It’s a feature of chaos that you don’t know who your friends are, I expect. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, that sort of thing? And so it is you can be reading an analysis of the short and inglorious term of Rex Tillerson, described in the headline as “the worst secretary of state in living memory,” and find something like this:
The administration is not divided into people who are loyal to Trump and those who are not. Rather, it is divided between those who know how to manipulate his vanity, his hatreds, his sensitivities, and those who do not. It is divided between those who think he is their ticket to fame and fortune and those who hope to survive this episode with their reputations more or less intact. It is divided, at the most fundamental level, between those willing to sell their souls completely and at a discount in the service of a man who is doing great damage to American norms and institutions, and those who are trying to get something for their country in return for the slices of honor and integrity that every day they reluctantly consign to the flames.
So here is a plausible account of what Pompeo would do, if he replaces Tillerson. He will fire Tillerson’s cabal, shrink the Policy Planning staff, and return it to its more normal role of writing speeches and doing long-range thinking. He will ostentatiously drape an arm around the shoulders of the foreign service. He will bring journalists back onto his plane and schmooze them—in return getting more than his fair share of what Washington journalists sometimes call “beat-sweetener” stories. Unlike Tillerson, who seems in good corporate fashion to have decided that a 30 percent cut ordained by headquarters is the equivalent of a Czar’s ukase—unwelcome, perhaps, but not to be questioned—he will fight back. He will either bully OMB Director Mick Mulvaney or, more likely, smile sweetly at him, assure him of his complete support—and then end-run around him on Capitol Hill, letting angry senators do for him the dirty work of subverting the president’s budget. He will call in some of the retired senior diplomats—legendary ambassadors like Ryan Crocker who have been uncharacteristically public in their criticisms of Tillerson—and listen to them with at least the appearance of attentiveness. Above all, he will flatter the president shamelessly, praising his toughness and superlative insights while steering policy in a more or less sane (if, to be sure, tough-minded) direction. He will rattle some with hardline rhetoric, but at least he will articulate a coherent view of American foreign policy to the world, and that will be an advance.
And then you realize: We’re talking about Mike Pompeo here. This is not a good guy. None of this is normal. Stop making me feel so crazy, world.
I expect most of you will want to talk about the election in Pennsylvania. So far, it’s looking good for Conor Lamb. But don’t celebrate until the returns are certified.
The other day some of y’all were talking about the attitudes of rural/small town/red state Americans. I saw this interview on Vox tonight, with the author of a book called “The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America.” The interviewer is not listening politely:
Q. I’m still struggling to understand what exactly these people mean when they complain about the “moral decline” of America. At one point, you interview a woman who complains about the country’s “moral decline” and then cites, as evidence, the fact that she can’t spank her children without “the government” intervening. Am I supposed to take this seriously?
A: It’s an interesting question. What does it mean for us to take that seriously? I guess my point is that she takes it seriously, even if we don’t or shouldn’t. Does she still spank her children? Probably. Is she just using that as an example of how the country is changing and how Washington is driving that change? Probably.
Now, I doubt she made this us up herself. She likely heard it at church or from her neighbors or from Fox News or talk radio. Again, what I kept hearing from people is a general fear that traditional moral rules were being wiped out by a government and a culture that doesn’t understand the people who still believe in these things.
A couple years ago, I saw a comment on a NYT story on this very subject, from a woman who described herself as the only Democrat in a small farm city in central Michigan. She said her neighbors were so angry and paranoid that they genuinely believe that if there’s a puddle in their driveway, that soon “the government” would be coming by to declare it a wetland and move them out. So I guess we have to take it seriously, at least on some level.
I’m going to check the returns from the Keystone State. Happy Wednesday, all. Discuss.