In normal days, the appointment of a tough and gruff four-star U.S. Marines general such as John Kelly as White House chief of staff, someone who disdains journalists, hounds illegal immigrants and is a stickler for order and discipline would have sparked widespread criticism and protest, especially in liberal circles. But in the days of Donald Trump’s wanton anarchy, Kelly’s appointment is being received as divine intervention, an answer to prayers, a last chance to save America from carnage and ruin.
Only one general has served in this post in the past. That was Alexander Haig, who was summoned for duty in 1973 at the height of the Watergate scandal, when Richard Nixon’s presidency was staring to fall apart. Kelly should keep in mind that even though Haig thought he would put the White House in order and maintain a semblance of presidential normalcy despite the clouds gathering over Nixon, he was increasingly identified as an accomplice to Nixon’s efforts to cover up the crime and escape punishment. On the other hand, Trump should keep in mind that Haig did more than anyone else to convince Nixon to resign in August 1974, to save America and return Washington to normalcy.
The craziness that has engulfed the American capital in recent days is certainly on a par with the lunacy of Nixon’s last days and may even exceed them, at least in its unfolding and unhinged pace. If Israeli commentator Amnon Abramovich described Benjamin Netanyahu’s conduct in recent days as vertigo, then Trump has already reached a stage of amok. A few hours before he humiliated outgoing chief of staff Reince Priebus by tweeting his replacement by Kelly, Trump urged policemen in New York to use violence when they make arrests. A few hours earlier, Trump and the Republicans suffered a stinging political loss when three renegade Republican lawmakers, including a defiant John McCain, shot down seven years of GOP promises to replace or at least repeal Obamacare. Concurrently, The New Yorker published Trump’s Director of Communications Anthony Scaramucci’s stream of offensiveness in which he badmouthed, excuse the expression, other White House officials in words that could make even coarse sailors blush.
And this comes in the same week (who can remember, let alone keep up?) that Trump suddenly decreed transgender people could not serve in the army, that he spoke to tens of thousands of Boy Scouts as if they were huddled together in a smelly locker room. And, oh yeah, the same week in which he tormented his number one supporter, Jeff Sessions, for essentially not sabotaging the ongoing investigation of his questionable if not criminal ties to Russia.
Kelly now faces mission impossible, taking control of a White House that hasn’t been under control from the moment Trump took over on January 20 of this year. He will try to rein in prima donnas like Scaramucci and Steve Bannon, who won’t give up their direct line to Trump without a fight, while dissuading Trump from continuing his perpetual purge and firing the other White House general, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. He will have to rebuild trust between Trump and Republican lawmakers, which has started to disintegrate, as witnessed in the Russia sanctions bill that was passed by an overwhelming majority, to Trump’s obvious displeasure. Amazingly, Trump has reached such low approval ratings that even meek Republicans who would like nothing more than to kowtow to their party’s leader are asking themselves whether they wouldn’t do better by defying him instead of supporting him.
And Kelly will be called upon to get Trump’s act together at a time of mounting international tensions surrounding North Korea and its defiant missile tests. There can be no doubt that foreign leaders who have been following Trump’s meshugas in recent days are less than confident, to put it mildly, that he is the U.S. president who can handle Pyongyang’s nuclear challenge without incinerating East Asia in the process.
Trump’s traditional Saturday morning Twitter-storm, which erupted within the hour of Kelly’s appointment, made it clear that he hasn’t learned anything, hasn’t forgotten anything and has no intention of changing his ways. He blamed everyone but himself for the health care debacle. He cited a Fox News report to claim, astonishingly, that Russia was actually opposed to his election, a claim contradicting evidence, common sense and the U.S. intelligence community. He showed Kelly how hard the task he’s taken on will be, even for a decorated and battle-trained Marine. Many people are now hoping that Kelly will be the cavalry that comes to the rescue of America, and that, like Haig, he will be U.S. President in practice. Trump, however, is no Nixon, and, in the long run, he’s unlikely to take orders or advice from someone he describes as “my general." That means from the moment Kelly takes charge in the West Wing on Monday, his days are numbered and his failure, barring divine intervention, is a foregone conclusion.
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