Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve watched Trump alienate our NATO and G7 allies, pull out of the Paris Climate Accord and re-instate his call for a travel ban. These are all moves that come from the white nativist Bannonites in the administration.
It wasn’t that long ago that a lot of people were consoling themselves with the idea that, while this administration seemed intent on following through with many of Trump’s nativist domestic policies, the so-called “adults” were still in charge of foreign policy. As Susan Glasser notes, that group is known as MM&T: Mattis, McMaster and Tillerson. But she writes today that, while they were consulted on his speech to NATO leaders, they were left out of the decision to alter it at the last minute to exclude language reaffirming a commitment to Article 5.
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all supported Trump doing so and had worked in the weeks leading up to the trip to make sure it was included in the speech, according to five sources familiar with the episode. They thought it was, and a White House aide even told the New York Times the day before the line was definitely included.
It was not until the next day, Thursday, May 25, when Trump started talking at an opening ceremony for NATO’s new Brussels headquarters, that the president’s national security team realized their boss had made a decision with major consequences – without consulting or even informing them in advance of the change.
For months we read accounts of the arguments going on in the White House about whether or not to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate agreement. On one side were the “adults” mentioned above, along with Ivanka and Jared Kushner. On the other side were the nativists led by Steve Bannon. Once again, the latter prevailed.
In the wake of the London terror attack, Trump basically attacked the Mayor of London and on Twitter this morning dissed his own Justice Department.
Obviously, the “original Travel Ban” was the brainchild of the Bannonites.
In other words, the faction in the White House that appeared to be losing the factional battles sometimes referred to as the “Game of Thrones,” is once again on the rise. It is worth noting why that happened.
I would suggest that all of this has more to do with what I wrote about last week than it does with the persuasive powers of Steve Bannon. Donald Trump is feeling threatened and that has created a downward spiral in which he will become increasingly dangerous.
Trump is now dealing with criticism on both the global and domestic front and is lashing out. That creates the kind of spiral Joshua Grubbs, a researcher who writes about narcissism, alluded to recently. He tweeted, “Narcissistic spiraling happening right in front of us. Each attempt to bolster his ailing ego leads to another, graver self-inflicted injury.” He could have added that each grave self-inflicted injury leads to another challenge to his ailing ego. Do you see the spiral? While Trump lashes out to blame others, it is his own Narcissistic Personality Disorder that is creating the crisis—from which there is no turning back.
That is exactly how Josh Marshall characterized the Paris decision.
Trump is scared. He’s entering a a widening gyre of political crisis over Russia. He’s scared and he’s angry and he needs friends. So he’s more and more likely to hug his base – both the most aggressive advisors and the most committed supporters…Indeed, we can take it as a given that as the Russia scandal crisis deepens Trump will become more aggressive and more extreme in his policies both to maintain his emotional equilibrium and reinforce his backing from a shrinking base of supporters. This is as certain as night follows day…
The entire outcome was driven by the President’s current, besieged, emotional state.
This is precisely why it has always been important to talk about Trump’s mental health. As has often been acknowledged, he isn’t someone who is driven by ideology. So discussions related to policy analysis of his actions will never be productive. Instead, he is driven by his world view, as described by Tony Schwartz.
To survive, I concluded from our conversations, Trump felt compelled to go to war with the world. It was a binary, zero-sum choice for him: You either dominated or you submitted. You either created and exploited fear, or you succumbed to it.
The President of the United States is now in full survival mode and feels compelled to go to war with the world—even those in his own administration whom he sees as a threat. That position just so happens to align perfectly with Steve Bannon’s agenda right now. The only remaining question is how long MM&T will be willing to play along.