Donald Trump was removed from power and left in office in a series of small bloodless coups.
The first was the removal of Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser. The second was the make-believe that Trump chose his replacement. Trump was given a list of three pre-selected replacements and told to pick one and pretend he was telling the House, Senate, Military and intelligence agencies who he wanted. This is a lie. Trump was told he could have one of three who had been pre-selected and pre-approved.
The next phase was the installation of the military junta consisting of McMaster, Mattis and Kelly. This trinity have been running the military-intelligence-foreign policy aspects of the government and will continue to do so. Tillerson is the (very) junior partner in this arrangement and is a small appendage to the trinity but a useful one. His continued role as a rump Secretary of State allows for the illusion of civilian rule and the maintenance of the political and structural norms of a faux democratic republic. The trinity will continue to run the government with the illusion that normal civilian republicanism is still the law of the land. There will be hearings and appointments and press conferences and the paraphernalia of government will continue to be trotted out so everyone can pretend. And it is crucial to remember that the trinity, the junta, does not want power. Kelly, Mattis and McMaster clearly view their duty to be keeping Trump from destroying everything and in order to do that they must exceed the normal parameters of civilian rule.
The next phase was the removal of Bannon and one of his pet mini-me’s, Sebastian Gorka. This coincided with the end phase of the leaks that had crippled the regime. With the installation of Kelly and the political exiling of Bannon the leaks have subsided.*(1) As both a professional courtesy to Kelly but also having achieved their desired result the continued flow of classified or damaging information would now be politically counterproductive and would threaten the system’s ability to plan for and act against North Korea. The media, over-matched, flat-footed, a mile wide and an inch deep per usual have not bothered to discuss this or have not noticed it and thus won’t write about it. Or at least until they are instructed to by the intelligence agencies, the military and/or key members of the House and Senate. And by instructed we mean manipulated because the media needs leaks and wants them (for both legitimate and cynical reasons) – but the tap has been turned off because the strategy was effective. Trump can bluster and threaten (causing enormous diplomatic consternation) but it is essentially a kind of performance art.
Instead we are treated to a new round of faux analysis in which Trump pivots to his left and makes deals with Chuck and Nancy and pundits fret about the dangers of trusting Trump and “making a deal with the devil.”
As creatures of the system who are wholly owned subsidiaries of the PACS and as tools of the junta and its allies Chuck and Nancy have no political vision beyond the next election cycle – which means the next round of fundraising which amounts to the same thing. Craven short-sighted, feckless, spineless, committed to maintaining power for the sake of power with all the effluvial charm of a backed up sewer, they offer no moral leadership and instead offer deals which they will translate into talking points to be fed to candidates rolling off the assembly line of Politics Incorporated.
Trump, controlled by his insanity, his dementia, his impulses, a victim of his stupidity and hubris has walked into a trap. Those who seek power are fools and those who achieve it are held hostage by it. Even individuals of talent and will ultimately are prisoners of ambition. In Trump’s case, pushed and pulled by the gang of morons who enabled him (the illusion of Bannon as a political Svengali has never been more apparent) he has managed to alienate his natural allies Ryan, McConnell & Co. He’ll pivot back to them and leave Chuck and Nancy without their political climax but it will be too late. No one trusts him and no one believes he has any sense of political commitment. And they all know he’s a figurehead desperately searching for a way to appear relevant. He’s a corpse and the machine is eating him. When Trump turns on the Democrats they will scream about his truculence and mendacity and score at the polls. When he turns on the Republicans the Democrats will bitch slap him and force him to make deals. The illusion of the maverick, the outsider, who will out-muscle the system has been exposed. The truth is that as an amateur with no legal experts to guide him Trump has stumbled from one self-inflicted wound to another.
The illusion of his legacy will be written in the context of North Korea. Avoid war and he’s a statesman. Get trapped in a war he’s either the mass murderer who presided over the incineration of an American city or Tokyo and Seoul or some combination of those nightmares. But regardless the truth is that he will have been told what to say and what to sign and what button to push while other people run the war and make all the decisions that matter.
The system has triumphed. As they said with unintended irony when they politically executed Nixon. The system works.
