Michael G. Roskin: A Trump Mutiny?
Thursday, December 15, 2016 10:56 AM
In Herman Wouk’s 1951 “Caine Mutiny,” Navy officers gradually question the mental balance of their skipper, Captain Queeg, and take over the ship to save it during a typhoon. Wouk’s insights may be useful for the Trump storm.
If I were an evil genius advising the Democrats — I am none of these — I would urge them to keep a bland exterior of constructive criticism while goading President Trump into tweeting himself into a twit. Actually, nobody has to push this plot; Trump does it all by himself.
Last week’s example: Chuck Jones, union chief at the Carrier plant Trump proudly rescued from moving to Mexico, noted that it saved far fewer than the putative 1,100 jobs. Some 630 jobs will still go to Mexico. And 350 jobs in the engineering unit were never slated to move. Jones later told the Washington Post that Trump “lied his a-- off.”
Jones is hardly a threat to the Trump presidency, but Trump jumped on him as if he were, saying he has done a “terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!” A second tweet advised union members to work more and talk less. Within days, Jones was receiving sinister anonymous threats.
The consensus of the U.S. intelligence community, based on tradecraft markers, is that Russians hacked both Democrats and Republicans but released only embarrassing Democratic emails via WikiLeaks, aiming to get Trump elected. Trump and his transition team deny any of it, but in July Trump urged Russia to release more hacks. How did he know that (1) there were more hacks, (2) they came from Russia and (3) they harmed Hillary?
True, Moscow’s intrusion cannot be proved to have influenced the election result, but Trump’s Russia ties leave him vulnerable. When the Trump administration denies Russian wrongdoing in everything from election interference to Ukraine to Russian oil deals, the Democrats will respond, “See, Putin is using his leverage.” An outrageous accusation? Who campaigned on a series of outrageous accusations?
Russians are practiced manipulators. Austrian Kurt Waldheim was UN Secretary General 1972-81. The courtly ex-Nazi did little besides posture. (In Austria, one must distinguish “ex” from “neo.”) Waldheim was also Austria’s president, 1986-92. Waldheim attempted to hide his wartime service as a Wehrmacht officer in the Balkans, scene of many massacres.
How could Soviet and Yugoslav intelligence have missed this? They didn’t; they voted for Waldheim at the UN and then blackmailed him. Now the Kremlin could quietly use hacked kompromat (compromising materials) on Trump. His secretary of state-designate, ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson, invested hundreds of billions in Russian energy and received its Order of Friendship from Putin in 2013. If Trump continues to tilt to Putin, we’ve got a problem.
Trump cannot handle contestation. He responds to normal criticisms with raging replies, which the media amplify and feed back into politics. Revenge dominates Trump. For weeks, he dangled the secretary of state job before Mitt Romney, but it was a feint to humiliate Romney, who had scathingly criticized him during the primaries and has long warned about Russia.
Some saw this coming. Fellow-billionaire Mark Cuban, who knows Trump, advised Hillary that Trump’s weakness is any implication that he’s not very bright. It sends him into vengeful mode. (For the record, I affirm that Trump is bright; he just doesn’t read.)
In October, Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group recounted how he met Trump for the first time years earlier, when Trump was in bankruptcy. Through their lunch, Trump raged at five financiers who had declined him loans and vowed to spend the rest of his life “destroying” them. Branson feared Trump’s “vindictive streak.”
Now, recalling Captain Queeg, Trump is lashing out at U.S. intelligence agencies for their Russia findings. President-elect Trump scorns intel briefings as worthless and repetitive. Will he do so as president? Ignoring intel could create a new “China Hands” blindness. In the early 1950s, our best China specialists—missionary kids who went into the State Department—were fired over bogus charges that they supported the Communists. For a generation, diplomats, watching their careers, curbed reporting candor. Our Saigon embassy sent optimistic reports back to State; CIA evaluations were much sharper.
Another Queeg situation is emerging as an alarmed Congress coalesces behind a bipartisan investigation of foreign hacking threats to democracy and security. (If the Arizona senator chairs it, we’ll have the McCain Scrutiny.) Some Republicans fight any such investigation, scoffing that these same intel folks rigged evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. (Working intel levels doubted the fragmentary indicators of Iraq’s WMD, but they were ignored.)
The Trump camp is barricaded behind denial, isolated from vital national concerns, which they dismiss as elite and media malicious disappointment. They respond to Russian hacks like they do climate change: hoaxes. Can Trump effectively command the ship in a crisis? How about one involving nuclear launch codes? Could we have a mutiny in the making? I retain all TV and movie rights.