A partial government shutdown looms as of this writing. But in many ways, government — or at least governance under President Donald Trump — hasn’t been fully functional since his inauguration.
This has been apparent to any rational analyst of this White House, although this week’s news seemed to amplify the failures.
The week began with news of two separate U.S. Senate reports detailing the depths of Russia’s attack on our democracy, in which trolls tied to the Kremlin deployed social media to spread antisocial missives aimed at deepening social divides, especially on race.
These assaults accelerated once Trump took office, perhaps in defense of the Kremlin’s preferred president, who now faces at least 17 investigations into nearly every entity of his political, business and, sadly, even charitable endeavors.
One of the many administration figures implicated was Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. Facing a Reagan-appointed judge on Tuesday, Flynn also faced the truth: “Arguably, you sold your country out,” U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said.
Flynn was once part of a quartet of core Trump appointees he liked to call “my generals.” One, H.R. McMaster, replaced Flynn, until Trump turned on him, just as he did with John Kelly, who resigned as Trump’s chief of staff.
The fourth, Jim Mattis, was the most consequential in Washington and world capitals alike because he represented American commitment to alliances and values. But the secretary of defense resigned on Thursday, reportedly unwilling to endorse Trump’s announcement (via Twitter, of course) of a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.
Trump justified his highly criticized move by claiming ISIS had been defeated. But that’s not true, something the president himself seemed to acknowledge when he later tweeted that Russia, Syria and Iran “will now have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us.”
Actually, those three countries’ leaders are elated with the U.S. pullout (“Donald’s right,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday), as they’ll now solidify the homicidal regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Our ostensible ally Turkey was pleased, too, in part so that it can soon attack America’s Kurdish allies. (They will be “buried in their trenches,” Turkey’s defense minister said a day after Trump’s withdrawal announcement.)
Alliances, including the 74-nation coalition against ISIS as well as the 29 NATO nations that were at the ready when America invoked the collective-defense Article 5 after 9/11, were at the heart of Mattis’s searing resignation letter. “One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships,” Mattis wrote. He added that there are growing threats for an isolated America. “It is clear that Russia and China, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions — to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies.”
Both Beijing and Moscow benefit from Washington’s paralysis and especially from Trump ceding global leadership, including another drawdown of troops and influence over allies’ objections, this time in Afghanistan.
Trump wouldn’t listen to Mattis on such matters, just like he’s rejected advice from other reasonable administration figures, allied leaders, and lawmakers. He does appear to listen to conservative commentators, however: Rush Limbaugh said the president “got word to him” he’d veto a bill without $5 billion for a border wall — a barrier Trump pledged Mexico would pay for, which is just one of the 7,546 false or misleading claims Trump has made since taking office, according to the Washington Post.
Other pundits whose riches depend on impoverishing civil discourse got to Trump, too. The lineup of provocateurs included Ann Coulter, who said on Wednesday that without a wall Trump’s tenure will be a “joke presidency.”
Few are laughing now, however, especially on Wall Street, where the Nasdaq entered a bear market and the Dow was down about 6 percent for the week. Main Street isn’t chuckling, either, especially in areas hit by Trump’s trade war with China. Or on any avenue in allied capitals, wondering if their forces could be as easily sold out as the Kurds were.
Trump is a “chaos candidate and would be a chaos president,” a prescient Jeb Bush said during the campaign. That’s never been more accurate than this week.