We’ve now reached the “reductio ad absurdum” stage of Donald Trump’s presidency, where all the various factors that have made his short time in office so shambolic converge to dispel any remaining semblance of credibility. That this coincides with what I recently argued was the most dangerous period of his presidency, when U.S. rivals and adversaries begin to openly call Trump’s bluffs, means that the comedy of errors on display could easily lead to great tragedy.
Two weeks ago, after a spike in dysfunction took the level of chaos higher than seemed imaginable, John Kelly was appointed White House chief of staff. The move represented a last-ditch effort to stabilize Trump’s flailing administration, and also militarized the White House policymaking apparatus to an unprecedented degree. Kelly, a former Marine general who had until then headed the Department of Homeland Security, joined National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, himself an active Army general, in the West Wing.
The coverage of Kelly’s tenure to date has bordered on hagiography. But if it is to be believed, he has succeeded for now in applying rigorous order on a White House whose lack of discipline were similarly unprecedented. All paper memos and other inputs to Trump’s policy deliberations are now reportedly routed through Kelly, who also enforces strict control on who has access to presidential face time. Kelly’s arrival has also given McMaster the ballast he needed to finally purge the National Security Council of holdout fringe elements appointed by Michael Flynn, Trump’s short-lived first national security adviser.