Postscript: The most recent leak regarding McMaster’s attempt to prevent leaks would seem to undermine the thesis of the rolling set of coups. But in truth, the leak of McMaster’s anti-leak memo to Buzzfeed reeks of an amateur looking to score with a media outlet and not of professionals looking to destabilize the regime and establish a junta.
See the details on the leak here:
For a stunning display of being right for all the wrong reasons and misreading the tea leaves see James Mann’s recent piece in The New York Review of Books in which he examines the rise of the military, the decline of civilian rule and the shadows of a military take-over.
While correct that the rise of the generals (specifically the three-headed junta currently running the government while the deranged figurehead continues with the pantomime that he is in charge) represents a frightening change from the SOP of the already on-life-support faux republic, he is comically wrong to think that Trump selected them. Mann maintains the illusion (one is reluctant to say delusion and yet…) that the three generals were put in position by Trump. Nothing could be further from the truth. He also says nothing about the ferociously steady flow of damaging leaks that destabilized the regime’s first few months and most significantly, like everyone else in the media, he ignores the enormous dog that didn’t bark fact that the leaks have stopped.
He says nothing about the intelligence agencies and no doubt he avoids mentioning them because to invoke the shadowy power of the professional goons is to fear that one has strayed (or will be accused of having strayed) into the realm of internet conspiracists who gnash their teeth over the “deep state” as if it were a cross between the Dread Pirate Roberts and a Pynchon novel. Except of course the history of the intelligence agencies is so well established that to suggest they are not or have not been involved is really not only not a serious proposition it is in a way, almost cute in its willful naiveté – like a child stomping about in their parent’s shoes. And as we’ve made clear the single most important point in support of the intelligence agencies being involved in what for all intents and purposes is a coup, is that the leaks have stopped.
Here’s a key quote from Mann’s article (emphasis added):
“But for now there is scant evidence that the military is pushing to increase its political influence. Trump’s three generals didn’t seek out the civilian jobs they now hold, collectively or individually. Trump chose to put them there.”
The only part of that one could say is accurate is that they didn’t ask for the assignments but being patriots (as it is understood and defined in the world of DC politics) they saluted, said yes sir(s) and have set about doing their duty which primarily comes down to preventing Trump from doing anything precipitous – or, frankly, doing anything at all except ranting and raving and acting out in the manner of a deranged pathological narcissist and enraged infant.*
See the article in full here:
*And to add another layer to this context we observe the following.
1. Trump, frustrated in his attempts to start a war with North Korea lashed out in another direction and demanded his staff find some red meat to throw at him. The solution? Trump was ginned up and pointed at the NFL.
2. Unable to lead the charge on health care “reform” he lashed out again and over the past few weeks, beset by repeated displays of political impotence and incompetence (hurricanes seem to pose a particular dilemma to the empathetically challenged Republicans) Trump has gone looking for another fight.
3. This brings us not only to his threats to decertify the agreement with Iran but crucially the language he used and the manner in which he used it.
4. When asked what he would do about Iran, he said, both critically and ominously, “You’ll see.”
5. This is as clear an indication as we’ve had of a serious pathology at work in Trump’s personality. Pushed into a corner and then again into another corner, as if he were inside an infinite set of political nesting dolls, Trump’s utterly fragile ego, must lash out as a means to protect himself from crippling anxiety and fear of being powerless. But it is not enough to act – he must first hold his parents and the government and the nation and the world hostage in what he believes is a state of terror – what, he believes, the world asks, will he do? What majestic, awesome display of phallic power will he unleash?
6. Will he strike North Korea? Will he strike Iran? Will he grab’m by the pussy? Or will he do nothing except rant as the “adults in the room” go about the business of circumventing his unhinged episodes of infantile rage? The answer of course is that the adults will, and have, done just that. Reports have surfaced that the junta has worked out a compromise that will allow Trump to assert that he has demonstrated his power/prowess by politically bitch-slapping the Iranians (in a way that not only soothes his insanity but will placate and gin up his atavistic moronic base who know nothing about how the world actually works and will go on ingesting the political crack Trump is selling – a sort of he makes the trains run on time con job) while in reality, maintaining a diplomatic Frankenstein’s monster – it’s alive! – it will sooth the Iranians, calm the already anxious Europeans (who, between Brexit, Catalonia and the rise of the right in Germany are having their worst few years since the last time they had a collective nervous breakdown) and maintain the general sense that indeed, the grown-ups are still running the show.
