Thursday, June 4, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lost still more support among Republicans and senior military officers.

Predictably, Trump lashed out yesterday at Gen. James Mattis, his former Secretary of Defense. Yesterday, Mattis broke his silence over Trump's use of U.S. military forces against lawful protestors, comparing Trump's divisiveness to the Nazi Party's strategies of social control and calling him a threat to the Constitution.

Trump's first response, somewhat bizarrely, was to insist that he had renamed Mattis "Mad Dog" because he liked it better than the former general's radio call sign, "Chaos." In reality, "Mad Dog" was an affectionate nickname given to Mattis by the marines who served under him. 

Trump also claimed that Mattis had been fired, rather than resigning in protest over Trump's abandonment of the United States' former Kurdish allies in Syria. This is also not true, but it's something Trump has gotten confused about before. In Mattis's resignation letter, he wrote:

My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. ...Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.
In other words, Mattis felt that Trump disagreed with him about "being clear-eyed" about who the United States' friends and enemies in the middle East were. It took Trump several days after the letter was made public to figure out that Mattis was not paying him a compliment.

Even though his reality TV catchphrase was "you're fired," Trump is notoriously squeamish about actually telling people directly that they're fired. He sent an underling to deliver James Comey's notice, but only when he knew Comey would not be in the office. He even tried to get White House counsel Don McGahn to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, only for McGahn to refuse. Most of the many, many firings Trump has done were actually carried out by his chiefs of staff.

John Kelly was Trump's chief of staff when Mattis resigned. Today, Kelly called Trump's attack on Mattis "nasty" and said that Trump had "clearly forgotten how it actually happened—or is confused."

Almost immediately, Trump lashed out again, this time at Kelly, insisting—all evidence to the contrary—that Kelly was somehow out of the loop when it came to White House personnel decisions. (That is the chief of staff's main responsibility.)

Mattis now joins Kelly a very long list of prominent Republicans or conservatives who Trump has declared—after appointing them and firing them—that they were never any good in the first place. (Trump never explains why he hired them, if this was the case.) Others include former secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former Attorney General Jefferson Sessions, former senior advisor and reality TV co-star Omarosa Manigault, former campaign guru Steve Bannon, his personal secretary Madeleine Westerhout, EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, former national security advisors John Bolton and H.R. McMaster, former DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Don McGahn, his first chief of staff Reince Priebus, and his extremely short-lived communications director Anthony Scaramucci. 

Why should I care about this?

  • It's more likely that the legion of ex-Trump appointees warning Americans about him are correct than it is that he simply cannot find competent people to run the government.
  • There were probably more important things for Trump to focus on today than getting the last word in an internet fight.