Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Trump is a Black Hole. He sits at the centre of the American political universe exerting an awful gravity on anything that comes near. And like a bona-fide Black Hole, he has an all engulfing event horizon. You can’t see what’s happening beyond that boundary nor can you comprehend how it operates. The normal rules, the accepted norms, the cardinal principles, all collapse.
If you circle too close, one of two things happens … neither is good. You may get sucked in. You then emerge in a bizarre world - at the risk of mixing my metaphors here - you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. Captured by Trumponian gravity, then disassembled, spat out … who knows where?
The other option is you bounce off. Damaged, spinning through the political universe, stripped of cover, dignity and adjudged irrational. You’re finished.
Sean Spicer, the former press secretary, suffered that fate. He was an early victim. Trump sent him to lie on Day One about the size of the inauguration crowd. From that point on, Spicer was dead man walking. He was either going to fall through the event horizon or bounce off, as a relentless media pursued him. When you become a feature of ‘Saturday Night Live’ it’s only a matter of time before ‘game over’. At least Spicer avoided the central vortex. He now wanders around, looking for less punishing outlets of his torn talents.
The former four-star general, John F. Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, suffered a worse fate. He’s now disappeared below the event horizon of moral ambiguity, his reputation in tatters. By all accounts, Kelly is a decent chap.
A Marine, he served with distinction. In 2003, he led the charge on Baghdad. He soon overwhelmed the Iraqi forces in typical gung-ho Marine style. Unlike the draft dodger Trump, Kelly saw action. Plus, he gave an exceptional account of himself. Also, unlike many politicians, Kelly has sons who serve and one died in action. First Lieutenant Robert Kelly, whilst in Afghanistan in 2010, stepped on a landmine. That’s why the incident that tripped up Kelly is so gut-wrenching.
It’s clear that Kelly brought a degree of order to the chaotic White House. He’s enforced discipline in a shambolic mess of policies and prima donnas jockeying for fame. He is one of the few competent people in an otherwise lacklustre team of ideology-driven mavericks. Greater cohesion resulted from his command. Ultimately Trump benefitted from this.
Hence, it is disheartening to see a man of Kelly’s standing and ability compromised. Trump's alleged insensitive remarks to a soldier’s widow soon spiralled into a media storm. In a significant damage control effort, Kelly stood up to give an impassioned speech. He detailed how dead soldiers get conveyed back to the United States. He led us through the processes with forensic detail. He spoke with compassion, then empathy about what the family goes through. Along the way he revealed he’d counselled Trump on what to say.
But, then Kelly went on the attack. And it was a lengthy attack of some force. That’s when it went wrong. He elected to make allegations against the congresswomen who’d initiated the story. It was a classic Trump response. Go for the opponent’s jugular. Take them down by questioning their motives and actions. Unfortunately for Kelly, his allegations against the congresswomen spoon fell apart. Video evidence refuted each one of his claims. Assertions that she’d acted in brazen self-promoting manner are untrue.
Had Kelly cut his speech off before maligning the congresswoman, he’d be standing tall today. Now he’s in Trump domain with his esteem gone. Reputations are brittle things especially when you associate with a habitual liar. A lesson Kelly is now learning. He’s gone from an untainted, accomplished, figure to another deceitful Washington insider. Yet, that's what happens when you make a judgement to serve a President who is immoral.
As a military man, Kelly will have studied leadership. He know the moral calculations that leaders make. He is well schooled in this area, having attained a Masters degree in Strategic Studies. Hence, he’s no innocent. As a political operator he made a decision to stand with Trump by adopting attack-dog tactics. Now the blowback has started with Kelly silent. He’s inside the event horizon, beyond sight and beyond help.
This is grist for the mill. The media are lapping it up with relish. It supports the narrative the Trump presidency continues a relentless descent into farce. Republicans made a Faustian pact with Trump. This diminishes them, while the office of the president is soiled and the USA is a laughing stock.
Meanwhile, both China and Russia are benefiting. A rebalancing of the world order is unfolding. A few brave Republicans have stepped forward to denounce the lies, distortions and twisted conduct of Trump. Unfortunately, none of this is enough to damage a man who operates in a parallel universe.
A Black Hole is a powerful entity that will require powerful forces to overwhelm it.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.