I like to look at the Trump administration as a series on Netflix or Amazon (which one day soon it will be). For me, the template is Wolf Hall. A king is surrounded by courtiers and flatterers, and they engage in endless (and lethal) power plays. Henry VIII wasn’t anywhere near as incompetent as Trump, but the basic scheme still works.
One frightening future episode is coming into focus for me. I would hope that the adults surrounding Trump, people like his national security advisor McMaster and Defense Secretary Mattis, have taken steps to protect the world from an Oval Office tantrum that goes nuclear. They must have pieced together some sort of circuit breakers so that if Trump gives the order to launch nuclear missiles, someone has the opportunity to countermand him. (If they don’t have these circuit-breakers in place by now, yesterday’s news that Trump revealed classified information to the Russians should mobilize their efforts.)
So one morning Steve Bannon walks into the Oval Office and whispers to the president that the two most senior members of his national security team have taken away his nukes. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s “fake news.” How does Trump respond?
For starters, he gets very mad, very quickly. That’s his power! And they’ve taken it away (or at least might have done so, which for Trump is pretty much the same thing). Bannon reminds him that their behavior undermines the Constitution. It’s criminal, even treasonous.
Should the president call McMaster and Mattis, and confront them with Bannon’s charge? He could, but what does he say when they deny it? He has no proof, only Bannon’s words. As he deliberates, the seeds of treachery and grievance are already sprouting in his mind, and leafing out.
He sits down and composes a series of angry tweets. One of them charges that powerful people inside and outside his administration are hatching plots, and he will have them sent to Ft. Leavenworth! Another reminds his followers that they elected him, and only him, as commander in chief! A third mentions outlines the tremendous power of the commander in chief, including NUKES!
A Constitutional crisis is upon us. Practically everyone in Washington, with the notable exceptions of Trump and Steve Bannon, wants those nuclear circuit-breakers in place. But they do represent a quiet coup d’etat.
Trump is beside himself with righteous rage. He asks Bannon if Mike Pence is part of the plot. Bannon nods gravely.
Trump is so mad he’s shaking. How does he assuage this burning grievance? How does he assert, for once and for all, his absolute power over the nuclear arsenal? And how can members of his own party in Congress stop him?