Op-ed: Chaos theory in action

  • By Bob Franken
  • Friday, March 23, 2018 2:27pm
  • Opinion

“‘Cheer up,’ they said. ‘Things could be worse.’ So I did, and sure enough, they were.”

It’s a favorite expression of mine, and also dismal reality as evidenced by today’s political world: President Donald Trump got rid of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, and named Mike Pompeo as his designated replacement. It is true that Tillerson was clueless. He was an arrogant CEO (pardon the redundancy) from a major corporation who had no earthly idea how government works, teeming as it does with bureaucrats who can effectively thwart your misguided reforms, and circled by those of us in the press who are skeptical of anybody and everybody. He wasn’t a nutcase, though, which soon put him at odds with his boss, who is.

So when Trump inevitably got tired of Secretary Tillerson’s feeble efforts to maintain sanity, Tillerson was doomed to be fired. Actually, John Kelly, the chief of staff hatchet man, was assigned to do the job. Kelly maliciously provided a description that’s even messier than these things usually are. It seems that Rex Tillerson was dealing with severe digestive problems when he got the call. According to Kelly, Tillerson was sitting where people sit when they’re experiencing severe digestive problems, and that’s where he got the news that he was about to become the ex-secretary of state. Happily, Kelly didn’t provide more detail.

So Rex Tillerson has been put out to pasture — literally, since he’ll retire to his ranch. He can reflect on how the D.C. swamp is really a treacherous jungle.

Mike Pompeo knows the jungle well. He’s a former congressman, and he’ll be much more effective. Unfortunately, he’s an effective extreme hawk, who will know how to make his dangerous views reality. He’s a harsh critic of the nuclear deal with Iran, for instance, which means he’s less inclined to stand between the president and the president’s worst instincts. He and Trump really get along well. Another essential rule of life is if someone gets along well with Donald Trump, there’s something fundamentally wrong with him or her.

Much has been made of late of all the rats who have been abandoning the Trump ship, or more accurately, have been tossed off the ship. Some of them had severe personal issues and shouldn’t have been onboard in the first place. But some of them were relatively competent, and now they become part of the Trump alumni group that is growing at a phenomenal rate.

Others still inside are just barely holding on. H.R. McMaster is the national security adviser who replaced Michael Flynn very early on. Flynn has since pleaded guilty for lying to the FBI, which was a deal worked out with special counsel Robert Mueller in return for spilling his guts about what he knows about the Trump campaign playing footsie with the Russians and, for that matter, what he knows about everything Trump-related.

McMaster, a three-star Army general, came riding in to the rescue after Flynn cratered, bringing credibility to the White House. He also brought his arrogance, which collided with POTUS’ ego. So he’s in trouble. Among those favored to replace him is John Bolton, a total hard-liner, who has made it a point to suck up to the fragile-ego president. It’s entirely possible that the two key foreign policy leaders of this administration will feed right into Trump’s blunderbuss view of diplomacy. That would leave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis alone at the Pentagon, trying to keep his armed forces from marching into high-casualty adventurism.

Back at the White House, fellow former general John Kelly himself is constantly tiptoeing past rumors he’s on the outs. Apparently, he and the boss get into it all the time as Gen. Kelly tries to restore order to the chaos. Another rule of life: Chaos usually wins.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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