Japan has a new emperor, and so do we. Donald Trump isn’t merely president. He wants to be America’s shogun.
Already Trump has repeatedly made his contempt for his Cabinet officials and staffers plain as he routinely forces them to line up and sing his praises. Now, in an episode that is more redolent of H.M.S. Pinafore than Top Gun, TVSG, or The Very Stable Genius, is enmeshed in an embarrassing brouhaha over the USS John S. McCain, which was inconveniently parked off the shores of Japan, where Trump might see it.
Klaxons apparently started sounding in the White House over Trump’s Memorial Day visit to Japan. It was time to clear the decks. Under no circumstances could Trump be allowed to espy the dreaded name “McCain.” It would harsh his mellow. “USS John McCain needs to be out of sight,” the White House told the Navy and Air Force. On Fox News, White House deputy communications director Mercedes Schlapp claimed that the story was “fake news.”
As the full story dribbles out, Trump, like his acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, is denying that he knew anything about the Navy’s panicked move, in the form of a May 15 email, to disguise the ship, first with a tarpaulin, then a barge, to ensure that Trump’s eyes wouldn’t alight upon it. Nor was this all. Sailors from other ships were invited to hear Trump speak in the Yokosuka harbor, but the crew of the McCain were not. When a few showed up, they were denied entry.
Were Trump and Shanahan truly ignorant about these machinations? Given his cluelessness, it’s certainly possible that Trump was unaware of what his flunkeys were doing. But according to Vanity Fair, “Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan reportedly approved the effort to move McCain’s name out of Trump’s line of vision, though on Thursday he said, “What I read this morning was the first I heard about it.”
Trump is trying to treat this political depth charge as though it were a minor nuisance. “Now, somebody did it because they thought I didn’t like him – OK – and they were well-meaning, I will say. I didn’t know anything about it. I would never have done that,” he said. Well-meaning? In seeking to cater preemptively to Trump’s ego, somebody knew full well that Trump is someone who neither runs silent nor deep. Any other president with a smidgen of self-respect would be looking to sack the ninny in the White House that tried to bully the Navy into submission.
On Thursday, Trump, though, made his distaste for McCain palpable: “I was not a big fan of John McCain in any way, shape, or form.” In responding to Trump’s rampant insecurity about her late father, Meghan McCain tweeted: “Get a life.” But given that in a single morning he has tweeted and retracted the statement that Russia helped him win the 2016 election and asserted that the courts would never allow Congress to impeach him, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Trump seems more at sea than ever.