7. And last but by no means least, as an example of Mann’s narrow construction, it is crucial to consider the spate of accidents and reports of low morale among US Navy personnel in the Pacific. The most likely reason for the at sea collisions and reports of low morale, is up-tempo deployments as the Navy is maintaining a state of readiness that amounts to a war-footing or a near war-footing in response to the crisis with North Korea. The idea that the mandarins in the Senate and the House, or the intelligence agencies, the Joint Chiefs, the junta, State Department and the commanders at or near the tip of the spear are unmindful of the fact that turning to Trump in a moment of crisis is (to borrow a phrase) akin to running to the bridge of the titanic, after its hit the iceberg, only to discover that the captain is Daffy Duck, is absurd. As a result, clearly, the truth is Trump is insane, he is in charge of nothing, and the “adults” in the room and elsewhere, are doing everything short of shooting him or declaring him non compos mentis, in an order to keep him distracted and convinced of his own relevance and power.
There was a coup. The junta and its allies are running the government. How that plays out is a set of questions for another time.
When it suits their interests, the media will start screaming that the sky is falling and that Trump is going get us all killed; that there is no one to stop him from launching the nukes.
When that doesn’t fit the agenda they will pretend they never said anything to the contrary and treat us to the fact that Trump has consistently bowed to the de facto military junta running the country (Mattis and Kelly now that McMaster is gone though the Joint Chiefs must be factored into the equation of forces containing and constraining Trump’s insanity and stupidity).
In the article linked below the Guardian tries to have it both ways declaring on the one hand that Mattis “saved the day” and is in effect running the show but, no one can stop Trump if he orders a nuclear attack. The truth of course is both more blunt and more subtle. No one, least of senior military officers would publicly admit that the chain of command is an idea rather than a fact because of the chaos and ensuing constitutional crisis (not to mention the uranium shit pile Putin, and Xi would drop while the rest of the world’s nuclear powers (including the paranoid’s paranoid, North Korea) would shit as they calculate the odds of who’s first on the target list.
Secondly, ambiguity is their friend. Neither confirming nor denying the presence of nuclear weapons on board US Navy vessels has long been SOP. Essentially the same holds true for the current state of chaos emanating from the Trump regime. No one, not the empty togas of the Senate nor the decadent House, nor the intelligence thugs want anyone to think that there’s a break in the chain of command.
The idea that Trump’s behavior hasn’t been calculated into the chain of command and that the cogs in the machine would just say hail caesar and morph into just so many Major King Kongs and ride the bombs down to ground zero isn’t plausible though it is, in a macabre sense, amusing.
Notice that the media, in typical mile wide inch deep fashion, never actually presents the details of this nightmare scenario. Instead the implication is that, simply, and in keeping with the blunt facts of Trump’s insanity, he just rolls off the toilet one morning, and tweets that he’s ordering a nuclear attack on…fill in the blank.
Except of course he has to ask for the “football” which would instantly set off both alarms and questions.
The first and most important of which would be that while in theory Trump can just give the command, the fact is absent provocation or evidence of a threat warranting a US nuclear strike, the senior officers are required to ask the president why he’s giving the order or to ask each other what if anything their intelligence assets can confirm. A check of various resources, and world flashpoints would reveal nothing of such a serious nature and confronted by this, Trump would have signed his own political death sentence as it would be prima facie evidence that the 25th amendment was in need of being invoked to remove a manifestly insane man from the job.
In terms of precedent, consider that Kissinger and Schlesinger ordered the military to ignore any orders they received from a then pill-popping and drunk Nixon until they had been verified. Additionally, on multiple occasions Soviet officers refused to launch their missiles because they did not believe what various computer systems were reporting and asa result, showed the kind of individual initiative that belied the stereotypes associated with rigid Soviet command and control.
Of course stereotypes are really what this is about. The Guardian as a sort of poster child for media’s inability to see the military as anything but a Strangelovian contraption is locked into a narrow vision. That vision confirms their sense of virtue and no information that is contrary to that is admissible. As we have maintained from day one, the real danger posed by Trump is the elision of civil and democratic norms as well as the ongoing collapse of the environment. Relatively low intensity conflicts will continue and even may increase but the idea of Trump pushing the button remains mercifully unlikely.