For Donald Trump, parting is never such sweet sorrow. He’s been jettisoning cabinet officials with rapidity. The latest is Defense Secretary James N. Mattis, whose stiff resignation letter has predictably enraged Trump, prompting him to appoint Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who has curried favor with Trump by backing a space force, as acting Defense Secretary starting January 1.
This morning, Trump tweeted, ‘I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019. Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!’ In November 2016, Trump had lavished even greater praise on Mattis, ‘he’s just a brilliant, wonderful man. What a career! We’re going to see what happens, but he is the real deal.’
By framing his resignation letter as a repudiation of Trump, Mattis got the drop on him. It took a few days for Trump to realize that he had been outfoxed, as it were. Now he’s begun to question Mattis’s bona fides on Twitter, noting that he had magnanimously given him a ‘second chance’ after he was ousted by Barack Obama. After his anti-ISIS coordinator Brett McGurk resigned in protest as well, Trump tweeted that he did ‘not know’ him, thereby inadvertently further disclosing his ignorance of his own foreign-policy team. Like a Russian tsar, Trump seems to think he can govern by ukase. Can Shanahan handle that?
The breach with Mattis was opened by Trump’s impetuous decision to exit Syria, where some 2,000 Americans troops are stationed. A coherent case can be made for departing from Syria and Afghanistan — America has been there too long, others can handle it, nation-building is a recipe for failure, yada, yada. But Trump is incapable of making that case. Instead, he is a study in impulsivity. One day he says that ISIS has been defeated. The next, he says American allies can polish it off. Throughout, his only aim seems to be to maintain an umbilical cord to his base. He whined in a tweet that if ‘anybody but your favorite President, Donald J. Trump, announced that, after decimating ISIS in Syria, we were going to bring our troops back home (happy & healthy), that person would be the most popular hero in America. With me, hit hard instead by the Fake News Media. Crazy!’
Not so. Brian Kilmeade lashed out on Fox News against Trump, telling his press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that he was responsible for the rebirth of ISIS. Now that Mattis is gone, as Max Boot observes, ‘The president is home alone with his Twitter account — and our nuclear arsenal.’
The madness of King Trump is only starting. Rep. Adam Schiff said on CNN today that he is prepared to issue a subpoena if necessary to force publication of the Mueller report: ‘I’m prepared to make sure we do everything possible so that the public has the advantage of as much of the information as it can.’ Unless Trump can pull a Boris Yeltsin, who shelled the Russian parliament in 1993, he will be pilloried by House Democrats for his long history of corruption.
Trump will lash out repeatedly at his real and perceived enemies. Who will be next? Apparently, Trump is displeased with the performance of Jerome Powell, the head of the Federal Reserve, for raising interest rates. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin tweeted out a quote from Trump stating that he didn’t intend to sack Powell, but that is unlikely to reassure financial markets, which have been plunging in the past week. If the stock market continues to plunge, Trump may make even Herbert Hoover look like a financial genius.
Meanwhile, there is little prospect of the government shutdown ending. Sen. Bob Corker declared today, ‘It’s juvenile. The whole thing is juvenile.’ But Trump seems to be experiencing multiple temper tantrums. Perhaps the only American delighting in the shutdown are the residents of Palm Beach who get to enjoy their Christmas unmolested by Trump and his entourage. The Palm Beach Post reports that road restrictions around Mar-a-Lago have been lifted.