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Tillerson: I Will Continue to Serve Under the Moron

Thesis: If the U.S. secretary of state, in the presence of other cabinet members, calls the U.S. President a “moron,” he probably is a moron.

Trump selected Rex Tillerson for his position, with the lowest level of congressional support in recent history. A former Exxon CEO, Tillerson had no State Department experience. On the other hand, many breathed a sigh of relief that Trump had not nominated warmonger John Bolton for the post. Indeed as the cabinet materialized, politicians of both parties have praised Trump’s choices for defense secretary, secretary of national security, national security advisor, chief of staff (Priebus, then Kelly), etc. In comparison to him, they seemed mature, stable men, who could serve as his minders, curbing his wilder inclinations. Their very willingness to serve such a plainly unbalanced president struck some as admirable.

The dynamics of the situation are clear. The Democrats and the Democrat-controlled mainstream press want to blame Trump’s election on Russian “election meddling,” the current centerpiece of the argument the $100,000 (or $ 270,000) spent by certain Russians (mostly after the election, actually), allegedly, to place anti-Hillary articles (or just articles intended to “divide Americans” somehow, to help Trump). They have the Republican leadership on board. They have successfully revived Cold War passions to the extent that talking heads on cable news routinely refer to the Russians as “Soviets,” only sometimes correcting themselves or being corrected by the oblivious anchor. They have successfully stymied Trump’s efforts to improve relations with Russia.

Moscow is well aware of the power dynamic and complains that it is unclear who speaks for Washington on policy at this point. Pyongyang is reaching out for informal contacts with U.S. think tanks, to figure out the same thing. Both capitals are surely following the moron story, and Tillerson’s response to a reporter’s question Wednesday: “I’m not gonna deal with petty stuff like that… The places I come from we don’t deal with that petty nonsense.” (In other words, Yes, I said that, but it’s not important.) Tillerson emphasized that he fully intended to remain in his job, appreciating the advice of Vice President Pence. (Pence, it had been reported, convinced him to stay when he threatened to resign in July, following Trump’s preposterous effort to turn a jamboree of the Boy Scouts—which Tillerson once led—in West Virginia into a campaign rally.)

So now every world leader, including Putin and Xi who have met and assessed him personally, knows that the U.S. Secretary of State considers President Trump a moron. And Trump has apparently been convinced (despite his intense resentment at “disloyalty”) that he can’t fire Tillerson because that would be too embarrassing and throw U.S. foreign relations into further disorder.

Politically isolated, under constant media attack, enjoying record-low approval ratings, Trump is surrounded by generals and fellow billionaires who are always looking askance at him, always worrying what he’ll say next, concerned about his moronic qualities. The multiplicity of leaks from the White House indicates wide dissatisfaction among staffers. Thus Trump is under pressure from the ongoing bipartisan “Russia investigation” and from his own inner circle of officials who are worried he’ll do something crazy (like bomb North Korea and start World War III). Not that they can confront him directly.

Tony Schwarz, co-author of Trump’s Art of the Deal (1987) someone with unique insight into Trump’s mind, has just published a book describing the president as “unfit” and mentally ill. He says those around Trump don’t dare challenge him. He cannot accept criticism. He is surrounded by diffident staff who secretly fear and despise him, baby-sitters to a 71-year-old man who boasts he hasn’t changed since age 7.

This is an unprecedented situation. The Trump regime is not a consolidated fascist regime, as some contend. It’s not organized and efficient enough for that. Nor is it a regime of the Nixon, Reagan or Bush type, in which the president was surrounded by aides who at least felt respected. The White House is a house of gloom and humiliation, governed by an angry narcissist whose every empathetic gesture (like hugging flood victims) is stage-managed by handlers always on edge about what he’ll say to the child he hugs.

The most powerful man in the world is privately judged a moron by his own staffers. He is less a Nixon or Reagan than a Caligula or Nero, surrounded by bemused and nauseated senators.

Lenin described imperialism as the last stage of capitalism. That was 101 years ago. Capitalist imperialism is still with us; the socialisms initiated in 1917 are receding memories. The U.S. is bombing half a dozen countries and engaging in intense inter-capitalist rivalries, with Europe, China, Japan. It does so in an atmosphere of confusion produced by the personality of the U.S. president, which does not lend itself to facile analysis. Or psychoanalysis.

Sen. Bob Corker (Rep., Tennessee) said Wednesday that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “help separate our country from chaos.” Translation: They save our country, such as it is, from Trump’s unpredictable chaotic mind.

Thursday evening. A dinner at the White House for (Trump’s beloved) military leaders and their families. 5-piece marine corps band. Press suddenly called in for a photo opportunity. Trump with a broad smile declares out of the blue: “Do you guys know what this represents? Maybe it’s the calm before the storm. We have the greatest military people in this room, I will tell you that.”

What do you mean by “a storm,” a reporter asked. The smirking president replied, “You’ll find out.”

Quite likely no one around Trump knows what he’s talking about, other than a specifically military storm. The destruction of the Korean peninsula? That, even Steve Bannon says, is unthinkable. It’s moronic. But a moron president surrounded by ass-kissing staff makes it thinkable.

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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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