Boy, are the wheels coming off the bus. If you took a nap Thursday afternoon and woke up just in time for your dinner, you missed a week's worth of news. To recap, we are hours away from a government shutdown, a shutdown that was totally unnecessary and completely avoidable; a reckless decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria has led to the "resignation" of Defense Secretary James Mattis, one of the few "adults" still left in this White House; and the stock market, which is having its worst December since 1931, dropped another 500 points. Other than that, things are just peachy keen.
First, the shutdown. Barely a day after a truly historic, bipartisan criminal justice reform bill passed with overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress, this president, rather than sign a continuing resolution that would've funded the government till February 8, bowed to pressure from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and drew a line in the sand over a border wall that nobody seriously believes will ever get built.
If Trump was actually interested in negotiating a deal on border security that would've funded his wall, he would've taken Democrats up on their offer earlier in the year of $25 billion in exchange for a DACA fix that would've allowed roughly 1.7 million dreamers to stay in this country legally. But he didn't. The fact is, Trump doesn't want to negotiate or be seen negotiating; what he wants is conflict. Conflict is how he got elected, and it's how he thinks he will win reelection. He believes his base would abandon him like rats on a sinking ship if he ever struck a deal with Pelosi and Schumer. Sadly, this is what we can expect for the next two years, six if Trump wins another term.
But the most troublesome thing that occurred Thursday had nothing to do with a shutdown. For almost two years we've heard about the so-called adults in this White House who were keeping this president from acting on his worst impulses. Well one of those adults, James Mattis, has apparently had enough of playing the role of both parent and guidance counselor. His resignation letter - it read more like an emancipation proclamation - was the closest thing to a "fuck you, I'm outta here" statement as anything we've yet seen from one of Trump's officials.
In one pertinent part of the letter, Mattis writes,
My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.
If, like me, you've been worried about the stability of this president since he was sworn into office, you now have even greater cause for concern, because the next Secretary of Defense, far from being a check on this president's child-like whims, will likely be nothing more than a rubber stamp for them. Enabling a toddler is bad enough; enabling a president who behaves like a toddler is a tragedy waiting to happen.
Already Trump is talking about pulling all troops out of Afghanistan. What's next, South Korea? We already know he's questioned why we're there in the first place. All he has to do is issue an executive order and an alliance that has stood for over 70 years will come to an end. You want reunification of the Korean peninsula? If Trump pulls out of South Korea, Kim Jong-un will be in Seoul within days of the last U.S. soldier departing. You can count on that.
Let's put aside, for the moment, the issue of whether America has overextended itself on the world stage. I agree that playing the role of beat cop hasn't served us well over the last few decades. The decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein stands as this country's worst foreign policy blunder. But unilaterally pulling troops out of a foreign country that we know is home to known terrorists who have made their intentions towards us quite clear isn't just reckless, it's insane. If 9/11 should've taught us anything it's that an ocean can no longer protect us the way it used to. This is one of the few times I agree with conservatives. It's better to fight the bad guys over there instead of over here.
Like it or not, we have an obligation to the world to lead and not retreat. Whether you think Mattis is a good defense secretary or not, his letter of resignation should set off alarm bells in every nation's capital. We have a president who wants to take this country back to the 1920s, both economically and militarily. The last time that happened we had a world-wide depression followed by a world war that destroyed dozens of cities and cost millions of lives
The stock market is in virtual free fall and economists are already conceding that a recession is coming. With most of Europe facing internal turmoil, and an overly aggressive China and Russia filling the vacuum left by the United States, it wouldn't take much to provoke an altercation that could lead to an outcome only a fool would want.
We have such a fool in the White House.