Trial Balloon for a Coup?
Analyzing the news of the past 24 hours
The theme of this morning’s news updates from Washington is additional clarity emerging, rather than meaningful changes in the field. But this clarity is enough to give us a sense of what we just saw happen, and why it happened the way it did.
(1) Priebus made two public statements today. One is that the ban on Muslims will no longer be applied to green card holders. Notably absent from his statement was anything about people with other types of visa (including long-term ones), or anything about the DHS’ power to unilaterally revoke green cards in bulk.
The other was that the omission of Jews from the statement for Holocaust Remembrance Day was deliberate and is not regretted.
A point of note here is that Priebus is the one making these statements, which is not normally the Chief of Staff’s job. I’ll come back to that below.
Yesterday was the trial balloon for a coup d’état against the United States. It gave them useful information.
A second major theme is watching the set of people involved. There appears to be a very tight “inner circle,” containing at least Trump, Bannon, Miller, Priebus, Kushner, and possibly Flynn, which is making all of the decisions. Other departments and appointees have been deliberately hobbled, with key orders announced to them only after the fact, staff gutted, and so on. Yesterday’s reorganization of the National Security Council mirrors this: Bannon and Priebus now have permanent seats on the Principals’ Committee; the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have both been demoted to only attending meetings where they are told that their expertise is relevant; the Secretary of Energy and the US representative to the UN were kicked off the committee altogether (in defiance of the authorizing statute, incidentally).
I am reminded of Trump’s continued operation of a private personal security force, and his deep rift with the intelligence community. Last Sunday, Kellyanne Conway (likely another member of the inner circle) said that “It’s really time for [Trump] to put in his own security and intelligence community,” and this seems likely to be the case.
As per my analysis yesterday, Trump is likely to want his own intelligence service disjoint from existing ones and reporting directly to him; given the current staffing and roles of his inner circle, Bannon is the natural choice for them to report through. (Having neither a large existing staff, nor any Congressional or Constitutional restrictions on his role as most other Cabinet-level appointees do) Keith Schiller would continue to run the personal security force, which would take over an increasing fraction of the Secret Service’s job.
Especially if combined with the DHS and the FBI, which appear to have remained loyal to the President throughout the recent transition, this creates the armature of a shadow government: intelligence and police services which are not accountable through any of the normal means, answerable only to the President.
(Note, incidentally, that the DHS already has police authority within 100 miles of any border of the US; since that includes coastlines, this area includes over 60% of Americans, and eleven entire states. They also have a standing force of over 45,000 officers, and just received authorization to hire 15,000 more on Wednesday.)
The third theme is money. Trump’s decision to keep all his businesses (not bothering with any blind trusts or the like), and his fairly open diversion of campaign funds, made it fairly clear from the beginning that he was seeing this as a way to become rich in the way that only dedicated kleptocrats can, and this week’s updates definitely tally with that. Kushner looks increasingly likely to be the money-man, acting as the liaison between piles of cash and the president.
This gives us a pretty good guess as to what the exit strategy is: become tremendously, and untraceably, rich, by looting any coffers that come within reach.
Combining all of these facts, we have a fairly clear picture in play.
- Trump was, indeed, perfectly honest during the campaign; he intends to do everything he said, and more. This should not be reassuring to you.
- The regime’s main organizational goal right now is to transfer all effective power to a tight inner circle, eliminating any possible checks from either the Federal bureaucracy, Congress, or the Courts. Departments are being reorganized or purged to effect this.
- The inner circle is actively probing the means by which they can seize unchallenged power; yesterday’s moves should be read as the first part of that.
- The aims of crushing various groups — Muslims, Latinos, the black and trans communities, academics, the press — are very much primary aims of the regime, and are likely to be acted on with much greater speed than was earlier suspected. The secondary aim of personal enrichment is also very much in play, and clever people will find ways to play these two goals off each other.
If you’re looking for estimates of what this means for the future, I’ll refer you back to yesterday’s post on what “things going wrong” can look like. Fair warning: I stuffed that post with pictures of cute animals for a reason.