What Might They All Do? On Mark Esper: A Postscript

[Full disclosure:  I heard David Ignatius of the Washington Post express many of the substantive concerns set forth below on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning.  I still consider it appropriate to post this because it was written yesterday.]

So much for feeling a modicum of sympathy for President Trump’s anguish in defeat.

As all who care are aware, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was relieved of his duties yesterday by Mr. Trump.  Mr. Esper has been replaced by Christopher C. Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, described in some accounts as a loyalist to the President.  (No confirmation as to Mr. Miller’s political sentiments here; I had never heard of him until yesterday.)  While it probably matters little at this point to Mr. Esper personally, the inferences one might draw regarding the potential significance of his removal for the nation are worthy of reflection.

In a note I published last June, “The Fourth Election:  Part II,” I commented in part as follows:    

“Clearly Mr. Trump has considered himself unfettered since his [Senate impeachment] acquittal, and has felt free to exact revenge and pursue vendettas against those he considers to have wronged him or his entourage.  Does anyone think that Mr. Trump will be more restrained if he is re-elected?  Does anyone wish to wager that Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has at times displeased the president with his candid assessment of the extent of COVID crisis, or Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, who each publicly separated themselves from the President’s actions in Lafayette Park, won’t be removed from their positions if and when Mr. Trump no longer considers such removals a danger to his re-election prospects? [Italics in Original]”

I noted in these pages yesterday:   “… Mr. Trump is unpredictable, and retains control the federal machinery for another ten weeks.  If any of the following individuals, I would take the following steps to guard against risks to the Republic during the interregnum in the event that Mr. Trump either resists leaving office, demonstrates irrationality or paralysis as he absorbs his defeat, or otherwise conducts his office in a manner dangerously deleterious to American domestic or international interests. [:] …  Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley:  I’d very quietly have trusted outside counsel advise me as to the circumstances under the Military Code in which a subordinate officer can relieve a commanding officer.”

Is Mr. Esper’s removal no more than an instance of Trump retribution?  Almost certainly.  A portent of anything more significant?  Almost certainly not.  Canaries undoubtedly occasionally die in coal mines for reasons other than inhalation of poisonous gas.  That said, Mr. Trump has fired the civilian in the chain of command between the military and himself who was resistant to the use of American troops against our citizens, and replaced him with an individual that at least some consider more loyal to Mr. Trump.  (It would be fascinating to know whether Mr. Esper had indeed been researching rules of the Military Code relating to removal of a superior officer that I suggested yesterday that he might.)  While Mr. Esper’s removal probably has little meaning other than to provide any American who has regrets about voting against Mr. Trump further reassurance that his/her vote for Mr. Biden was well entered, Mr. Trump’s future exercise of his presidential power arguably bears closer watching than all the hoorah arising from his electoral antics.

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