|Sweet retired general Dean Jagger (with Mary Wickes) in "White Christmas"|
Marine General James Mattis (who hates the nickname “Mad Dog” that Trump loves) was 4 years old and Donald was at his permanent age of 7 when the film broke at Christmastime in Radio City Music Hall 64 years ago, setting box office records. Composer Berlin was a Jewish émigré and devout patriot who loved the army and fashioned in musical salutes the nostalgic vision of a patriotic America that we still haven’t outgrown – even while we have soured on wars and generals (“We’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go”) as a way of life to emulate. But while we’ve grown suspicious of the draft and military service, we continue to concede that the discipline and service represented by generals is something to admire.
Warts and all, we regarded the generals Trump surrounded himself with as the wise old men who would keep him in check. Okay, so it is not the blind adoration those “White Christmas” GIs felt for nice old Dean Jagger, but at least the White House presence of those generals brought tons of experience to prevent a wrecking ball novice from swinging wildly. We thought.
|Secretary of Defense James Mattis|
None of the generals enhanced their image in civilian service – in fact, they saw their reputations disintegrate. As did ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson who plunged into disrepute after serving as secretary of state. Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, Jeff Sessions and on and on till the crack of doom. It is a parade of people who “have left in dismay or disgrace,” noted future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
On Dec. 20, a date that will live in chaos, Trump engaged in more “end of times” meltdown. He pulled out of Syria, ignored a plunging stock market, forced the government into closure because he was denied his toy train (a $5 billion start on his useless border wall, with his new concession that he would settle for “steel slats” – hopefully not Chinese steel) and fought the reality of 17 separate investigations of his empire and presidential campaign over obstruction of justice, fraud, bribery and Russian collusion.
His excuse for this continuing descent into chaos was that he was keeping campaign promises (the wall, pulling out of Syria) – but that is an unending pledge of continuing disaster given how many things he promised that “I alone can fix it.”
Nothing distinguished Mattis as much as the way he left office, with a resignation letter that confirmed his reputation within the Pentagon as a rigorous intellectual.
“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours,” he wrote, “I believe it is right for me to step down from my position. The end date for my tenure is February 28, 2019, a date that should allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed.”
But he nailed those differences in ways that by mere contrast and elegant protest confirmed how working for Trump has shallowed out his influence. This is no Hollywood general.
"One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies."
Slap one: Trump was disrespecting allies.
“My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.”
Slap two: Why are you cozying up to the bad actors?
Observers believe Mattis was incorporating several disagreements in these remarks -- Syria, North Korea, Russia, NATO, a space force, arming troops at Mexican border.
Trump has now torn himself loose from all anchors the nation once respected, leaving us with the likes of John Bolton and Stephen Miller to advise him. His bullying ways may keep Republican followers in check for a few more weeks but eventually most of them will be forced into awakening. Time is running out. The consequences for the nation are almost too extreme to contemplate