A Dangerous Combination

Thursday night Donald Trump held a rally in Cincinnati, Ohio where he revealed much more than just his pick for Secretary of Defense. Let’s explore.


If I missed the opportunity to be snarky my readers would be disappointed so before I get into the meat and potatoes of today’s article I need to mention Trump’s tone and demeanor on Thursday night. It was vintage Donald on the campaign trail! He feed off the energy of the crowd and rolled out all his applause lines that got the crowd even more revved up. The truth was an easily dispensed inconvenience and his crowd could have cared less. In reality they were probably ignorant of the truth anyway. The “Donald fact” I found most interesting is that losing the popular vote by about 2.5 million somehow became a landslide victory. Trump intends to rule with a “mandate from the minority”.


The big announcement was that he intended to nominate retired Marine General James Mattis for the Secretary of Defense position. Trump announced that he was “Appointing” Mattis. That is incorrect. The President-elect nominates a candidate for Secretary of Defense which the Senate then must confirm before he or she can assume the position. That could easily be dismissed as a slip in a choice of verbiage if it wasn’t part of as pattern of behavior.


Under current law the nomination of Mattis is illegal. In 1947 Congress passed a law stating that any Secretary of Defense had to be separated from the military for a minimum of then ten (now seven) years. General Mattis retired about three years ago just after President Obama relieved him of his command effectively ending his military career. There has been only one exception authorized by an act of Congress. In 1950 George Marshall was approved as Secretary of Defense. I’m not going to take anything away from Mattis but to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen he is no George Marshall. Marshall was one of World War II’s most recognized heroes. Honestly, before last week would you have recognized the name James Mattis?


In order to properly understand the 1950 exception we have to consider the point in history. World War II just ended five years prior in 1945. Almost every able bodied American male (and in those days there was almost no consideration of women for cabinet positions) had served in “The War”. It would have been difficult to find a qualified candidate to head the Department of Defense who had been separated from the military for ten years. That is simply not the case in 2016. An interesting sidelight to the Marshall case is that Congress specifically stated in the legislation waiving their rule that this should be the only case for such an exception; obviously that Congress recognized the extraordinary situation and knew American founding principles.


This nomination illustrates several of the reasons Trump is unfit for the office of President. He is obviously unaware of the reasons we have civilian control of the military in America. That principle dates back to George Washington whose idea it was. I would hope that by now his staff (weak as it is) would contain someone who actually understood government and would have informed the President-elect of the issue by now. While I seldom comment on rumored Trump nominations/appointees Mattis’ name has been floated in the media for some time now. Assuming that Trump knew of the legal issue he went ahead with the nomination anyway. He actually thinks he is above the law. He has the “if the president does it, then it is legal” attitude. If nobody on his staff made him aware of the problem then he is surrounded by gross incompetents who aren’t even smart enough to expose themselves to legitimate news sources. It boils down to either Trump and crew is ignorant of the task ahead of them or so arrogant that they think they will make up their own rules along the way. Arrogance and ignorance are a dangerous combination!


Here is the really sticky part. Congress can easily block Mattis’ conformation by simply refusing to pass an exemption. The challenge is that Mattis may well be the best nominee that Trump will put forward. Who is his second choice: Rudy Giuliani or someone equally unqualified and outrageous?  Does Congress acquiesce to what is effectively the blackmail threat of a fool and in the process open the door for a future President (even possibly Trump) to use the Mattis waiver as precedent? There doesn’t appear to be a good option on the table. The mistake of electing Trump will have repercussions for decades!


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