Donald Trump in the Age of Cynicism


A model for understanding what’s going on today

I want to tell you a story about something that happened in the news a few days ago. Even though it didn’t turn into a giant disaster, it accidentally revealed a lot about what’s really going on in the United States right now — and may offer us a clue to understand the situation we’re in.

1: Cojones

Last week, ex-general John Kelly made public remarks that many interpreted as testing the waters for military rule. He explained how only members of the military, and the families of those killed in combat, can really understand the nature of government and legitimately criticize the President — unlike civilian members of Congress, or the press. The next day, Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubled down on the point, saying it is “highly inappropriate” for a (civilian) reporter “to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general” — this despite the fact that Kelly is no longer a general, that civilian control over the military is a bedrock of the American system, or that this “debate” was over the fact that Kelly had provably lied several times in his remarks that previous day.

The idea that “only the military can really understand what it takes to run the government” is common rhetoric worldwide: from Thailand to Egypt to Argentina, it’s been the bedrock argument of why the military should seize power. Fortunately, and to our country’s credit, several other ex-generals quickly (and publicly) stomped down Kelly’s suggestion, and nobody seems to have taken up his idea.

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