By Patricia Lee Sharpe
With the possible exception of Russia, the whole world heaved a sigh of relief when Mike Flynn ceased to be Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, although the manner of his going hardly inspires confidence. First of all, the President didn’t act immediately on the Justice Department’s incontrovertible evidence of Flynn’s dicey contacts with Russian operatives . He didn't act our intrepid free press got hold of the story and, thank heaven! forced his hand. Second, Trump did a lot of waffling in accounting for his firing of Flynn, none of it suggesting serious impropriety by his man or by the Russians.
So the bromance continues—though mostly on Trump’s side, evidently, given rumors that Vladimir Putin is ready to bail on the egotistical exhibitionist.
Elusive Job Candidates
Meanwhile, Trump found it amazingly difficult to fill a post any number of smart people would normally be ready to kill for, so to speak. Prestigious! Powerful! Visible! What a way to cap a career! But first choice Vice Admiral Robert Harwood turned it down. And so did the disgraced General David H. Petraeus, who could have used the title to burnish his still tarnished reputation—remember: he handed highly classified info to his mistress, so she could plump up a hagiography of her lover. And so did yet another entirely competent military man, before Trump found a willing candidate in Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster.
Oddly enough, Trump seems to gravitate toward filling all national security posts with men from the uniformed services, despite the fact that the American system provides for civilian control of the military. Perhaps, as Commander in Chief, he expects these guys to salute like serfs and bark, “Yes, sir” to anything he orders them to do, no questions asked, no alternatives delivered, no cautions issued, no upholding of any tradition of professional honor, no hint of disloyalty to an unprincipled czar.
Constraints on the Chain of Command
This misreading of the American military mind is not likely to serve him well. Like Trump himself, these well-regarded officers (“my generals,” as he would put it, possessively) have sworn allegiance to the Constitution and the laws of the land, not to the person of the president. These distinguished military men also know that true loyalty is earned, not automatically conferred by rank or wealth. Good soldiers don’t put their lives on the line because they’re ordered to. They do it out of respect and comradeship. Furthermore, I wonder if Donald Trump has noted that the U.S. military follows a code of conduct that condones disobedience when faced with non-lawful orders. Torture, for instance, offends international law as well as the U. S. military code of conduct. This is why the C.I.A. , abetted by some sadistic civilian “psychologists,” were put in charge of the Bush-Cheney torture program. During his electoral campaign Trump indicated that he is pretty squishy when it comes to torture, but Defense Secretary retired General James Mattis has already declared, “Not on my watch.”
Meanwhile, what did all those highly competent military men who said “no” to Trump share? Like Donald Trump, who picked his own Vice President, they wanted control over their own staff. However, instead of trusting his own nominees, Donald Trump expected to a play a card from the deck of Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin. In the words of a Russia-savvy friend of Whirleview, "Both Harward and Patraeus...indicated through the dance of press veils that they required final say over staffing. This makes sense to any military mind. Your staff is supposed to be working for your objectives, and your objectives reflect your honest attempts to please your boss. The conspiracy mindset which seems to haunt the Trump Presidency may be expressed by planting loyalists to Trump's inner circle in subordinate positions much as Soviet political officers were planted within Soviet military commands. Any honest military man is going to object to that. Highest on the suspect list of who would author this policy? Bannon."
Out with the Political Commissars
And who is this Steve Bannon? He’s the the alt-right/ white nationalist ideologue who seems to be Trump’s primary intellectual mentor. To put it another way, he’s the guy who feeds red meat to the base while Trump himself feeds economic and financial goodies to his billionaire buddies. Another Trump loyalist planted on the National Security Council is K.T. McFarland. Neither Bannon nor McFarland has any respect for the fact-based intelligence gathering and analysis a modern head of state needs. Both should be detached from the NSC and given more appropriate duties. Supposedly Trump has seen the light and granted McMaster control of his own staff. Unless Bannon and McFarland are out, and soon, I can only believe that some sort of unholy bargain has been made.
Why is Trump so afraid that people won’t be loyal to him?. Why does he admire Bashar al Assad and Kim Jong Un and—of course!—Vladimir Putin? Why, as President, does he have to rely so heavily on his immediate family? Why does he need those minders to ensure that his appointees fly straight?
My answer would be this: because that’s all he knows. Having inherited wealth derived from the notoriously cutthroat New York real estate world, Donald Trump has never had to work for anyone else, which means he has no personal experience that might lead him to have empathy for subordinates or the less fortunate. What’s more, his business model contains two assumptions: you get things done by ordering comparatively powerless minions around and/or by throwing money at problems, buying people as well as advantages, as in settling law suits so you never have to plead guilty. No one says no to Donald Trump. They’re afraid—or they’re bought. Trump knows little of real teamwork either. So far as I know, he’s never been part of a team of equals based on mutual respect. And so, quite naturally, he trusts no one to do anything out of a sense of duty, honor, mutual regard, fair play, justice or principle. For him it’s all deals. Make ‘em—and, when it serves you, break ‘em. Promise anything. Deliver what’s convenient. In short, Donald Trump, who imagines everyone else is just as untrustworthy as he himself is, can only inspire grudging (and probably conditional) compliance or obedience.
A President Isn't Above Scrutiny
Think about it. Is this a guy that good people (with choices) are going to want to work for? Is this a guy who’s going to have much respect for the rule of law? Is this guy's business model appropriate for conducting the foreign or domestic affairs of a democracy? No. No. No. This is a guy who bears watching (and fact checking), by all of us, all the time. No wonder subscriptions to the New York Times and the Washington Post are soaring.