Is the President a Head Case?

Forget the Russia election collusion issue. It’s not going anywhere.

To bring down Trump, the mainstream media will use the mental health issue, or the general intelligence issue.

His own secretary of state referred to him as a “moron” in July after he told top officers at the Pentagon he wanted to return the U.S. nuclear force to its 1960s levels, oblivious to the fact that it had been reduced as a result of binding treaties and U.S. law. That’s pretty damning.

And the fourth most powerful Republican in the Senate and chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, has (1) stated that all that stands between the country and “chaos” is the triumvirate of Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Secretary of Defense “Mad Dog” Mattis; and (2) stated that Trump is setting the U.S. “on the path to World War III;” and (3) that the White House has become “an adult day care center” of handlers forced to contain this puerile president.

Trump responds with personal, vindictive tweaks (against “Liddle Bob”) accusing him of bitterness because Trump didn’t like him or support him enough.

Asked about the quarrel at a press conference Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan refused to take sides, suggesting this was a matter for the two men to resolve. He’s not going to condemn a respected lame-duck colleague for expressing alarm about Trump’s judgment and temperament. Trump may see this too as a betrayal.

So who are the triumvirate?

Kelly, Trump’s second chief of staff, is a career Army officer reportedly brought in to impose some discipline in the White House team since appointed July 31.  His first act was to dismiss Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director, and two weeks later he had Steve Bannon dropped as Chief Political Strategist. He has appeared glum at public appearances with the president, hugging himself and looking down listening to Trump’s remarks on Charlottesville Aug. 15 (when noted “many sides” involved, good people on both sides) or placing his head in his hands during Trump’s speech at the United Nations Sept. 19 (when he threatened to destroy North Korea).

This is no Doug Stamper (President Frank Underwood’s loyal chief-of-staff in House of Cards). This is someone whose sense of duty and career calculations inclined him to take the position. But one senses he is more loyal to the other two than to the big baby behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. 

Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC reports he is “miserable.” 

Tillerson as noted has, according to three witnesses, called Trump a “moron” on July 20, although the story only broke Oct. 4. He declined to deny it when asked directly about it the other day. Instead, he insisted that he had no intention of stepping down. It’s quite remarkable that, even after Trump had been told about the story and angrily confronted Tillerson—whom he has repeatedly insulted and undercut—about it, the secretary was able to survive because Trump was persuaded that to fire him would be very bad optics. And because Corker’s perception is in fact widespread among the Republican leadership, to say nothing of the Democrats and world leaders who perceive that Trump represents chaos.

(Think about that. Trump suddenly became aware that his secretary of state had for months secretly assessed him as a “moron” for his evident lack of basic knowledge. He is surely at some level aware of his deficiencies, but having repeatedly posited his exceptional IQ, has infinite faith in his ability to make the right decisions. He has stated that he doesn’t believe Tillerson called him a moron. But if he did, they should compare IQs, because Trump would win. Smirk.)

Mattis is commonly described as a highly erudite, successful Marine Corps general, very mainstream. Hardline on Iran and Russia. Coauthor of a counterinsurgency manual (for Iraq). Reads Marcus Aurelius. Not a moron. Knows basic stuff. Knows you can’t order a huge surge in the size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Knows you can’t strike North Korea without provoking the destruction of Seoul. Knows that foreign relations are more important than demanding black athletes suppress their righteous outrage against police oppression by standing proudly and deferentially during the playing of the national anthem, to show obedience to his order to their orders that they make them do so.

They know they’re working for a narcissist playing to a dangerous base. His response to the exposure of a mounting crisis in his presidency is to threaten NBC with license cancellation (although he has no authority to revoke any licenses).

They think: What will we do if he wants to push the button?

They Google-search at home late at night over Scotch: president removal methods.

They learn that according to the 25th Amendment if the cabinet requests the president’s removal, it could happen.

“Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

Has Kelly discussed this with Vice President Mike Pence?

Or Congress could impeach. There is precedent. Clinton was impeached for lying about Oval Office blowjobs.

Or the military could stage a coup. The latter seems absolutely unthinkable, although an impulsive attack on North Korea with immediate disastrous results could produce an unprecedented political crisis.

Trump surrounds himself with military officers. They’re the only people he doesn’t criticize. He incessantly promotes respect for the military, which is indeed, for better or worse, about the best-respected institution in the country. He’s content to let them make the decisions. He didn’t even know the details of the MOAB bombing in Afghanistan.

A country that could accept the PATRIOT Act; cheer on the Iraq War based on lies, accept NATO expansion as a matter of course and Russophobia as default worldview; and elect Donald Trump could probably accept anything. Even a temporary provisional military regime.

Crazy things could happen when a moron is in power, or in the course of his dethronement.

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and 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 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: