Remember those high school parties when your friend’s folks went out of town? There were no adults in range and that meant that there was no one to set limits, or say no. When you’re in high school you can get away with using bad judgement. When you’re an adolescent you’re expected to make mistakes, say silly things and predict unrealistic outcomes. Parents try their best to protect us from ourselves during those challenging years, but we’re all pretty narcissistic during this stage in our lives and we’re sure we know best. If we’ve been lucky, there was an adult in the room, our parents, to help to mitigate any serious damage we might have done to ourselves or others. Eventually most of us mature and begin to interact and act with greater maturity and judgement. Unfortunately, we all know some of our old high school friends who were never able to achieve that emotional growth and development. Their actions and reactions are the same today as they were as teenagers. They are self-centered, self-serving, blustery narcissists who never seem to have enough adulation thrust upon them. When that person is our president, it is both a national and a world problem.
It is for that reason that I have been pleased over the past week or so to note that the adults in the room seem to be asserting themselves. While our teenager president continues to make inappropriate and damaging remarks and reacts with unbridled bluster to serious issues, some in his cabinet and in government appear to be responding with maturity. Four recent incidents give me hope. First, after Trump made his pronouncements regarding the status of transgender individuals in the military, Secretary Mattis and his military chiefs gave verbal directives to stand pat on this issue until further study had been completed. He then made a point of saying that it was important that within the military all individuals respect each other. Second, in a response to a question regarding Trump’s remarks about the events in Charlottesville, Secretary Tillerson made it clear that the president’s remarks do not represent the values of the State Department or our nation. Third, in reaction to Trump’s “all options on the table ” reaction to North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test, Mattis sought to cool the rhetoric by affirming the need for a diplomatic solution. Finally, when Trump stated unequivocally that if he didn’t get money for his “wall” in the budget there would be a government shutdown, leaders of both the Senate and the House disputed that such an occurrence would take place. Finally it appears that individuals with positions of power and authority in our government are seeking to protect us from the actions of our teenage president.
When a president is neither feared nor revered his power to influence actions and reactions is severely limited. Instead there exists a vacuum consisting of inaction, unpredictability and insecurity, Obviously this sends wrong signals to both our allies and our adversaries. It creates a lack of trust between the US and her allies and creates an imperative for them to fill that vacuum with their own leadership. As this occurs, the US is removed from the leadership role it has held for more than 70 years. It is no surprise than that the two Cabinet secretaries to move first to breach this gap and mitigate the damage are those of State and Defense. Additionally, with the realization that this president has neither the requisite skills nor power to move a legislative agenda to fruition, the leaders in Congress have begun to separate themselves from Trump. It has taken some 7 months of presidential incompetence to motivate these leaders to act. While there will be continued legislative battles as well as major international challenges, at least the adults appear to be waking up to their responsibility.