|Donald Trump and Gen. Mark Milley (Axios)|
Why was Donald Trump such a failure as U.S. president? That seems to be a reasonable question as the country tries to dig out from a deadly pandemic and the resulting shattered economy -- both problems that Trump did precious little to prevent or solve.
A recent item at Axios suggests this as an answer to our question: Trump had no clue how to do the job, and he surrounded himself with advisers who were too timid to provide him guidance, perhaps because they knew he was unguidable. The Axios piece revolves around Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who became a right-wing bogeyman after his testimony before Congress on Critical Race Theory. From the article, under the headline "Trump's situation room shouting match":
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, repeatedly blew up at President Trump over how to handle last summer's racial-justice protests, The Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender writes in his forthcoming book, "Frankly, We Did Win This Election."
Trump wanted to invoke the Insurrection Act and put Milley in charge of a scorched-earth military campaign to suppress protests that had spiraled into riots in several cities.
Milley — now a GOP villain for his testimony . . . on critical race theory — pushed back, Bender writes in a passage we're reporting here for the first time:Seated in the Situation Room with [Attorney General Bill] Barr, Milley, and [Secretary of Defense Mark] Esper, Trump exaggerated claims about the violence and alarmed officials ... by announcing he’d just put Milley "in charge."Privately, Milley confronted Trump about his role. He was an adviser, and not in command. But Trump had had enough."I said you're in f---ing charge!" Trump shouted at him."Well, I'm not in charge!" Milley yelled back."You can't f---ing talk to me like that!" Trump said. ..."Goddamnit," Milley said to others. "There's a room full of lawyers here. Will someone inform him of my legal responsibilities?"
The crux of the matter? Trump wanted to appoint Milley to a role he legally could not hold. An exasperated Milley, hoping one of the lawyers in the room would set Trump straight, got zero help. Is this how the Trump Administration let COVID-19 get out of control? Did public-health experts refuse to offer guidance -- or give up on even trying? Did they realize such a conversation would require reasoning with the president, and they knew that trying to reason with Trump was an exercise in futility?
The former president's response to the Milley flap was typically Trumpian:
Asked for a response, Trump told Jonathan Swan through an aide: "This is totally fake news, it never ever happened. I'm not a fan of Gen. Milley, but I never had an argument with him and the whole thing is false. He never talked back to me. Michael Bender never asked me about it and it's totally fake news."
- Trump later added: "If Gen. Milley had yelled at me, I would have fired him."
Bender told Swan: "I asked the former president for his side of this particular argument in a written question — as he requested — along with other queries included in my thorough fact-checking process. He did not reply.”
In a followup book excerpt, Axios provide more evidence that Gen. Mark Milley, in my view, should be designated a postmodern American hero. From the second Axios report:
The new book by The Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender — Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost — pinpoints the moment that the relationship between former President Trump and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley began to disintegrate.
- It came last year during a fiery Oval Office confrontation over Milley's public apology for appearing in a photo op with Trump at St. John's Church:"Why did you apologize?" Trump asked him. "That’s weak.""Not where I come from," Milley said. "It had nothing to do with you. It had to do with me and the uniform and the apolitical tradition of the United States military.""I don’t understand that," Trump said. "It sounds like you're ashamed of your president.""I don’t expect you to understand," Milley said.
Milley had the courage to set Trump back on his heels, and in doing so, showed the principles upon which the U.S. military is based -- that it doesn't partake in political games. But that's not all. The report shows that Trump's own high-level staffers did not respect him -- and they hated their jobs:
Bender reports that former White House chief of staff John Kelly warned Milley not to accept Trump's offer to become Joint Chiefs chairman in December 2018: "I would get as far away from this f------ place as I f------ could."