FERGUS FINLAY: Only one man stands between us and an unravelling Donald Trump

It’s said Trump wants to be his own chief of staff... that can only happen if he gets rid of John Kelly, writes Fergus Finlay

The march by a million young Americans last weekend, all demanding sane and rational gun control, proves that America remains a country of unlimited potential.

You couldn’t watch without being filled with admiration for them, and despair at how they’re governed.

Every time I write about US President Donald Trump, it’s with a sinking feeling that, day by day, he is making the world a more cruel and dangerous place.

But I’m just as convinced that he cannot last. He is becoming more and more unhinged, and more isolated from anything that could protect him.

In his first year or so in office, he has sown the seeds of an American economic collapse. Last week, he signed into law a budget that the American economy can’t afford. That was after pushing through a tax package that narrows the revenue base considerably and concentrates more and more wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

It doesn’t take an economist to tell you that those two things are incompatible.

We know what happens when you allow the economy to become utterly dependent on unsustainable activity. And we know what happens when the core of public policy is aimed at allowing the rich to get richer.

The mix of tax cuts and broken regulation that Trump has engineered is a recipe to allow greed to rip the economy apart.

In doing those things, he had, broadly speaking, the support of the Republican party. But they’re done now. They don’t need Trump any more.

So when he, at the same time, sets about sewing the seeds of a global trade war, his base is going to start getting worried.

When the effects of that trade war begin to bite, in higher consumer prices, in the banning or taxing of American exports, including crops, his base is going to turn against him.

And there will come a moment when, suddenly, he’s alone.

Not just alone, but surrounded by madness. In the last few days, a porn star gave an interview to a highly reputable programme. She said she had spanked Donald Trump with a copy of Forbes magazine (which featured a photo of him on the cover).

The Washington Post wrote an editorial about the deputy director of the FBI, who was sacked a day before he was due to qualify for a pension, after years of service to the country.

The facts around that sacking are still not clear. The man in question, Andrew McCabe, has admitted error, but strenuously denies wrongdoing.

The Washington Post referred to it this way: “Mr Trump acts like a nasty, small-minded despot, not the leader of a democracy more than two centuries old, in which rule of law is a sturdy pillar. If there is doubt that the timing of Mr McCabe’s dismissal was driven by political vengeance, Mr Trump does everything he can to prove the worst with his own, sordid words.” Much of what Trump had to say about McCabe — the “sordid words” — was, as usual, on Twitter. I can’t bring myself to follow Trump on Twitter, so every time I want to see what he’s saying now, I have to search. And what you find is mind-boggling in what it reveals about the man.

The former US vice-president, Joe Biden, 75, has attacked Trump, 71, over his attitude to women, and said “if we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him”.

It was silly talk, and unworthy of a former VP.

Only one man stands between us and an unravelling Donald Trump

But Trump’s response, on Twitter, was utterly remarkable. “Crazy Joe Biden is trying to act like a tough guy,” the president of the United States said. “Actually, he is weak, both mentally and physically, and yet he threatens me, for the second time, with physical assault. He doesn’t know me, but he would go down fast and hard, crying all the way. Don’t threaten people, Joe!” If it is the case that, “by their words shall ye know them”, then Trump is a clinical narcissist.

I once knew someone who qualified for that definition. The person I’m thinking of would say anything, do anything, belittle anyone, to command the centre of attention. Sometimes foolishly generous, sometime cruel, everything was a tactic to achieve that one over-riding position.

In that person’s case, there was a root to it, a series of incidents in childhood that gave at least a glimmer of an explanation. In Trump’s case, while I’ve read about his background and upbringing, I find it hard to understand how someone who was raised with so much can be so mean-spirited.

But with each passing day, the mean-spiritedness, combined with his volatility, vulgarity, and shallowness, all conspire to create more and more chaos and danger.

I heard a correspondent on the radio saying that Trump was now hiring people for his cabinet whose views he’d heard expressed on Fox News. The same correspondent reported the current rumour in Washington that Trump had more or less decided that he was going to be his own chief of staff in future.

That, of course, can only happen if he gets rid of John Kelly, the retired general who was put in place to bring some order to the chaotic White House.

It seems only a matter of time before Kelly resigns or gets fired, if only because that’s the fate that has befallen everyone else who has gotten close to Trump.

And yet, I wonder. I’m reminded, increasingly, of the role played by Alexander Haig in the dying days of the Richard Nixon administration. He, too, was an army officer, appointed as chief of staff by a president known for his hatreds, and who became increasingly paranoiac as the Watergate investigations gathered pace. It was widely believed, back then, that Haig’s role was to keep a close eye on the deteriorating president, and prevent him from doing anything mad.

Nixon had already sacked everyone around him, as Trump has done — although, in Nixon’s case, it was to try to blame everyone else for the cover-up he had engineered. But the view, at the time, was that if Nixon had sacked Haig, Congress would immediately have acted to remove him from office.

I sometimes find myself wondering if the same is true of Kelly. In other words, is it possible that Kelly, who ostensibly reports to the president, has really been put there to try to ensure that he doesn’t go completely bonkers?

Trump’s most recent decisions, to hire two outright hawks, as secretary of state and national security advisor, seem to suggest that the road to bonkers may have begun. Trade wars are one thing, real wars another.

America now has a national security head, John Bolton, of whom it has been said by many reputable commentators that he never met a war he didn’t like. So, John Kelly might end up as the most important man in the world, standing between us and an unravelling Donald Trump.

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