This is one of those days when we are faced with the challenge of deciding which Trump outrage deserves our attention. Here are your choices:
- The administration is slow-walking aid to Puerto Rico as the situation there is desperate,
- The administration is working on ways to take health insurance away from millions of Americans,
- The administration thinks it benefits them to ignite racism in the form of the president’s attempt to deny free speech to NFL athletes, or
- The president might have ignited a war with North Korea because of his ignorant name-calling and threats.
This is what has made life in the Trump era exhausting for many of us…one outrage erupts before we’ve had time to process the last one. I reject anyone who suggests that one of these issues is nothing more than a distraction from another. They are all assaults on our democracy, stability, and security.
But there is some reporting on that fourth one that could provide a bit of a nexus for understanding the rest. As we’ve seen, the president has taken to calling Kim Jong-un “rocket man,” and tweeting threats about North Korea. Last week, during his speech to the UN General Assembly, Trump said this:
The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary.
We now know that he was counseled against saying that.
Senior aides to President Trump repeatedly warned him not to deliver a personal attack on North Korea’s leader at the United Nations this week, saying insulting the young despot in such a prominent venue could irreparably escalate tensions and shut off any chance for negotiations to defuse the nuclear crisis.
Trump’s derisive description of Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” on “a suicide mission” and his threat to “totally destroy” North Korea were not in a speech draft that several senior officials reviewed and vetted Monday, the day before Trump gave his first address to the U.N. General Assembly, two U.S. officials said.
Some of Trump’s top aides, including national security advisor H.R. McMaster, had argued for months against making the attacks on North Korea’s leader personal, warning it could backfire.
But Trump, who relishes belittling his rivals and enemies with crude nicknames, felt compelled to make a dramatic splash in the global forum.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this is why someone captured Chief of Staff John Kelly in a face palm during that speech.
The former Marine Corp general was specifically given his current job to reign in outbursts like this from the president. He was supposed to be “the enforcer.” But obviously he’s failing at that job. In other words, when it comes to the power centers in the White House, the generals have been losing ground to the white nationalists, even after Steve Bannon was ejected.
You might wonder what white nationalism has to do with North Korea. To understand the connection, you have to be aware of the fact that Trump’s racism, sexism and xenophobia all stem from his need to dominate. That is his core. None of the other power centers in the White House speak to that core the way the white nationalists do. They not only get it, they feed it.
John Kelly’s job of trying to contain this core element of what makes Trump tick was doomed to fail from the get-go. The president is flailing desperately trying to maintain his sense of dominance over a world that is increasingly out of his control. That goes for everything from hurricanes to a dysfunctional Congress, to ungrateful (read: “uppity“) black athletes, to a petty dictator armed with nuclear weapons. And we haven’t even gotten to the ultimate threat to Trump’s dominance—the Mueller investigation.
From the beginning I’ve been saying that this will not get any better, but can only get worse. Bringing John Kelly in to try to keep a lid on things might have been a last-ditch effort to prevent that from happening. It didn’t work.