in the White House is self-inflicted, but it’s the media that transforms that chaos into bad days for Trump, into more firings, into more chaos, into crippling the Administration. It’s containment. We’re losing a lot of battles, goddamnit, but I am hopeful that the war will eventually be won. That the resistance we see every day on social media and in the streets will keep the country’s most dangerous impulses at bay until we can wrest back control from the lunatic fringe. The good news is, we’re finding more and more allies in the form of Republican Senators and even people from inside the Administration. The bad news is, the closer Mueller gets, and the more isolated Trump is, the more he lashes out. We’re going to suffer a lot more meltdowns until this is over, but hopefully, we can continue to contain the worst of it.