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Friday, March 23, 2018

John Bolton Can Convince Trump of Anything. Helter skelter, baby!

John Bolton, Trump's new National Security Advisor. (photo: Jeff Malet/ZUMA)
John Bolton, Trump's new National Security Advisor. (photo: Jeff Malet/ZUMA)

By Charles Pierce, Esquire

23 March 18

You know how this will play out.

ong ago, my friend and mentor George E. Reedy wrote an essential little book called The Twilight of the Presidency. Written from the vantage point of his time in the White House with Lyndon Johnson, Reedy wrote lucidly about the dangers of the American presidency to both the country and the man who holds the office.

Specifically, Reedy warned of the danger to the Republic presented by an office that tempts a man so sorely to cocoon himself in its power, to surround himself with sycophants so that he becomes blind and deaf to the consequences of his actions.

(Reedy’s case study was LBJ’s failure as president regarding Vietnam. Every political instinct Johnson had warned him against plunging the country into the quagmire but, fatally, he ignored them.) As Reedy wrote:

Another problem lies in the tendency of the unifying aspects of the office to separate a man from the political realities of his times. The president may not have the powers of a monarch, but he is treated like one in his personal life. This was not always the case. There was a time when President Adams could go skinny-dipping in the Potomac, and Andrew Jackson’s inauguration party turned into a brawl which left drunks in muddy boots sleeping on the White House furniture. There was a period when chief executives could emulate Harun ar-Rashid and wander alone at night to learn what people were really thinking. If any one of them tried it today, he would be leading troops of Secret Service agents through the streets of Washington and would be about as incongruous as a whale in the Reflecting Pool below the Lincoln Memorial.

To one extent or another, all presidencies are cults. (Even the fictional ones are. Think of all the times Jed Bartlet’s employees reminded each other and themselves that they “serve at the pleasure of the president.” Gordon Liddy could have said the same thing with the same level of conviction.) The rest of us have to hope that the leader of the cult is aware of this and is strong enough of character to resist the temptation to start brewing Flavor Aid for the nation, or that he hires at least a few people to tell him (respectfully) that some of his ideas suck pondwater.

Up until now, there hasn’t been a president in my memory who so obviously is aware that his presidency* is a cult, or who so actively has worked to intensify that cult in the people with whom he surrounds himself. Up until now, there hasn’t been a president in my memory who so relishes being the center of all things, who so luxuriates in being the master of his domain. Up until now, there hasn’t been a president in my memory who takes so much joy in insulating himself in what he perceives as the divine isolation bestowed upon him by the Electoral College.

Up until now.


With his trademark bushy gray mustache and his take-no-prisoners style, Mr. Bolton positioned himself to the right even of the foreign policy veterans who emerged from President George W. Bush’s administration, a hawk among hawks, a hard-liner who thrills conservatives and chills moderates and liberals. From his perch on Fox News, he has impressed Mr. Trump with a muscular vision of American power and a dark assessment of America’s adversaries. When he takes over as Mr. Trump’s third national security adviser in 14 months, Mr. Bolton will almost surely encourage Mr. Trump’s instincts against diplomatic agreements both consider weak and unwise. He shares the president’s derisive opinion of the Iran nuclear deal and will presumably prod him to scrap it when a May deadline arrives. He likewise takes a dim view of international agreements like the Paris climate change accord, from which Mr. Trump announced last year that he would withdraw the United States. He has called the “two-state solution” for Israel and the Palestinians dead.

Yes, the president’s new National Security Adviser is a bloodthirsty maniac, but here’s Peter Baker looking for the bright side of things.

But Mr. Bolton is not always in step with a president who sometimes veers back and forth between threatening “fire and fury” and eagerly seeking talks with foreign leaders. Mr. Bolton argues the virtues of pre-emptive military action against North Korea and scorns diplomacy of the sort Mr. Trump has embarked on with Kim Jong-un. He promotes more punitive sanctions against Russia rather than the kind of hand-holding flattery of President Vladimir V. Putin that Mr. Trump practiced even this week. He supported the Iraq war, which Mr. Trump calls a catastrophic mistake.

What is the point of all these qualifiers? Is there a person alive who doesn’t think Bolton can convince this president* of practically anything, especially if this president* is the last person in the office? (Except for the part about more punitive sanctions on Putin’s Russia, of course. That is the one fixed point in the president*’s foreign policy.) John Bolton talks tough and he worked for Fox News, and those are the only two qualifications one needs these days to join the cult at Camp Runamuck.

The president may be a self-delusional and narcissistic bag of hammers, but John Bolton isn’t. He is quite capable of making this president* believe that Bolton’s sanguinary fantasies are the manifestations of the president*’s native genius. CNN has a good roundup of Bolton’s long history of being publicly crackers. Is there are single breathing human who doesn’t believe that Bolton can’t convince this president* of all these things? 

There are some hands being wrung about how hiring Bolton betrays the trust of the people who voted for the president* because he was against the war in Iraq, a misadventure that Bolton still defends because he is detached from reality. Of course, these concerns depend mightily on the fundamental misapprehension that people voted for this president* on policy grounds, and not on those enthusiastic tours of the fouler precincts of the national Id on which he brought the suckers along.

John Bolton is now the National Security Adviser. Helter skelter, baby!

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