BY M.R. JOSSE
GAITHERSBURG, MD: There has never been a week that has been placid since Donald J. Trump became president. By any reckoning, the past seven days or so will go down as one of the most momentous periods of his administration.
So many turbulent developments affecting Trump have taken place of late that it is difficult where to begin.
Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus does not have doubts about what the stars portend for the political health of President Trump, based on such a dizzy turn of events.
“The Trump White House is imploding. The only real thing is to decide in that sentence is the tense. ‘Has imploded’ is certainly arguable. Still, as the events of the past few days have shown, implosion, in politics, as in physics, is not a moment but a process. The damage continues. It builds on itself as the edifice collapses.”
Concluding her column ‘White House down’, she asserts, “At this point, the remaining mystery is how, when and how badly this disaster of a presidency will end.”
Among the long list of dramatic, or even startling, recent developments in the Washington political arena are Trump’s verbal attacks on Attorney General Jeff Session, whom he himself nominated, for having recused himself from investigating the Russia collusion probe rather than heading the investigation and categorically clearing the Trump campaign of any malfeasance in the affair.
Former US Senator, solicitor general and federal judge, Kenneth W. Star, in an op-ed piece in the Post, titled ‘Cut it out, Mr. President’ takes strong exception to Trump’s approach vis-à-vis Sessions, explaining, among other political/juridical verities, that:
“The Attorney General is not – and cannot be – the president’s ‘hockey goalie’ as new Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci described Session’s job. In fact, the president isn’t even his client. To the contrary, the attorney’s general’s client is ultimately ‘we the people’, and his fidelity has to be not to the president but to the constitution and other laws of the United States. Indeed, the attorney general’s job, at times, is to tell the president ‘no’ because of the supervening demands of the law. When it comes to dealing with the nation’s top legal officer, you will do well to check your Twitter weapons at the Oval Office door.”
Scaramucci ‘s scabrous attacks of the (then) chief of staff Rience Priebus and chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon understandably set off waves of anger and protest – before Priebus’s resignation came in, marking the most significant shake-up in the tumultuous Trump presidency.
Before that, it was the beleaguered Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s exit – on the day that Trump named New York financier Scaramucci as the new Communications Director – that had taken the political cognoscenti by surprise, if not by storm.
According to some observers, Priebus’ exit – the latest convulsion in the West Wing – was explained as due to his repeated failure to bring some semblance of order in a White House riven by factions. Trump’s prompt nomination of Gen. John. F. Kelly, his Homeland Security Secretary, as his new chief-of-staff is viewed as the president’s move to impose order.
As explained in a major Post story, Trump envisages Kelly “executing his orders with military precision and steely gravitas, and without tending to political motivations or fretting about palace intrigue.” Kelly’s replacement has not been announced; whoever it is, will have to undergo the Congressional confirmation process.
Now Scaramucci has been removed as communication director following Kelly’s swearing-in!
Abrupt senior White House changes have not been the only highlight – or, perhaps, I should say, the nadir – of the recent political landscape. In many ways, even more ominous clues of possible impending doom for the Trump administration can be gleaned from what Marcus terms “the collapse of Congressional efforts to repeal/replace/do something, anything with the Republican Party’s chief nemesis over the past seven years: the Affordable Care Act.”
On another plane, too, there has been a great deal of unease, anger and anguish. This relates to Trump’s recent announcement – via tweets – that he would ban transgender people from serving in the military in any capacity, in an abrupt reversal of the Obama administration decision to allow them to serve openly and a potential end to careers of thousands of active-duty troops.
Multiple press sources confirm that the Pentagon has in fact being studying the issue and had been expected to complete its report only in December. A sense of the prevailing sombre mood is reflected, I believe, in a pungent Washington Post editorial which termed it “a betrayal of those who serve” reminding readers at its conclusion that the Trump administration’s “small minded and ignorant policies towards transgender people – first students, and now serving members – are doing the opposite” of Trump’s pledge during his campaign “to do everything” to protect transgender persons.
PUTIN STRIKES BACK
A further sense of alarm can be discerned from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Russia is expelling 755 US diplomats and technical personnel in retaliation against new US sanctions proposed against Moscow.
On Friday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry had signaled that the US would have to downsize its staff to 455, to exactly match the number of Russian diplomatic and technical staff in the US. Russia also made plain that it is seizing two US diplomatic properties, much like the US shut down two Russian diplomatic compounds under the Obama administration.
New US sanctions against Russia were overwhelmingly approved by Congress earlier this week, with a veto-proof majority. Trump who was initially opposed to the sanctions now says that he is preparing to sign them into law.
It remains to be seen whether these steps will end the perception of a Trump-Putin bromance, as some have long propagated. If so, it might be one concrete gain for Trump from the political morass he is mired in.
Consequences of a chill in US-Russia ties could be profound.