Denouement – the final part of a play, film or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.
We are fast approaching a moment of truth. It seems likely that the untenable situation in Washington (that of an administration in a permanent state of crisis) can be resolved only two ways; either with the removal of Donald Trump from office or the commencement of a war, a development that would allow Trump to ride roughshod over the domestic concerns which now dog him. One may not preclude the other.
At home, it promises to be yet another massive week of scandal, innuendo, rumour and outrage – the sharks seem to circle closer every day. Matters that would normally dominate a month of airtime will scarcely get a look-in when compared to the drama elsewhere. The house is voting on Trump’s healthcare bill. You’ll hear little about it. Confirmation hearings commence for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. It won’t be the focus.
Because, elsewhere, the head of the FBI is due to give testimony in relation to Donald Trump’s notorious allegation that President Obama was conducting surveillance on Trump tower phone lines during the election. And there’s no good answers there for Trump. If James Comey confirms that there was no such surveillance, it’s the final straw, conclusively proving that the President of the United States simply made up an outrageous accusation that his predecessor is a felon, one of the most serious charges imaginable. And should the testimony explosively reveal that Trump was indeed under surveillance, it lends much credence to the notion that America’s intelligence agencies had concluded that the Trump campaign was actively colluding with Russia during the election.
Meanwhile, the net is closing in on Michael Flynn, the National Security Advisor who lasted just 24 days before he either resigned or was fired. That in itself is not clear – it seems Trump knew for weeks that Flynn had lied about not meeting the Russian ambassador and let him stay on, before a Washington Post expose made his position untenable. So either Trump knew about Flynn’s lies concerning meeting the Russians and chose not to fire him, or America’s National Security Advisor, with access to the highest level information imaginable, including the President’s daily brief, kept contact with and payments from America’s mortal enemy a secret from the President and his team.
Both of these would be the scandal of the year in any normal Presidency. Under Trump it’s scarcely scandal of the week.
Flynn has also been revealed to have received more than a half-million dollars from the government of Turkey. He has now registered as a foreign agent, but it’s clear he was illegally acting as such during the election campaign, in which he actively promoted the view that Hillary Clinton should be imprisoned for her alleged corruption. Serious questions need to be asked of Trump’s vetting staff, who appear to have not even made the most rudimentary inquiries as to the security of one of the most senior people in the country.
We all know that on one level or another, Trump and his team are hopelessly compromised. No-one doubts that Trump has enough skeletons in his closet to destroy him. It’s a game of cat and mouse, and each week the kill grows closer. Somewhere out there is a document that proves Trump is beholden to Russia and Vladimir Putin. The greatest scandal in American history is coming.
Trump may be a fool, but he has the sharpened instincts of a cornered rat. He’s a day-trader who deals solely with the here and now. If he can make it to another sunset alive, that’s all that matters. But the net is closing in.
In the distance, however, is the calm waters and relative safety of a crisis. Exploitation of a paroxysm allows a President to draw clear of these daily concerns, as the media and public suddenly perceive an immediate threat that supersedes domestic matters.
I have long argued that crises are used, and often manufactured, precisely for this purpose. 9/11 is the ultimate example. ‘Conspiracy theorist’ has been used as shorthand for ‘deranged loony’, but we now have a President who daily promulgates lies and conspiracies, and live with the knowledge that the allegation of conspiracy against those currently in power is more likely than not. I have read two articles just today (attached below) that argue that a domestic terrorism attack will immeasurably strengthen Trump’s hand, allow him to ignore the ethics issues he currently faces, and overcome obstruction from the judiciary, which remains the last man standing in terms of control over the branches of government.
The New York Review of Books and The Intercept are not exactly wild-eyed conspiracy fanatics. This thinking is now in the mainstream. Whilst neither go as far as to suggest that domestic terrorism presents such an attractive idea to Trump and his team that they will allow or even manufacture their own incident, I think the idea is not just tenable, it’s likely.
It has been said that in the event of another major terrorist attack in America, the people will not just tolerate the abrogation of democratic institutions, they will demand a form of martial law for their own protection. Trump has already put in place his defense, tweeting (after his first travel ban was knocked back) that if ‘something happens’, the judge in that case should be blamed. No matter that Isis have called the travel ban ‘the blessed order’, a recruitment tool for their cause – terrorism would allow Trump to gain control over the judiciary. He can say that it was the stupid laws that allowed the attacks to happen. Then he can become dictator.
And in the background lurks war. Trump has pledged to increase the US military budget by $52 billion. America, as a society, is entirely predicated on war, war expenditure and the projection of military power abroad. This brief period during which the US is not actively prosecuting a war is bad for business, and will soon end. Although Iran seems the most likely target, a combination of aggression and inexperience could allow the tense situation in North Korea to spiral out of control in a matter of days.
A crisis that can be painted as an existential threat, be it terrorism or war, will all-but end the siege that threatens Trump’s presidency. We are approaching denouement. Perhaps Jeb Bush was right; the chaos candidate is going to be the chaos president.