For Trump’s first couple of years, we consoled ourselves by believing that Trump was a kind of Gulliver figure, an overgrown child restrained by the adults of the deep state.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly was a sort of serious person who resisted Trump’s worst impulses. The generals at the Department of Defense and the National Security Council were bulwarks against Trump’s nuttier impulses. The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was the worst kind of racist but a proud man who would not bend the law to do Trump’s bidding.
But as a number of students of tyranny have observed, tyrants learn in office. One by one, Trump has gotten rid of these restraints, in favor of people who, if anything, are more reckless than he is.
At State, we now have Mike Pompeo, who is just as bellicose and disdainful of the consequences as Trump. Ultra-hawk John Bolton has replaced H.R. McMaster at the NSC.
Trump dumped Defense Secretary James Mattis in favor of the far more malleable Patrick Shanahan. And as attorney general, William Barr is a figure of superficial and seductive polish who is there to help Trump get his way—we will see if he succeeds in bottling up the most damning parts of the Mueller Report.
Worst of all, as the inner circle, we now have Mick Mulvaney running something like half the government and Stephen Miller running the other half. These are guys with a knack for channeling Trump’s inner lunatic, and coming up with Trumpian schemes that only egg the boss on.
Steve Bannon may be gone, but Stephen Miller is his protégé. Miller is continuing at the White House the kind of political, base-agitating stunts at which Bannon specialized during the campaign.
Forget the fantasy that Trump’s own appointees can help contain him. They are now inflaming him.
It will take Congress’s full power of investigation, including impeachment, plus what’s left of the independent judiciary—and of course the 2020 election—if we are to be spared full-blown tyranny.