The American media write about the conflict between President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper over the possible participation of the military in restoring order during protests.
The main danger that the largest protest in the last half century poses to the White House is not a physical threat to the administration, something which the rioters near the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue residence did not even attempt. The danger is not that there will be economic damage, and it is certainly not related to the prospect of spreading the notorious COVID-19 virus among the crowds of looters and robbers, which everyone has suddenly forgotten about.
The main danger to the Trump administration, and to Donald Trump personally, is their apparent inability to stop the nightmare which has gripped all major American cities for more than a week. Trump, who has declared himself a “wartime president” and is steeped in thoughts of reelection in November, has both supported the motives of the protesters and condemned their methods. At some point it became clear that such a “strategy” does not work under the current situation, and so a radically new approach was needed. Therefore, Trump gave the order to deploy the National Guard and military police to suppress the riots. The bandits, looters and murderers who were acting with absolute impunity and the full support of the press and progressive public met resistance and were forced to retreat, significantly reducing the impact of the rioting on American streets, and Trump decided to go for a victorious conclusion. To this end, the 45th president of the United States announced that he was considering invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807, which would permit him to deploy the military against the “Floydists.” The media hastily created a story around this statement about the fragmentation of federal leadership.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper was named to replace several acting defense secretaries, including Richard Spencer and Patrick Shanahan. Like Esper himself, none of them ever served in the military, but were preceded by Gen. James Mattis, who was wildly popular with the U.S. military. Mattis resigned because he refused to support Trump’s withdrawal of troops from the Middle East. Esper also became one of Trump’s appointments and has gained two years of bitter experience during this presidency. The fact is, that throughout the first half of Trump’s term, former supporters of Hillary Clinton, who lost the election to Trump, as well as those who seemed to be on the side of the Republican president, actively put spokes in Trump’s wheel. Numerous GOP supporters and state representatives took up the approach of John McCain and supported liberal Democratic initiatives that circumvented the position of their own party and their own supporters. These politicians are called RINOs, or Republicans in name only. Cabinet heads, directors of intelligence and law enforcement agencies, regional authorities, state and federal judges, and even their Republican advisers regularly thwarted the president, sabotaging his instructions and criticizing his decisions. At times, it seemed that Trump’s only supporter in the U.S. government was himself. The midterm election at the end of 2018 marked a turning point when a significant number of these “Republicans in name only” lost their seats in Congress and were replaced with politicians loyal to Trump. Soon those close to the president were ousted, so Mattis’ protest was very ill-timed.
Following a long search to replace “Mad Dog” Mattis, Esper was named to lead the Pentagon as defense secretary, someone American journalists quickly described as a Trump loyalist. Since his appointment a year ago, Esper has managed to avoid any major scandals and has not made any accusatory statements about his superiors or tried to sabotage them. But suddenly, at the height of the protests over the death of George Floyd, Esper recalled the troops deployed earlier to the streets of the Washington, D.C., despite Trump’s demands to add 10,000 more. The president cited the 1807 Insurrection Act, which allows him to deploy the U.S. military within the United States. But the defense secretary argued that this law should only be applied as a last resort, and the need for it was still far off. Trump seemed to agree with Esper and the generals, and the White House press secretary confirmed the president’s confidence in Esper. Given the extensive history of sudden dismissals in the Trump administration, this did not amount to much.
The sharp contrast between the president’s threats to use force and the defense secretary’s response was immediately reported by the media and was conveniently overshadowed by the numerous reports of looting and killing during “peaceful” protests. Some news media, like The New York Times, reported a major conflict between Trump and the defense secretary. Others, such as Politico and CNN, saw the split as a sign of upcoming personnel changes. Still others, including CNBC, claimed that the defense secretary had simply lost his nerve. Then there are those such as Bloomberg, which reported with relish the fictional details of a “panic in the White House” over Trump’s loss of support from his security agencies.
But what is really going on? We can see here a classic theme from Hollywood movies, Hollywood being a place where Trump has a star on the Walk of Fame. While the defense secretary plays the “good cop” as he insists there are no grounds to deploy the American military machine against American citizens, Trump plays the “bad cop,” a champion of law and order at any cost who insists on sending soldiers to the streets to stop rioters. On the one hand, such actions appeal to voter sentiment, but on the other hand, it is the establishment of order that the vast majority of Trump’s voters expect from him. So a well-played joint role with Esper may be the key to achieving the ambitions of the “wartime” president.