This Situation Is More Dire Than I Want to Admit

Anyone who writes daily for a living is going to occasionally have periods when writing doesn’t come easily. Every once in a while, you won’t feel like writing. Maybe you just want to veg out or do something normal. Maybe you can’t find anything truly inspiring to discuss. Maybe your creative juices get depleted and need to be recharged.

I have a different problem. I want to write and have plenty to write about. I just don’t want to say what I feel I have to say.

Call it a heavy heart or something too close to despondency. Call it an uneasiness with stating plainly what is growing painfully obvious. I’m naturally inclined toward calm and suspicious of hyperbole. If I find my political heat boiling too quickly, I tend not to trust myself and to doubt the value or utility of what I have to say.

I have to toss those reservations aside to make commentary on the state of our nation. This is a five-alarm fire, and anything I might say about it can hardly match what even some Republicans are already saying. For example, Eliot Cohen has taken a tone that is so dire and vituperative that it would be very difficult for a liberal like myself to surpass.

Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity—substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have. It will not be surprising in the slightest if his term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment. The sooner Americans get used to these likelihoods, the better.

Cohen served as Condoleezza Rice’s counselor at the State Department from 2007 to 2009. He’s a neoconservative hawk whose career has been tightly linked with Paul Wolfowitz. In 1997, he cofounded the notorious Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an organization that pushed relentlessly for war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. He served as a puppet of Dick Cheney’s propaganda war, arguing on television for Cheney’s pet theories that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague and that Hussein had other ties to the 9/11 attacks. He opposed the nomination of Chuck Hagel to serve as Secretary of Defense under President Obama because he thought he wouldn’t be tough enough on Iran.

Over the years, I have thought of Cohen as a kind of poster boy for the banality of evil, as he played with others’ lives in a cavalier way, always advocating more and more violence without ever considering the possibility of his own hubris or weighing sufficiently the downside risks of the policies he advocated. Were he to make a foreign policy recommendation, I would greet it with immense skepticism. But he’s making an assessment of our new president’s character, and he’s doing it from a position where he has access to insights that I don’t enjoy.

Cohen was a vocal part of the conservative #NeverTrump team during the primaries and even the general election. Despite that, he was quickly tapped after Trump’s victory to give staffing advice for the incoming administration’s national security team. In a November 15th column, he explained why he had to back out of that arrangement.

The short version is that Cohen, who had initially “urged career officials to serve in Trump’s administration,” was contacted by “a longtime friend and senior transition team official (who) asked him to submit names of possible national security appointees.” In one case, he mentioned a name of someone who was wary of serving under Trump and therefore “would not submit a résumé but would listen if contacted.” In response, Cohen’s friend sent a “very weird, very disturbing” email:

“It was accusations that ‘you guys are trying to insinuate yourselves into the administration…all of YOU LOST.’…it became clear to me that they view jobs as lollipops, things you give out to good boys and girls,” said Cohen, who would not identify his friend…His friend’s email conveyed the feeling that ‘we’re so glad to see the bicoastal elites get theirs,’” added Cohen, who described the response as “unhinged.”

At that point Cohen switched gears and advised no one who valued their reputation and integrity to serve Trump at least until they saw “who gets the top jobs.”

Until then, let the Trump team fill the deputy assistant secretary and assistant secretary jobs with civil servants, retired military officers and diplomats, or the large supply of loyal or obsequious second-raters who will be eager to serve. The administration may shake itself out in a year or two and reach out to others who have been worried about Trump. Or maybe not.

Since Trump’s inauguration, Cohen has taken a harder line, culminating with the piece he wrote yesterday. Here’s his assessment of where we’re headed in a hand basket (including the part already cited above).

Trump, in one spectacular week, has already shown himself one of the worst of our presidents, who has no regard for the truth (indeed a contempt for it), whose patriotism is a belligerent nationalism, whose prior public service lay in avoiding both the draft and taxes, who does not know the Constitution, does not read and therefore does not understand our history, and who, at his moment of greatest success, obsesses about approval ratings, how many people listened to him on the Mall, and enemies…

…Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity—substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have. It will not be surprising in the slightest if his term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment. The sooner Americans get used to these likelihoods, the better.

Of course, I ended last week with a similar set of conclusions, including an invocation of the 25th Amendment as the only way out of this disaster. And that was before Trump unveiled his Muslim Ban and spurred nationwide domestic protest and international condemnation.

I don’t want to adopt this shrill and alarmist tone, but I hope at least it can be recognized as something different from partisan dissatisfaction with the results of an election I thought and hoped would go in the other direction. Cohen and I couldn’t be more different in our personal politics or our foreign policy priorities, and yet we’re singing from the exact same hymnal on Trump. Keep in mind, the likely remedy for this situation would make Mike Pence our president which means that most of the consequences of losing the election that I don’t like wouldn’t be mitigated and, in many cases, might even be exacerbated. I’m not looking to escape the natural consequences of an election, as much as I might wish things had turned out differently in November. I honestly do not think this country can endure a four-year term of Trump as our president, and the prospects for worldwide calamity are so great that I can’t avoid saying very radical sounding things about where we stand and what must be done.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.