On Thursday, Foreign Policy published a remarkable memo penned by a former staffer on President Trump’s National Security Council. The author, Rich Higgins, was forced out last month by national security adviser H.R. McMaster for composing it. The memo contends that the president is the target of a vast conspiracy spearheaded by so-called cultural Marxists, who have allied with Islamists and captured (among other groups) the media, the deep state, academia, “global corporatists” and leaders of both parties. That Higgins worked for the NSC is disturbing enough. But more disturbing is that Trump, who saw the memo when it was passed to him by his son Donald Trump Jr., was “furious” at Higgins’s removal — a sign of the scary conspiratorial depths the president is already descending to.
The president’s enemies, Higgins claims, are employing “political warfare as understood by the Maoist Insurgency model.” Even Republican leaders have been subjugated, Higgins says, because they are “more afraid of being accused of being called a racist, sexist, homophobe or Islamophobe than of failing to enforce their oaths to ‘support and defend the Constitution.’ ” (Yes, Higgins says you and I have a choice: Either don’t be homophobic or support the Constitution.) He concludes chillingly, “The recent turn of events give rise to the observation that the defense of President Trump is the defense of America.”
The roots of the Higgins memo go back decades in the history of the right. Extreme-right groups such as the John Birch Society have long warned of cultural-Marxist-led conspiracies. (The memo’s first footnote cites a JBS member’s interview with a Soviet defector on “how Jewish Marxist ideology is destabilizing the economy.”) Past Republican presidents didn’t mind getting these groups’ votes, but Birchers and their like were kept far away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Not so in Trump’s White House. Thankfully, Higgins’s time at the NSC was short. But the memo found its way to the president anyway, via a curious route. “Among those who received the memo,” reports Foreign Policy, “according to two sources, was Donald Trump Jr.” We may never know the reason an NSC staffer was sharing a “technical assessment” with the executive director of the Trump Organization, since Republicans have stopped caring about email security. But however Trump Jr. obtained the document, he “gave the memo to his father, who gushed over it, according to sources.” Trump “is still furious” that Higgins was forced out.
Trump’s attraction to an alternate reality where he is the target of the political elite, the banking elite, Marxists, the Islamic State, the deep state and professors from coast to coast fits in nicely with one of his rules: Nothing is ever his fault. He blamed a botched raid in Yemen on “the generals.” He blamed the failure of his Trump Shuttle airline on the economy. He blamed his failures in Atlantic City on two executives who died working for him. Facing declining poll numbers and an utter failure to “drain the swamp” or repeal major Obama-era legislation, the president once again has resorted to playing the victim. He remains, as one White House ally put it to The Post in May, “in the grip of some kind of paranoid delusion.”
There’s no sign that Trump’s attitude will change. The “wiser heads” — Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, McMaster and others — that some hoped would foster a kind of sanity in the president have so far proved ineffective. How long they last in their jobs is anyone’s guess, but it’s unlikely they’ll make it four years. Their replacements are more likely to amplify the conspiracies than argue against them. Trump will continue to see himself as under siege from all sides.
Trump’s paranoia echoes that of another president: Richard Nixon. Nixon rejected the Birchers publicly, but he shared the idea of a campaign against the president. “Never forget, the press is the enemy … the establishment is the enemy, the professors are the enemy,” he said in December 1972. More frighteningly, as Nixon’s presidency ended in disaster, Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, worried about Nixon’s growing instability and increased drinking, told commanders that any order of a nuclear launch should be routed through him or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Less than 50 years later, the Oval Office is at the center of a terrifying combination of delusions, a foreign policy crisis and nuclear launch codes. As with Nixon’s presidency, the end of this one cannot come soon enough.