Editorial: Trump’s Replacement of Pentagon Leadership with Loyalists Shows Contempt for Americans

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]

Editorial: Donald Trump’s Election Tantrum Puts Us All at Risk

Donald Trump has lost the 2020 presidential election, and he is putting the U.S. at risk in the service of his ego. Trump is digging in his authoritarian heels, refusing to accept the results, refusing to concede victory to former Vice President Joe Biden, and blocking the crucial presidential transition process. Americans aren’t surprised that Trump is once again placing his ego above the good of the country. We should all be alarmed, however, at the way he is undermining our democratic process and threatening our national security.

Long before the election, Trump began his attempts to undermine the validity of its outcome by declaring that the only way he’d lose the election would be by Democrats’ cheating. Now, after Trump has lost the election, his base, already primed, and without any basis, are, predictably, accusing the Democrats of cheating.

The Trump campaign has brought lawsuits against numerous states where Joe Biden was declared the winner. He has demanded that Georgia, also a state where Biden has been declared the winner, conduct a recount of all votes. None of Trump’s allegations of voter fraud has any basis, and Biden is in fact ahead in many states by tens of thousands of votes. Even some Republican state-level leaders are defending the integrity of their elections, causing Trump and his loyalists to mock them and call them traitors.

Donald Trump has created an alternate universe, fueled by his tweets, in which an outcome where he is not the winner could not possibly exist unless it is the result of foul play. In Trumpworld, as we have seen numerous times in the past, truth, facts, data, and integrity are inconsequential. They must either be altered to reflect Trump’s worldview, or they are discarded. Because Donald Trump is unable to accept the results of the election, his loyalists are also unable to accept them.

“Frankly, we did win,” said Trump on Election Night in a late-night “victory speech,” already threatening to take the election results to court.

Trump’s unhinged Election Night speech should finally have demonstrated to his ardent supporters the state of his mind, which teeters between a despotic bent and a break with reality. But Trump’s supporters are so devoted that they fully believe and accept his brazen gaslighting, even though by now, it resembles less of a gaslight and more of a flame thrower.

“The last President I covered who refused to accept the vote count in an election was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, 2009,” said journalist Christiane Amanpour in response to Trump’s speech.

Trump’s blatant disregard for the American election process has even greater consequences than nurturing division among Americans. It is destroying trust in our government and in American democratic processes. It is eroding the confidence of other world leaders in our ability to be a stable force any longer, and it is aiding our enemies. It is putting Americans and our national security in danger.

As Americans, many of us take for granted that we’ll always have a government that works as it should; that power grabs by any one branch would be checked by the others; that behavior by leaders and cabinet members that threatened the democratic process would be called out and dealt with harshly. Yet in the Trump administration, none of this applies.

Trump’s administration is filled with sycophants and enablers who value their careers over the good of the Americans they serve, and who stand behind even the most absurd Trumpian antics. Presumably, they studied some history and some civics somewhere along the line; more than a few of them have law degrees. One would think that at least some of them might recognize the signs of an aspiring despot. Or perhaps they do; that’s a chilling thought.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who graduated West Point, smiled at reporters during a press conference as he said, “There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration. We’re ready,” he said. “The world is watching.”

Yes, the world is watching. It is watching as the secretary of state tries to smoothly invalidate a free and fair American election. It is watching as the Trump administration and GOP lawmakers unflinchingly fabricate stories of election fraud (but only in states where Trump lost), and demand that Trump be declared the winner. It is watching as the U.S. Attorney General demonstrates his loyalty to Donald Trump and compromises the integrity of his office… similarly to what happens in authoritarian regimes around the globe.

The world is also watching as the General Services Administration (GSA) refuses to grant President-elect Joe Biden access to the resources and funds he needs in order to transition to the office of President in January. Biden, as the leader-elect of the free world, will also need the national security briefing the Trump administration refuses to share with him. This week, it was also reported the State Department has prevented Joe Biden from receiving messages from world leaders who have called to congratulate him.

“If I were our adversaries, this is when I would launch an attack. …When people on the other side are in disarray, this is when you attack,” noted Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), who sits on the Senate Committee on Armed Services, and who is a candidate for Secretary of Defense for the incoming Biden administration.

As other countries watch what’s happening now in the U.S., will they find it increasingly difficult to respect the United States as an advocate for strengthening democracy around the globe? Will it be hard for us to plausibly argue for free and fair elections in other places? Are we any longer an example of a rational, secure nation?

When a president takes office, he or she becomes the protector of our democratic system. Declaring oneself the winner despite losing an election, refusing to validate election results, preventing people from voting, turning the cabinet and the Congress into a choir of enablers, refusing to allow the next president to move forward; these are what a president does when he is the protector, not of a democratic system, but of his own authoritarian interests.

President Trump refuses to concede | ABC News [2020-11-08]

Trump Administration Still Refuses To Concede Election To Biden | TODAY