Washington has started to burn.
How much damage Trump will do to America, and to the world at large, as his presidency goes up in flames is an open issue, but as I’ve written in the past (See: Really Bad Things Are Going To Happen Now), this is going to be very, very bad, and quite possibly a very lengthy process as well.
Many disasters have impacted Trump and America this week. The utter fraud that was the Trump Foundation is being shut down. Trump is being investigated for the serious financial improprieties of the Trump inauguration committee. A Federal judge took former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn sternly to task for his betrayal of America. Trump attorney Michael Cohen has implicated Trump in multiple felonies designed to defraud America. Russian spy Maria Butina entered into a cooperation agreement with the US government. Paul Ryan spent the week living in an alternative reality while patting himself on the back for what a tremendous job he’d done the past two years helping Trump destroy America (See: The Self-Delusion of Paul Ryan). The stock market is in a free fall, with the NASDAQ today closing in its first bear market since the Great Recession, a drop of 21.9% from its peak on August 29, 2018. The Executive Branch is drowning in staff vacancies at the highest levels. But let’s just focus on some of what has happened over just the past couple of days:
1) After a phone call with Turkish President Recep Erdogan, Trump issued a shocking declaration on Twitter that the United States is abruptly ending its military presence in Syria. He also made it clear he plans to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan by half. This came as a surprise to those in his administration, the Pentagon, in Congress, and to US allies, virtually all of whom, regardless of political affiliation, find this to be an utterly disastrous action for him to take. Many people who have supported the United States in the Middle East will likely die as a result. Trump has not provided any coherent reason for taking this action.
We don’t know how much of Trump’s income derives from licensing payments from the Trump towers in Istanbul, but it is likely enough to provide Ergodan a degree of leverage over Trump. Trump has demonstrated in the past his extreme servility to those who hold financial leverage over him. And Trump’s actions serve as a diversion from the political narrative surrounding the his own criminal acts.
Yet, while there is no direct evidence of it at this time, the odds still seem very strong that this action is exactly what it appears to be, namely that Trump effectively made this decision to either directly or indirectly appease the wishes of Russian President Vladamir Putin, who perhaps benefits most from it. Over the past two years, Trump’s actions have repeatedly demonstrated that he is beholden to, and under undue influence of, Putin because of the leverage Putin holds over him in matters financial, criminal, and sexual. (See my earlier column: The Man in the High Castle: Trump has committed high treason.)
As the dominoes fall, there are, of course, repercussions. Trump has effectively surrendered America in the war on international terror. American interests in Syria and Afghanistan will be severely damaged, and Russia, ISIS and the Taliban will be strengthened. Our ability to curb the growth and activity of terrorism around the world will suffer drastically.
2) Secretary of Defense James Mattis, one of the last remaining members of the Trump administration with an ounce of credibility and integrity, resigned in response to Trump’s action. His letter of resignation raised deeply disturbing issues.
In his column No More Excuses: The resignation of James Mattis leaves Congress to face the truth about Trump, David Frum notes:
“So long as Mattis stayed on the job, Republicans in Congress could indulge the hope that responsible people remained in charge of the nation’s security. That hope has now been repudiated by the very person in whom the hope was placed. It’s James Mattis himself who is telling you that the president does not treat allies with respect, does not have a clear-eyed view of malign actors and strategic competitors.”
And in James Mattis’s Final Protest Against the President, David A. Graham notes:
“‘Mattis is the last brake on a president that makes major life-and-death decisions by whim without reading, deliberation, or any thought as to consequences and risks,’ said a senior U.S. national-security official on Thursday, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk freely. ‘The saving grace is that this president has not been tested by a major national-security crisis. But it will come, and when it does, we are fucked.'”
And in Mattis Always Understood Trump’s Severe Defects, Jeffrey Goldberg notes:
“Mattis’s departure also means that the United States is entering the third phase of Trump’s foreign policy. In the first year of his presidency, Trump paid attention mainly to domestic issues, and did not afflict America’s diplomatic and national-security establishment with an undue number of his ignorant and damaging foreign-policy views. In the second year, he became more destructively engaged, but he listened, on occasion, to those in his administration who possessed actual expertise in foreign policy. We are now entering the third year of his presidency, and third phase of his foreign policy: Trump alone, besieged, but believing, perhaps more than ever, in the inerrancy of his beliefs.
“James Mattis knew who Trump was, and joined him anyway, because he is a patriot. And because he is a patriot, he would have remained with Trump if he thought he could influence Trump’s policies. But whatever influence he had, he lost.
“And now the dangerous part begins.”
And Former Republican Defense Secretary William Cohen noted on CNN:
“We are betraying our allies … and the security of this country. The President has taken a wrecking ball to every pillar of security that America has built over the past 60-70 years across the world.”
3) As all this was occurring, Trump reneged on his pledge to support an interim budget resolution working its way through likely passage in Congress that would have funded the US Government over the next two months. He did this in reaction to right wing extremist television pundits who were upset that the budget resolution did not include funding for a border wall. This came in the context of Trump failing to keep his promise to have Mexico pay for a border wall, along with his failure to honor an agreement he had made with Democrats that would have provided funding for the border wall in return for his supporting legislation addressing the DACA issue. As a result of Trump indicating that he will refuse to sign the resolution, a sustained government shutdown seems probable, starting at midnight tonight.
