Not a Comedy (Write Your Own Ship of State and McMaster and Commander in Chief and Hand on the Tillerson Joke, Damn It—Why Do I Always Have To Do Everything?)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Composite: President Donald Trump photo by Reuters, 2017; Puti-Toots protest image.

This is not supposed to be some manner of comedy. Or, several paragraphs from Reuters:

Tillerson and McMaster were present at the May 10 meeting where Trump discussed his firing of James Comey, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister and Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States.

The New York Times, citing officials familiar with an internal White House summary of the meeting, reported that Trump referred to Comey as a “nut job” and said his removal would relieve “great pressure” coming from the agency’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Lavrov denied that the subject of Comey came up during the meeting, according to Interfax news agency.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had offered to provide the U.S. Congress with transcripts of the same meeting to counter reports that Trump also disclosed classified information to Lavrov about a planned Islamic State operation.

However, neither McMaster nor Tillerson on Sunday disputed that the subject of Comey’s dismissal came up in the meeting with Russian officials. Both said that Trump’s remarks had been misinterpreted.

There is an old Scooby Doo joke about the fog being so thick you could cut it, and the reason that goofy scene comes to mind in the moment has to do with a context of impatience wrought by necessity of process. The news cycle makes the point, in a way. There are periods where we do not so much get new scandal as new detail about old scandal. Part of the problem is the breathless pace, and what would in former times have drawn media obsession is blown away by the next scandalous disaster. After a while, an episode from what seems an unbelievably long time ago, some countless scandals in the past, returns with new vigor as investigative reporting and leaked details refocus our attention.Cartoon by Robert Matson, Roll Call, 9 May 2017.

And toward that end it seems almost impossible to turn and call President Trump a one-trick pony, but his manner of clearing one scandalous implication by explicitly invoking an even more scandalous circumstance is almost entirely unbelievable.

Still, though, the idea that Donald Trump’s psyche is in full bloom and begging Congress to impeach him—perhaps in order that he might resign in a desperate attempt to not lose, such as biographer Tony Schwartz recently suggested—seems nearly self-evident. And here is the thing: President Trump need not actually be a Russian asset at this point; if the purpose was to destabilize American faith in government, we cannot begin the damage assessment because the operation is not yet finished.

No, really. If the election was the target, this is just icing. Dismissing conspiratorial notions and hewing to reality leaves us to wonder about people like Secretary Tillerson, who never wanted the job, and National Security Advisor McMaster, who seems to be sacrificing the integrity of his entire career trying to to protect and preserve a presidency that is clearly over.


Image note: Top — Composite: President Donald Trump photo by Reuters, 2017; Puti-Toots protest image. Right — Cartoon by Robert Matson, Roll Call, 9 May 2017.

Borger, Julian. “Rex Tillerson: ‘I didn’t want this job … my wife told me I’m supposed to do this'”. The Guardian. 22 March 2017.

Bowden, John. “‘Art of the Deal’ co-writer: Trump will resign so he doesn’t ‘lose'”. The Hill. 19 May 2017.

Crowley, Michael. “Why Staying Put Was McMaster’s Most Patriotic Act”. Politico. 20 May 2017.

Gibson, Ginger and Julia Harte. “Trump’s FBI comments to Russians were aimed at cooperation: aides”. Reuters. 21 May 2017.

Kaplan, Fred. “The Tarnishing of H.R. McMaster”. Slate. 16 May 2017.


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