Things are not going well for Donald Trump. So he might just blow up the world.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, appears to be getting squeezed to give up the goods on the president. The grip belongs to Robert Mueller, the special counsel whose appointment resulted from Trump’s firing of then-FBI Director James Comey.
First there was the FBI’s search-warranted, guns-drawn raid of Manafort’s Alexandria, Virginia, home in July, during which agents seized documents. Now comes word that Manafort has been under surveillance for years because of his work for the pro-Putin political party of former Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych, which resulted in a wiretap on his phones issued to the FBI under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Some of the calls intercepted involved Manafort’s discussions with Russians about the presidential campaign, CNN reports; others may include conversations between Manafort and Trump himself, according to CBS News. Manafort has reportedly been told by Mueller’s team that he’s about to be indicted.
Mueller’s aggressive actions against Manafort are leading to speculation that his investigation of Russia’s attempts to sway the U.S. presidential election, and the possible involvement of the Trump campaign in those efforts, may conclude more quickly than special counsel investigations typically do. (They can stretch for years.)
Meanwhile, Trump finds himself unable to get what he needs from the leadership of the majority party—which happens to be his own. So, he’s had to turn to the enemy for aid and comfort, cutting a deal with the minority leaders of the House and Senate to keep the government in business. His right-wing pals are not amused over tales of his Chinese-food make-nice with Chuck and Nancy. (Would love to have broken open the fortune cookies that came with that order.)
And if that all wasn’t enough trouble in Trumpland, Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s former campaign CEO and White House strategist, is leading the charge against Luther Strange, the Senate candidate Trump endorsed in Alabama. Bannon is backing primary challenger Roy Moore, whose major claim to fame is his defiance of the U.S. Constitution in the name of the Ten Commandments. (Moore lost his seat as the chief justice of that state’s Supreme Court when he defied a court order to stop telling officials not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the denial of such marriages unconstitutional.)
An article on Breitbart.com, to which Bannon has returned as the wingnut site’s chief executive, gleefully notes that this week’s September 22 Trump event on Strange’s behalf is slated for a smaller venue than the one where Trump held his Alabama campaign rally, for fear he wouldn’t be able to fill the larger venue.
It is against this gloomy backdrop that the president’s Tuesday speech to the United Nations General Assembly must be viewed, what with its homage to national sovereignty in one breath, and threats to sovereign nations in the next. If there’s anything Trump knows how to do, it’s to deflect criticism by changing the subject and saying something outrageous.
Trump also needs to feel important, and to him importance is defined by his ability to cause harm to others. That’s how he’s done business all his life. Just ask the many contractors he’s stiffed, or the city on the Jersey Shore he helped to sink with his bankrupt casinos. He also thrives on the reaction he can elicit from his targets, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has proven himself susceptible to Trump’s one-upmanship. Each time Trump insults him, Kim follows up with another rocket launch. And Trump clearly knew that his threat to “totally destroy North Korea,” along with his description of the U.N. deal with Iran to stall its nuclear weapons program—a deal to which the U.S. is a party—would knock his own troubles off the front pages of mainstream newspapers around the world.
Trump’s U.N. speech was a hash of incongruent assertions. The sovereignty bit could have been written by the nationalist Bannon himself, builder of “the platform for the alt-right.” Well, except for that part where Trump said sovereignty is to be put in the service for the good of humanity. But Bannon’s nationalist wing is not terribly keen on engagement with foreign powers, so the stuff about destroying North Korea probably wouldn’t go over all that well with that crew, nor would the brief mention in the speech of Trump’s recent commitment to keep the United States in Afghanistan indefinitely. Yet, a different slice of the right-wing base—those who worship all things military–probably got a charge out of all of that.
With the Mueller investigation looking very bad for Trump, and Republicans in Congress unwilling to do his bidding, he may very well see war abroad as his path to maintaining power at home. Chaos and destruction has always worked for him. It worked to his advantage in the Republican presidential primary, and in the general election. He made out well when his casinos went bust, leaving creditors holding the bag for his losses, not to mention the working people of Atlantic City. In the aftermath, when banks would no longer fund his ventures, he turned to Russian investors.
For Trump, the next adventure is always bigger and bolder than the last. So far, he’s gotten away with pretty much every horrible thing he’s ever done—to his investors, to his contractors, to his wives, to his daughters, to every woman whose private parts he ever grabbed. He’s determined to get away with having grabbed the White House through nefarious means—no matter who gets hurt, with the exception of his bad self. That’s the art of Trump’s deal. Nobody wins but him.