Much like a supermassive black hole, Glenn Houlihan believes Donald Trump’s echo chamber is threatening to consume its surroundings, reducing the White House to a flaccid band of yes-men and devoid of meaningful political thought.
With a life expectancy roughly the same as England’s World Cup hopes, it’s easy to wonder why anyone would proactively seek employment in President Trump’s Russian-roulette flavoured White House. Indeed, 21 prominent figures have been fired or resigned from the turbulent administration. Anthony Scaramucci’s extraordinary 10-day reign remains the embodiment of this disarray, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo swiftly curtailed by the unforgiving hand of John Kelly. However, this seemingly chronic entropy may be masking a genuinely effective strategy by Trump to consolidate power into one source: himself.
When Trump organized his first cabinet, he had favours to repay, and a party to reunite. In came the GOP incarnate, Reince Priebus, pallid puppeteer Steve Bannon, and energy guru Rex Tillerson. Each of these represented something Trump needed; each of these represented something he came to loathe. Priebus, who enjoyed the briefest tenure as permanent Chief of Staff in history, recently told author Chris Whipple “Take everything you’ve heard and multiply it by 50”. Collateral in the ill-fated Scaramucci saga, Priebus failed to exert significant influence over Trump, and his departure was unceremoniously announced on Twitter by the President.
P45 via tweet soon emerged as Trump’s favoured methodology, with Tillerson also falling on the social media sword this month. The oil baron’s pointedly halfhearted attempts to dispute the ‘moron’ accusations proved fatal, and the White House’s “voice of reason” was dismissed online without being offered a personal explanation. Barron’s demise was less obvious, but still foreshadowed; he dared claim a portion of responsibility for Trump’s election victory. In fact, as the President emotionally asserted in a rambling statement, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency”. Here we see Trump’s allies – through a combination of circumstance and self-destruction – plummet in his estimations. And, as we have also learned, if you’re not with him 100% you might as well not be with him at all.
Brief recap aside, it’s Trump’s new appointments which substantially support this power seizure thesis. Incoming Secretary of State, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, aligns much closer to Trump’s America First agenda than his beleaguered predecessor. Pompeo has publically entertained the benefits of a regime change in North Korea, dismissed the idea that Russian interference in the 2016 election affected the outcome, and called the Iran nuclear deal “disastrous”. Framing the Iran deal in decidedly Trump-friendly terms last July, Pompeo said “They don’t pay the rent, you call them, and then they send a check and it doesn’t clear. And then the next day, there’s this tired old sofa in the front yard.”
It’s much the same story with John R. Bolton, Trump’s pick to replace Gen. H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor. Less than a month before his appointment, the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal laying out the legal case for striking North Korea first. The headline to a 2015 piece for The New York Times reads “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” His aggressive, sovereign-centric politics, dismissed as mutually harmful by the Obama administration, have once again found a home in the White House. It seems, just as David Ignatius suggests, that Trump is putting the final touches to a war cabinet.
Taken together, these nominations risk further destabilizing the Middle East and rendering the North Korea negotiations – which already feel more like egotistical theatre than a substantive attempt at policy formulation – inert. Much like a black hole, Trump’s echo chamber threatens to consume its surroundings, reducing the White House to a flaccid band of yes-men. Now, with Tillerson and McMaster out the door, Trump has extinguished the flickering embers of dissenting rationale.
By deliberately discarding these counterbalances, the President is freeing himself to take unilateral ownership of the country’s foreign policy. If precedent is anything to go by, his capriciousness could ignite war in both the Middle East and Northeast Asia.