President Donald J. Trump gave his first speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, February 28, 2017. He has also presented his proposed budget.
Trump is a great performer. That we have known for a long time. Last night he stuck to his script, and sounded “presidential” as he read through his list of aspirational goals.
However, as was the case with President Barack Obama, it is his actions and not his words that count.
Looking at his actions, we note he proposed in his budget message a 37% reduction in the budget for the State Department, which encompasses the foreign assistance budget of the Agency for International Development and U.S. contributions to U.N. and other international agencies, including their aid and humanitarian relief programs.
While the budget will be dead on arrival at Congress, according to Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), it does signal the low regard in which Trump appears to hold Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the State Department which he leads. Trump has vetoed Tillerson’s choice for Deputy Secretary of State, and not yet approved a second choice.
The proposed budget cut may reveal enen more the low regard in which Steve Bannon holds the man and the agency which threaten to contradict his plans for an alt-right retreat from the world. Such contradictions would be particularly dangerous, since they would be based on facts and be articulated by officials who actually have deep experience in foreign affairs and who actually know something about foreign aid.
In any event, the budget has been signed off on by Donald Trump, and he owns it. The buck stops in the Oval Office, as Trump will undoubtedly learn.
What is particularly pernicious about the budget message is that it seems to be driven by political slogans and, insofar as the State Department is concerned, by alt-right ideology emanating from Bannon as well as the president.
Bannon has given himself a permanent seat on the National Security Council. From this perch, he will be able to push his alt-right ideology, and to try to inject politics into considerations of what constitute U.S. national interests and how they should be defended.
More significantly, Bannon — who is a strong admirer of Vladimir Lenin — appears to be using Bolshevik methods by appointing deputies in the principal departments whose loyalty is directly to the White House, not the titular head of the department. These deputies could potentially operate as “political commissars” much as they did in the Red Army under the Bolshevik and later Soviet systems. Given Bannon’s open admiration of Lenin, these possibilities at least deserve serious consdideration and monitoring.
Even within the White House, moreover, Bannon has set up a strategic advisory council which has the potential to bypass or undercut the NSC.
The proposal to cut the State Departmen’s budget by 37% reveals the profound and willful ignorance of the White House on matters of international affairs.
One is reminded of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting of “The Blind Leading the Blind” (1658).
God save the Republic!
The Trenchant Observer