Some of the comments from the Twitterverse eloquently apprise the situation:
Jon Cooper perceptively noted:
The Trump regime is collapsing from the combined weight of its treason, criminality, bigotry, corruption and sheer greed. Just as with Nazi collaborators, history will harshly remember those who sold their souls to protect Trump and helped perpetuate his evil and cruelty.— Jon Cooper (@joncoopertweets) December 21, 2018
And Bryce Tache astutely chimed in:
Our defense secretary quit, global markets are plunging, our 401ks are worthless, the government is about to shut down, our allies are gone, our enemies are emboldened, and all thanks to a Madman Criminal who is growing more unhinged by the minute.— Bryce Tache 🇺🇸 (@brycetache) December 21, 2018
And Laurence Tribe wrote:
General Mattis’s resignation as Secretary of Defense on the basis of principle — in the wake of Putin’s wet kiss for Trump’s anti-American treachery — is enormously important. It’s hard to imagine GOP Senators, however supine, not starting to peel off. Trump will soon be alone.— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) December 20, 2018
Nicholas Burns wrote:
The Mattis resignation letter is one of protest and principle. No praise for Trump. Its two major points: 1) The U.S. must value and respect our allies; and 2) stand up to Russia and China—two issues in which Trump is the weakest U.S. President in the modern era. Remarkable.— Nicholas Burns (@RNicholasBurns) December 20, 2018
And John Hergt wrote:
Trump is trying to take us all down with him.— John Hergt (@natureofthings7) December 20, 2018
I suspect that John isn’t entirely correct here. I don’t believe that Trump could care less whether he takes the rest of us down with him or not. What happens to the rest of us is utterly inconsequential to Trump.
So what will happen next?
Trump can’t and won’t resign because he knows if he does, he will immediately be placed under arrest. So the question remains… will Congress remove Trump from office, and how much more damage will Trump be able to do before that happens?
A couple of tweets yesterday from Republican Senator Marco Rubio are enlightening while being both disturbing and encouraging:
I hope we who have supported this administrations initiatives over the last two years can persuade the President to choose a different direction. But we must also fulfill our constitutional duty to conduct oversight over the policies of the executive branch. 2/2— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) December 20, 2018
Rubio knows Trump is a danger to America… this isn’t news to him. Rubio is in fact deeply complicit in allowing Trump, someone he well knows to be a criminal and madman and Russian agent, to wreak destruction upon America.
Rubio’s tweets are gutless and beg so many additional questions. Why has Rubio supported a clearly unbalanced President in the past? Why is Rubio sitting around hoping and tweeting, instead of actually doing something, like picking up the phone, talking to the President, and telling him bluntly that unless Trump changes his course that he and his colleagues in the Senate will vote for Trump’s removal from office? Based on Trump’s past behavior, how could Rubio possibly have any expectation that Trump would do anything other than “endanger our nation, damage our alliances & empower our adversaries”?
Yet, despite the idiocy of these tweets, they do illustrate that the tide is shifting, and that Republicans in the Senate will indeed eventually be willing to do something about it. It will not be a surprise to soon see Rubio rewriting history and claiming he has opposed Trump all along. Rubio utterly lacks backbone, and will shift with whatever direction he feels the wind is blowing.
In his Facebook column this morning, well worth reading in its entirety, Robert Reich describes his conversation with a former Republican member of Congress describing how this is all likely to play out as the dominoes fall, and that the tide appears to finally be turning in terms of the willingness of Republican Senators to vote for Trump’s removal from office:
It is widely believed that Mattis dissuaded Trump from launching nuclear weapons at North Korea last year before Trump and Kim became “friends.” The odds are reasonable that over the next year someone somewhere in the world (perhaps in Iran, perhaps somewhere else) will do something horrible that will offend Trump, and Trump will impulsively launch nuclear weapons in reaction. Yet even in the absence of his starting a nuclear war, there are thousands of ways Trump can trigger world conflict, encourage attacks on America, and weaken America’s world standing through his unrestrained impulsive actions and his treasonous support of Putin. Trump’s trial in the Senate is likely at least more than a year away. Trump will continue to act like a trapped and wounded animal, flailing out to destroy everything around him. Our Reichstag Fire moment may soon be upon us. What makes Trump’s situation so unique is that he has access to the nuclear codes (See: Trump can launch nuclear weapons whenever he wants, with or without Mattis), and an ability to effectively suspend constitutional rights in declaring a state of emergency (See: What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency).
Donald Trump, and his administration, now constitute an out of control wildfire, one that Trump actively exacerbates by throwing more kindling onto the flames on an ongoing basis. No amount of raking is going to fix it. How much of America will burn is up to a Congress that seems to be willing to move slowly at best. What can the rest of us do? We can keep using our voices, on social media and elsewhere, to refuse to allow Trump’s behavior to be normalized. Those of us with Republican Senators must continue to actively implore them to take action and remove Trump from office. We can prepare ourselves, and our families, for difficult times ahead, as America, and the world, become socially, politically, environmentally and economically disrupted on a scale not witnessed in a very long time.
May angels and ministers of grace defend us.
The Donald Trump Anthem… courtesy of Don McLean
🎶Because everybody loves me, baby, what’s the matter with you?
Won’tcha tell me what did I do, to offend you?🎶
Latest posts by Cliff Kurtzman (see all)
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