Like Martin Luther, Donald Trump gets his maddest epiphanies in the early morning hours while he is on the throne, straining at stool. Trump is driven, as was Luther, by two consuming obsessions, both entwined in the sunken strata of his psyche: money and bodily excresences. (See Young Man Luther by Erik Erikson.) On Thursday morning, Trump clutched his Android and discharged a crude torrent of bile at Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the betrothed morning duo on MSDNC. It was Trump at his most debauched:
I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came…to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!
Trump seems to exhibit a paraphilia for female blood, a kind of sexual obsession that psychologists call “Hematolagnia.” Hematolagnia might loosely be translated as “blood lust.” Recall Trump’s freakish denunciation of Megyn Kelly to CNN’s Don Lemon last year: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.”
With their crass antics on “Morning Joe,” Scarborough and Brzezinski often come off being almost as juvenile as Trump, though the president’s Tweets exhibit a clinical pathology that Joe and Mika can only aspire to. Trump’s boorish reference to Brzezinski’s facelift confirms, from his very own micro-digits, the stories that have been floating around for years that Trump has routinely spied on celebrity and political guests at his properties, collecting damaging information that he could later weaponize against them through disparaging Tweets or leaks to his pals at the National Enquirer.
It only took an hour or so for Trump’s Tweets to detonate paroxysms of mock outrage in official Washington, with the Republican congressional leadership (the same group of moral exemplars that wants to pitch 22 million people off their meager health care plans) scrambling for the microphones to denounce the president for sullying the “dignity” of the Oval Office. (Bill Clinton must have chuckled at that one.)
Dignity? In the White House??
Contrast the almost universal indignation over Trump’s warped Tweets with the complete lack of attention paid to the 500 civilians US airstrikes in Syria have killed in the last month, real bloodshed that is treated as merely being part of the presidential job description. Despite Trump’s own warning a mere two years ago that “we should stay out of Syria,” he now finds himself hip-deep in Syrian blood with no apparent aversion to his predicament. I’m not sure about the percentage of bleeding women amid the daily carnage in Syria, though it seems to be enough to whet Trump’s appetite for destruction.
To the extent that Trump can be decoded, I suggest that people have dangerously misunderstood his foreign policy and his position on NATO, in particular. The confusion is pardonable to an extent, because it’s not at all clear that Trump himself understands the details or even the vague outlines of his geopolitical strategy. He’s left all that to the generals (and the homunculus of the White House Stephen Miller). The Trump administration isn’t pursuing a reduced US commitment to the provocation of Russia in eastern Europe (or in Syria for that matter), but a demand for an increase in military spending by European countries, as evidenced in the recent capitulation to his demands by Canada and other EU countries.
It’s much easier to interpret the real aims of Trump foreign policy by reading Nikki Haley’s Tweets rather than Donald’s inspired musings. Haley is Samantha Power on steroids, except we know that Haley (the book-keeper turned war minister) isn’t coming up with these belligerent communiqués on her own. The script is being written by the likes of Mike Pompeo and HR McMaster.
In a bizarre episode on Monday evening, the White House announced that it was putting the Assad regime on notice about chemical weapons use. White House press secretary Sean Spicer claimed that “the United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children. If Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”
In drawing this sharp red line, Spicer refused to identify the source of the intelligence or comment any plans the Trump administration might have to counter the attacks. For his part, Trump preferred to Tweet smack at Obama for his failure to stop the Russians from meddling in the 2016 elections. Heh, heh…
That left it up to Nikki Haley, who seized the opportunity for dramatic escalation. In her testimony before Congress on Tuesday morning, Haley pushed the doomsday clock forward a few precious minutes when she pointed her pious finger at both Russia and Iran. “The goal is at this point not just to send Assad a message, but to send Russia and Iran a message,” Haley said. “That if this happens again, we are putting you on notice. My hope is that the president’s warning will certainly get Iran and Russia to take a second look, and I hope that it will caution Assad.”
