The firing of H.R. McMaster and naming of John Bolton as national security advisor marks a critical juncture in the Trump presidency. The president has now rid himself of almost all the figures who might reasonably be called pragmatic conservatives; those who previously restrained him from his worst impulses. With Tillerson, McMaster and Gary Cohn out, replaced by true believers in the nationalist-populist cause like Pompeo, Bolton and Kudlow, the Trump presidency is now stripped down to a pure, distilled version. Just like neoconservatives once demanded, “let Reagan be Reagan,” now Trump can be truly his own (crazy) man.
He can fire Robert Mueller (and I hope he does–more on this below). He can bomb North Korea and Iran. Or give the Israelis the green light to attack the latter. He can build bigger and ‘better’ nuclear weapons. He an put ever more lethal, expensive weapons systems in the hands of his generals. He can ship some of them off to his Wahabi pals to kill more Yemenis and Syrians, and possibly Iranians. He can turn his back on European allies and even meet with Vlad to cheer old times and new adventures.
Anyone reading might wonder where all this contrarianness comes from. Cynical? Yes. Dangerous? Yes. Unreasonable? No. There is, in my opinion, only one way to destroy Trump: let him do his worst. Let him run the Constitution ragged. Let him revile trusted institutions like the FBI and justice system. Let him fire the only bulwarks between him and chaos (Mueller). Let him impose draconian tariffs and bring on a trade war with China. Bring the nation and the economy to brink of disaster. The closer we come the better.
To be clear (and to paraphrase Winston Churchill, Bibi’s favorite warmonger): this is not the end, not even the beginning of the end. But perhaps it is the end of the beginning leading eventually to Trump’s fall.
Some reading this will say: what’s to stop him from bringing down the temple as Samson did to the Philistines? Certainly not the Republicans, who seem to be either lapping up his performance; or standing back with mouth agape at how quickly one person could do so much damage to an entire country. If Trump does fire Mueller, a few of them have warned that it would be an impeachable offense. Well, we’ll see how true to their word they are. The republic, thankfully, doesn’t depend on the GOP to save it.
In 2018, we will have a mid-term election. The worse Trump does, the more damage he inflicts, the worse the outcome for Republicans. But, I hear you say, what guarantee is there that Democrats will do much better? Agreed. The Democratic Party is a fragmented mess. The corporatists control many of the levers of power. The hostility they offer toward the populists is unremitting. This guarantees a Party that has no compelling vision other than gaining power and keeping it (without having any platform that would resonate with any large cross section of Americans, as Bernie Sanders does). Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are Exhibits A and B in this regard.
But even if Democrats are given control of one or both Houses of Congress, at least they can exercise a strong brake on Trump’s worst impulses. That offers an opportunity to Sanders or another populist presidential candidate to win the presidency in 2020. If instead, the Democrats offer another milquetoast candidate like Clinton who excites no one, then they will have only themselves to blame. But at least it won’t be Trump.
If Trump is impeached (unlikely) or drubbed in the 2020 election, I predict that by 2021 there won’t be a single American who will admit having voted for him. He will fade into the dustbin of history, to quote John Brennan’s memorable phrase. The question will be, how lasting the damage to the country his presidency will have been. There will undoubtedly be long-term damage. Even the worst, most incompetent presidents leave a legacy that impacts policy and governance for those that follow. My hope is that the next president will quickly undo almost every policy Trump put in place, leaving his presidency like a nightmare from which we seek to awaken.
An addendum on Bolton: it occurs to me that his new role in the Trump White House will pose some of the same conflicts of interest which Flynn faced, and which caused him to run afoul of the special counsel. Bolton has numerous financial and lobbying interests he’s pursued while out of office (and perhaps even when he was in office). Who has he taken money from and what did he do for the money he earned. Let’s analyze his financial disclosure forms closely. Either what’s in them or what’s omitted from them could make or break this guy.
As an aside: I’m pleased to see that Bolton’s book, Surrender is Not an Option is for sale in hardcover on Amazon for 25¢. That’s right, $.25!!
Israel: May the Worst Man Win
I feel the same way about Israel. Once upon a time, I rooted for Labor to win enough mandates to form a governing coalition. It seemed the sane alternative to Likud. I don’t feel that way now. Labor hasn’t a hope in hell of winning anything. It’s a spent force. Nor do I want the relatively sane Rivlin-Begin faction of Likud to triumph (no danger of that since it’s been ousted from power anyway). Best to have the worst prime minister possible. Avigdor Lieberman? Sure. Naftali Bennett? You bet. Annexation and ethnic cleansing? Bring it on. If it was feasible I’d like Moshe Feiglin or Yehudah Glick to run the state. The worse the better.
It will take a major catastrophe to bring the world to its senses and persuade the powers that be that they must intervene before the madmen take over the asylum and blow it sky-high. Sad to say, that such a catastrophe may involve a massacre. It may involve a disastrous war in which thousands die. But in a nation run by sociopaths, it will take a disaster to provoke action.
Most human beings when faced by a psychopath would rather look away than intervene. It’s easier that way. That’s what constitutes the world’s response to Israeli aggression and brutalism. Why get involved? But once something like a Srebrenica happens in the Middle East, there will be no more looking the other way. So, though it seems totally contrarian to say so, I want the worst leaders and the worst decisions from Israel’s political-military echelon. And we likely will get them. That’s what’s so sad…
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.