One of the most dangerous ways in which Donald Trump is acting out his anger at the American people for not re-electing him is by firing key Pentagon leaders whose job is to help keep us safe. Donald Trump’s petulant response to losing the 2020 presidential election doesn’t, in itself, surprise many Americans; we know who he is. We knew Trump was likely to lash out in a burn-down-the-house way, and we still expect that he will refuse to physically leave the White House on January 20 without being forcefully escorted out. What is dismaying, shocking, and terrifying, however, is the depth to which Donald Trump has demonstrated not just a self-absorbed disregard, but a profound contempt for Americans, our safety, and our democratic systems.
At times, we can imagine Donald Trump consulting a mail-order copy of the Acme Handbook for Authoritarian Rulers, or perhaps Despotism for Dummies; his actions and words often seem to come straight from some step-by-step tutorial for plunging a democratic republic into authoritarian rule. Malign the press: check. Undermine elections and suppress voting: check. Promote an “us vs. them” divide among citizens: check. Align with world dictators and strongmen: check. Flout the country’s Constitution and laws: check. Refuse to accept the results of a fair and free election: check, check, check. And the item that has picked up momentum as of late: Install loyalists and sycophants in government positions: check.
Ever since Donald Trump took office, he has appointed cronies, top donors, and other loyalists to cabinet and top government positions, even though many of them had no qualifications for their appointments. This is nothing new for the Trump administration. Trump has also regularly removed those who have displeased him or otherwise shown “disloyalty,” real or imagined. Since losing the 2020 election, however, Trump’s actions along these lines have reached a new level of danger, as he replaces top officials with unqualified Trump loyalists in the Department of Defense— the agency charged with our national security, that is, with keeping Americans safe at home and abroad.
First, there was the ouster of former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Monday, November 9. Esper had openly opposed Trump’s use of the military against sometimes-violent protests around the country following the death of George Floyd in May. Esper was aware that Trump wasn’t pleased, and expected he might eventually be fired, so had a resignation letter prepared. The firing of Esper seems to be the beginning of a trend at the Pentagon.
In light of Trump’s evident authoritarian tendencies, it’s not at all unreasonable to speculate that, during his dwindling lame duck period, he plans to weaken the Department of Defense in order to use the military to carry out domestic or global acts that he has been advised against up to this point. It’s also not beyond reason to imagine that this is only the beginning of the many possible ways Trump, in his rage at losing re-election, could imperil the country.
Says House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith, “It is hard to overstate just how dangerous high-level turnover at the Department of Defense is during a period of presidential transition. If this is the beginning of a trend — the President either firing or forcing out national security professionals in order to replace them with people perceived as more loyal to him — then the next 70 days will be precarious at best and downright dangerous at worst.”
By the end of the day on Tuesday, a number of other Defense Department civilian employees resigned and were quickly replaced with Trump loyalists, at least some of whom are known to promote “deep state” conspiracy theories.
Among those who left their Pentagon roles on Tuesday was acting under secretary of defense for policy James Anderson, who was known to have collided numerous times with the White House over its practice of installing Trump allies. Anderson was replaced by— yes, a Trump ally— Retired Brigadier General Anthony Tata. Some lawmakers have found Tata’s appointment as policy chief distressing, since he has demonstrated xenophobia, racism, and sexism. Tata has derided Islam, called former president Obama a “terrorist leader,” and promoted the conspiracy theory that Obama was a “Manchurian candidate.”
“Trump’s Defense Department purge is deeply dangerous to our national security—first firing SecDef Esper by tweet & now promoting a known racist Islamophobe,” said Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
Also on Tuesday, Jen Stewart, the chief of staff to newly installed acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, resigned and was quickly replaced by Kash Patel. Patel, who has had numerous roles in the Trump administration, played a role in helping Republicans discredit the Russia probe.
A third high-level Pentagon employee to submit his resignation on Tuesday was retired Navy vice admiral Joseph Kernan as undersecretary of defense for intelligence. He was temporarily replaced by Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was a close ally of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and who was known to be aligned with Flynn regarding his views on the failings of the CIA.
In addition to the swift replacement of these Defense Department heads, FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel may be in danger of being replaced. Trump has said that he might fire Wray after the election; he has been frustrated with Wray for, among other things, his refusal to investigate alleged corruption within the FBI, as well as his refusal to announce an investigation into Trump’s opponent, Joe Biden. Further demonstration of Wray’s “disloyalty” to Trump was when Wray appeared in an election security video that debunked much of Trump’s conspiracy theory about election fraud.
As for Gina Haspel, most recently, the Trump administration has commented that Haspel should be fired for not objecting to the use of election software, which, according to Trump, allowed “election fraud,” and resulted in Joe Biden’s winning the 2020 presidential election.
“This confirms what I have been saying for months,” said House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith. “The President’s singular obsession with loyalty has severely undermined the competence of our government and made us less safe. It is an insult to the American people to hamstring government, particularly during a period of presidential transition.”
Donald Trump, in his great need for absolute loyalty from those associated with him, and his malignant narcissistic rage at losing re-election, has demonstrated that issues like our national security, or the safety of Americans, are of no consequence to him. He not only sees those who disagree with him, such as the Pentagon officials he rapidly replaced, as disloyal, he sees any indication that the results of the election are accurate (and that he lost) as an expression of disloyalty. Donald Trump’s desire to exact revenge for having lost, as well as to retaliate against Democrats by setting President-elect Joe Biden up for failure, take precedence over any presidential, humanitarian, or rational thought processes.
President Trump fires Defense Secretary Mark Esper | ABC News
Trump continues Pentagon shake-up, gives loyalists key roles |
CBS Evening News [2020-11-11]