Haley’s bellicose bluster prompted the Russians to respond in kind. The Kremlin warned that if the US launched a preemptive strike against Assad, its forces in the region would respond in kind–a case where tit-for-tat posturing could escalate to Armageddon.
However, by the next afternoon, this entire mysterious interlude had been quietly swept under the rug by Gen. Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis himself, who told reporters on a flight to the NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels that “It appears that the Syrians took the warning seriously said. They didn’t do it.” The Syrians claimed they never had any intention of launching a chemical attack and US intelligence officials speaking anonymously to Reuters backed them up.
So what was this bizarre burst of prime-time war-mongering all about? Was it a distraction from the unraveling of the Senate’s calamitous version of TrumpCare? Was it an aborted power-play by the anti-Iran hardliners in the West Wing looking to cook up a pretext for the next war?
I think the answer is much simpler and dumber. The White House issued its impromptu warning about a planned Syrian chemical weapon attack at about the same time an explosive story by renowned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh went live on the site of the German newspaper Die Welt. Hersh’s story details how the Trump White House swallowed a false narrative about sarin gas being used to kill civilians in an ISIS-held town called Khan Sheikhoun and then using this as a pretext to launch a cruise missile attack on a Syrian air base, flouting the warnings of his own military and intelligence advisors. Hersh’s rigorously-sourced story is a devastating account of how a reckless and deranged inner circle in the Trump White House nearly brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Hersh’s exposé is a must-read, a landmark piece of investigative reporting. And you can easily understand why the Team Trump would have been desperate to see the story buried in a whirlwind of manufactured hysteria about a new chemical weapons attack. But they needn’t have bothered. Few people were going to be aware of Hersh’s piece in any event. That’s because Sy Hersh, the man who exposed My Lai, domestic spying by the CIA and the abuses at Abu Ghraib, has been effectively blacklisted in the US and now even Great Britain. Hersh’s piece on Syria had been commissioned by the London Review of Books, which has a dedicated if minor global readership. But at the last minute the LRB shamefully lost its nerve and rejected the story. The LRB’s editor Mary-Kay Wilmers claimed in an email sent to CounterPunch that “the piece was fact-checked and didn’t stand up.”
This is a disgraceful swipe at one of the world’s best journalists and is evidence of just how degraded the LRB’s once glittering reputation has become. Recall that Hersh’s first book, even before his My Lai reporting, was America’s Hidden Arsenal, a ground-breaking trip into the US’s biological and chemical weapons program. He has been covering this story his entire professional career.
My friend Chase Madar, the very smart lawyer and writer, told me this week that he believed there was always a greater risk of Trump initiating a conflict with Russia than Clinton. I think he’s right. With Clinton the risk was calculable and predictable. You pretty much knew exactly where the fault lines and pressure points were. But Trump is the man without inhibitions, who will not be impeded by any societal norms. He is impetuous, vain and stupid and could easily be bullied by his generals or political opponents into starting a war against almost anyone: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Oregon–maybe all five at once. That’s why for the sake of world peace I hope Putin does have that smut dossier on Trump. Sex Tape Deterrence. You didn’t read about that survival strategy in Herman Kahn’s On Thermonuclear War.
I used to believe, naively it turns out, that rightwing militarism would be countered by a liberated and reanimated anti-war movement, a movement that had disgracefully refused to confront wars launched by liberal politicians from JFK to Obama.
But where is it now? Where are the mass protests against Trump’s expanding wars in Syria, Yemen, Somalia and the re-surge in Afghanistan? Where are the protests against the rising slaughter of civilians? The swelling threat of nuclear confrontation?
The liberal antiwar movement (if there ever was such an entity) has shriveled into an anti-Russia claque, aligning itself fatally with some of the most bloodthirsty hawks on the Hill and in doing so is abetting every drone strike, cruise missile and MOAB bomb Trump drops. This blood–of woman, man and child–won’t wash away, no matter how furiously they scrub themselves with pumice stones lathered in Dr. Bonner’s.