It is difficult to keep up with the pace of resignations from President Donald Trump’s Cabinet and senior team. The waters of failure have been rising rapidly around the White House, and men and women are jumping overboard one after the other. Trump can be seen in his private chambers, pacing from one end of the room to the other, listening to Fox News, tweeting feverishly. Resignations are like betrayal to him. He takes everything personally. It is an opportunity to attack the person who departs. There is no dignity here. The official who resigns must be pilloried. He must not be allowed to leave with his head held high. His chin must fall to his toes.
The most recent senior person to quit the Trump team is Defence Secretary James Mattis. The liberal press had hoped that Mattis would be the “adult” in the room, reining in Trump’s conspiratorial views. That was a curious hope for Mattis, who was fired as head of the United States Central Command in 2013 by President Barack Obama for his hawkish and unbalanced views on Iran. But, in the Trump White House, there were few people who could be thought of as reasonable. Matters are so drastic there that it was Mattis who was seen as the person who might halt cascading wars. Trump despised news reports that painted Mattis as the “adult”. He found these reports to be foul. He found Mattis to be supercilious as a result. It was inevitable that Mattis would have to leave.
Mattis, whom Trump celebrated for his nickname (Mad Dog), resigned over Trump’s policy in Syria. Trump had decided to pull out the few thousand U.S. troops that provided an umbrella around the U.S’ ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces, and provided a wall between Iraq and Syria. It was this wall that prevented Iran from easy access from its borders through Iraq into Syria and Lebanon. With the U.S. troops’ departure, Iran will be able to move men and material easily through West Asia, a possibility that changes the balance of forces in the region against Israel. This is what Mattis observed, and this is why he had to go. Trump’s statement that Mattis had been “ingloriously fired” by Obama, came in handy to malign him as he was on his way out.
Lazy as Hell
Harshness is Trump’s way. When a person works for him, that person is “terrific” and is “doing a great job”. When the person resigns, they are thrown to the gutter. Former Exxon head Rex Tillerson was Trump’s Secretary of State. Trump praised him as a “world class player and a deal maker”. Tillerson’s mode of operation was always going to be different from that of Trump. He was a cigar and cognac type of corporate executive, who brought that old-world masculinity to the world of diplomacy. Trump brings a different aesthetic. His is a world of crudity—harsh talk and hard backslapping. When Tillerson left, Trump said that Tillerson was as “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell”. It was not enough to say that they had differences of opinion or that Tillerson had moved along to another opportunity. Trump had to destroy his character. That is the Trump way.
What set Trump off was Tillerson’s speech about the Trump White House. Tillerson said that Trump “doesn’t like reading briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things”. He had, apparently, called Trump a “moron”. This had annoyed Trump, who said that he would be willing to challenge Tillerson to an IQ test. Tillerson said that Trump liked to push policies based on his beliefs—often without foundation. He recalled Trump telling him to do all kinds of things that were against the law. Trump was not interested in the law. He wanted everything his way or he would push the obstructive official out of the way. There was no room for debate, only action, action desired by Trump. This view of the Trump White House is what provoked the tweet about Tillerson. It was Trump’s revenge.
Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee decided to retire earlier this year. A Republican with a reliable right-wing voting record, Corker had set himself an impossible task as a critic of Trump. The White House, he had said, is an “adult day care centre” and Trump, he warned, might take the world into “World War III”. Corker had also played a role in getting the Senate to agree to the Iran deal. Trump had used that deal to attack Corker. Trump, on twitter, called Corker “Incompetent” and named him “Liddle Bob Corker”. After Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, Corker said this was a mistake. That unleashed the most recent Trump twitter barrage.
Corker had said that he was leaving the Senate after two terms because that is what he had promised his constituency. Trump wanted none of it. “This is not true,” he said. Corker is leaving “when I wouldn’t endorse him” for re-election. Trump’s tweets are often filled with spelling mistakes.
In this one, he spells privileged as “priveledged”. Auto-correct is not for him. Nor for his supporters. This is his claim to being authentic, unscripted, a man of the people, or at least the middle class.
Tillerson bemoaned the culture of the U.S., where he felt people were guided by social media such as Twitter. This is what Trump knows. “Truth” is not something that is necessarily meaningful in the world of 140 characters. Sharp statements, bold assertions, toxic attitudes: this is the mode of Twitter.
It suits Trump. It enables him to beat down his opponents and glorify himself. Spelling errors and exclamation points govern his tweets. They are easily mocked, but they are also along the grain of the form. Trump does not sound like a man of his class, learned and aloof. He sounds like a small businessman, frustrated by the operations of the monopoly corporation, angry at government regulation, ready to hit someone to get ahead. This is middle-class rage, encapsulated by the Tea Party.
Prejudices of the privileged middle class define Trump. These are members of the Rotary Club and of Toastmasters International. These are men who blame everyone else if they do not succeed. They blame governments, certainly, but also “liberals” and “women” and others who stand in their way. They wear blue suits for their Christmas cards, their sons dress like them, their daughters like their mothers. These are men who like to speak plainly and whose turn at the podium at Toastmasters, flipping one index card to the next, might very well sound like a series of Trump tweets. When these men fire their employees, they blame the employees for their incompetence. The men themselves are never to blame.
Trump is not the President of the “white working class”, as is so often said in the liberal media. He is the President of these men, men whose businesses flourish from cronyism and men who would prefer to play golf rather than read a book.