Saturday, July 29, 2017

Has Homegrown Hitler Found His Goebbels and Himmler? With Update

Has Homegrown Hitler found his Goebbels and Himmler?

Joseph Goebbels
His latest appointments--a brutal communications director and a former General as chief of staff--certainly reflect his dictatorial tendencies. Anthony Scaramucci, the communications director clearly wants to be HH's propaganda minister, his master's mouthpiece, in complete control of information unfettered by truthfulness.

But his lack of media experience, the over-the-top threats of a paper bully as exhibited in his now infamous rant to Ryan Lizza, and the distinct possibility that he isn't very smart, may limit his effectiveness.  His dictatorial tendencies and loyalties are clear enough, though.  Of his boss, "Scaramucci told CBS, “I don’t know if he’s going to get what he wants next week, but he’s going to get what he wants eventually, because this guy always gets what he wants. O.K.?”  With some so far invisible ability to learn, and especially some dumb luck, he could become dangerous as well as disgusting.

The appointment of Homeland Security chief and former Marine General John Kelly to be chief of staff is maybe of another order.  Most of the early stories are fairly measured, and commentaries tend to question whether he or anyone can bring discipline to this White House.  But that may not be where the danger lies.

Kelly first of all got the job by proving his loyalty to some of HH's worst tendencies on immigration, as well as his efficiency.  Even joking that HH should use a ceremonial sword on "the press" is enough to set off alarms, if not a full red alert.  So whether Kelly can run the White House isn't the chief question; the question is whether he may wind up running the country, as a General carrying out the wishes of Homegrown Hitler.

According to some reports, Kelly has exhibited dictatorial tendencies and reach as Homeland Security chief.  What has seemingly saved this country from HH's dictatorial wishes being carried out to a greater extent has been his incompetence and inconsistencies.  Now what will he be able to do with a General as his chief executive?

While this may be a groundless fear, in fact Kelly has not been tested at this level of power.  One key to his intentions may be what now happens at Homeland Security.  Will he try to keep control of it, from the White House?  The first tipoff will be the person appointed to officially take his place--how close to him, and how independent.

When I use the analogy of Goebbels and Himmler, I'm not saying that these appointees are as bad, or are likely to be.  The point is that they are primed to fill the roles of Goebbels and Himmler in the Nazi regime (of master propagandist and master administrator), and in any other totalitarian regime.

Still, this General in the White House along with other recent news has prompted other alarming thoughts.  I was particularly struck by a comment by Jill Lawrence in USA Today in the content of decrying the craven chaos in the White House:

"And that might be the least of it. While this administration wallows in a self-absorbed cycle of insults, betrayals, firings, lies, leaks and incompetence, North Korea is building nuclear capacity and on Friday launched a ballistic missile capable of hitting our cities. Somebody needs to be president. I just don't know who that will be."

Homegrown Hitler's surest way to sustained dictatorial power has always been military--with the pretext of a terrorist attack or attack on US forces (a ship off the Korean shore, say, be it real or invented), to start a war.

Now look at where we are: HH and his party are politically both in conflict and reeling.  His poll numbers are down, and his fears that federal investigators are closing in are up.  This past week, even congressional Republicans began boxing him in to prevent any firing of Mueller or even attorney-general Sessions.

Meanwhile, North Korea is again making headlines that tend to simplify matters by claiming that their missiles can reach the US.  The generally accepted estimate that their ability to dispatch a nuclear warhead on such a missile and accurately hit a target is five to ten years away usually appears at the bottom of a story, if at all.

Most analyses say essentially that there are no good options in forcing North Korea to relent, which is not what Americans want to hear.  If fears are stoked sufficiently, starting a war may seem to be just what HH needs.  With other more obvious options cut off or not working, he may believe it is worth the risk.

 Worth it to him, that is, and his power.  If it works, his poll numbers go up, he's at last given the deference of his office while the invisible investigations disappear from the news.  Besides, the hundreds of thousands of casualties will be mostly Korean, North and South, if all goes well that is.  What this does to the country and the world doesn't matter much to him.  This is the guy who took America out of the Paris agreement to save the planet because the president of France bragged that he won their handshake tussle and it pissed him off.

HH can't do this by himself.  His White House is divided against itself.  Much if not most of the federal government doesn't trust him.  Even in the best of times a president has problems getting orders followed, and there are stories out there about discussions within the government and the military about whether to obey HH's.

But now there's a General in the Oval Office.  That may be enough to tempt HH to start a war.  It's not yet likely, but I believe the chance of such attempt in the next year is above 50%.  Kelly may be the key factor.

"Somebody needs to be president. I just don't know who that will be."  Could it be General Kelly?

Postscript/update: Two relevant articles in Politico on 7/30: historical background on the power of presidential chiefs of staff, notably the previous General to serve: Alexander Haig, in the Nixon White House, who ended up pretty much running the presidency.  And a piece detailing how the previous chief--Reince Prebus--was the sole connector to the Republican party, its officeholders, funders and conservative organizations.  This is significant because it was the White House direct connection to at least some viewpoints, and the political support for particular issues.  Now there's just a General. 

Also Sunday, New York posted a piece about North Korea that references tweets by reporter Laura Rozen indicating that some "Strangelovian" alternatives are being discussed in the White House regarding North Korea,  and that the White House wants a win on the North Korea issue this year.

On Monday, Eliot Cohen in the Atlantic expressed his misgivings about the appointment of General Kelly, in similar if less spelled out terms as I did here.  And one question I raised got answered: Kelly got Scaramucci fired, so no, he won't be HH's Goebbels, at least not as communications director in the White House. 

Meanwhile, in Slate, Joshua Keating joins me in suggesting HH might well start a war because he feels stymied domestically and haunted by investigations, though he does so in a more scholarly manner. 

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