Trump's loneliness of leadership in an uncertain 2019
In the days before Christmas 2018, President Donald Trump was alone in his home/office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Someday, future historians will picture Trump sitting at his desk and perhaps commiserate if he felt those oval walls of his famous office were closing in on him.
After all, the president’s best intelligence sources – his TV and iPhone news screens – were bombarding him with predictions that 2019 could be a very bad Trump year. Talking heads and pretentious print pundits were observing that special counsel Robert Mueller’s presidential probe was in its final stage – maybe even final weeks. Wannabe impeachers in Congress could soon be reading Mueller’s conclusions, which may or may not involve high crimes or misdemeanors arising from original actions or coverup offenses. Or maybe not – if Trump’s Justice Department somehow covers up Mueller’s conclusions.
Either way, Mueller’s report will dominate Trump’s new year. No wonder Trump has been doing his damnedest to divert America’s attention by creating controversies about anything else, anywhere else. But that really hasn’t worked very well.
Finally, in the predawn morning that would become Christmas Eve, Trump reached for his iPhone and began lashing back. Beginning at 6:31 a.m., Trump launched a Twitter eruption that touched all his usual non-Mueller bases: Mexican wall, government shutdown, Fed follies, Iran nuclear pact, “Little Bob Corker” and “necessary Trade Wars.”
Reading his Twitter cloudburst, you can sense Trump’s growing feeling of victimization, as, at 9:32 a.m., he began his 10th and final tweet.
“I’m alone,” pecked America’s real president, whose twitter handle is @realDonaldTrump. “I am all alone (poor me) in the White House…”
Indeed, he was. It wasn’t just that his wife and youngest son were in Florida. Generally speaking, Trump had just run out of generals. For two years, he’d been so proud to display, for all to see, his generals – they were the authenticators of his legitimacy. But Gen. Mike Flynn flammed, lied and was fired; Gen. H. R. McMaster, so damned sure of himself, was forced out too. Four-star Gen. John Kelly assumed a chief of staff should command and control the staff; Trump belittled him into departing at December’s end.
But we still counted on four-star retired Marine Gen. and Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis – to prevent Trump from acting on his worst impulses. Until this holiday season.
On Dec. 20, Trump was sitting at his Oval Office desk talking on the phone with Turkey’s thuggish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who told Trump to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, claiming ISIS was defeated. Even Erdogan must have been shocked when Trump reportedly blurted: “You know what? It’s yours. I’m leaving (Syria).” With no analysis of unintended consequences, Trump gifted Russia and Iran with Syria – and Turkey’s dictator with the gift he most wanted.
Stunned, Mattis rushed to the Oval Office and implored Trump not to withdraw the U.S. troops – because Turkish troops could then slaughter the Kurds, America’s trusting allies in fighting ISIS. But Trump rejected Mattis’ wisdom. Realizing he could never again reassure U.S. allies they could trust Trump, Mattis handed his president a letter of resignation – the first known time a defense secretary resigned in protest.
At 6:59 a.m. on Christmas Eve morning, Trump preposterously tweeted that “VERY rich” countries were taking “total advantage” of America, adding: “General Mattis did not see this as a problem. I DO, and it is being fixed!” Sad.
As 2019 begins, Mueller is in the final stage of his probe into Russia’s efforts to cyber-sabotage America’s 2016 election and help elect Trump – and other discoverable misdeeds. And we are watching Trump because we know that he knows best of all whether he should be in full panic mode in 2019.
We also know that none of the talking heads or prognosticating pundits knows what will be in Mueller’s report. No one outside Mueller’s team knows whether Trump will be charged with any impeachable offense or effort to obstruct justice through lies or other coverup efforts. Or whether anyone in his family will face any similar negative repercussions.
But this much we do know: Trump and his Twitter revelations have gifted us with the most revealing window into the state of mind of America’s 45th president.
We can only wonder what history might have chronicled for us if President Richard Nixon had been tweeting his impulsive insights to us throughout his presidency – especially during his final days of 1974.
Just think: What would Twitter have revealed for us if Nixon had tweeted his inner reflections during his now famous late-night conversations with those White House hallway portraits of dead presidents?
Martin Schram wrote this for Tribune News Service.