You know you’re living in unusual times when the sanest person in the executive branch of the U.S. government is nicknamed “Chaos.”
That’s the primary takeaway from an Associated Press curtain-raiser on retired Marine Gen. John Kelly’s ascension to the rank of White House chief of staff. While the executive role traditionally considered gatekeeper to the commander-in-chief and the constitutional authority he wields, the AP hints at a different dynamic in the Oval Office:
[Secretary of Defense James] Mattis and Kelly also agreed in the earliest weeks of Trump’s presidency that one of them should remain in the United States at all times to keep tabs on the orders rapidly emerging from the White House, according to a person familiar with the discussions. The official insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the administration’s internal dynamics.
“Orders rapidly emerging from the White House” is a delightful euphemism for the president's tendency to rule by decree tweet, a habit that has roiled a Department of Defense scrambling to interpret whether Trump’s unpredictable digital broadsides are, say, a signal of imminent attack on North Korea or something slightly more innocuous. Republican lawmakers who spoke to the AP are praying that Kelly, a retired four-star general known for his disciplinarian streak, will “forcefully clean the place up.”
Axing foul-mouthed White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci less than two weeks into the job is certainly a good start for Kelly in terms of ending the turmoil that’s plagued the executive branch since Trump’s inauguration, but the AP story indicates that Mattis and Kelly — who, it's worth noting, recommended each other for Secretary of Defense in the weeks after Election Day — have been actively working to reign in Trump’s more quixotic impulses since his inaugural. Together with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford — another Marine general and reportedly one of Kelly’s closest friends — they form a troika of Marine Corps discipline around an Oval Office brimming with chaos.
This is far from, you know, a military coup: Trump’s prerogative has been to surround himself with the most generals since the end of World War II. And though observers of the imperial executive may cringe at the idea of an elected commander-in-chief vesting an unelected Cabinet official with constitutional decision-making authority as Trump did with Mattis and Afghan troop levels, a filter of generals seems like a more palatable option to realpolitik by tweet.
That said, there’s one more element of the AP story that really stands out: the date. Aug. 1 marks 5,777 days since the start of the War in Afghanistan, but more importantly, it marks the 31st anniversary of the publication of The Baby-Sitters Club — and something tells me it’s Mattis’s secret favorite.