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The Uncivil Servant: Trump as a Civil War Commander

Mitchell Abidor
September 8, 2017

AFTER TRUMP decided to put an end to DACA, he tweeted that it was up to Congress to fix the problem. Commentators commentated on how cowardly Trump was in having his minions make the announcement of the end of the program, and how unlikely it is that Congress could possibly succeed in the immigration reform that has eluded them for sixteen years. Heads have also been scratched this week over Trump’s decision to cut a deal with the Democrats over the budget, embarrassing and bypassing the Republican leadership. More embarrassing for the Republicans has been the billing and cooing between Trump, Schumer, and Pelosi since they cut that deal.

In both cases, the result was putting Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell in the firing line, two men Trump has shown his impatience with, if not worse. They will not escape unscathed from the oncoming debacle when another battle erupts in three months over the budget ceiling, and then next year when the reality of the end of DACA hits. Trump will be sure to blame them and the entire Republican caucus for their failings. It is as if his hatred of the Republican establishment is impelling Trump to destroy his own party.

There is an historical event that perhaps explains what has occurred this week, one from our national history: the Battle of Franklin of November 30, 1864 and the actions of the Confederate Commander, General John Bell Hood.

Briefly: On November 30, the Confederates attacked an entrenched Union army across an open field in this city outside Nashville. The attack was a catastrophe seldom equaled: There were somewhere between 4,500 and 6,200 Confederate casualties against 2,326 for the Union. Most shockingly, the casualties included six Confederate generals killed, among them the brilliantly named South Carolinian, States Rights Gist.

What brings Trump to mind this week is one of the conjectured reasons for the foolhardy, suicidal attack.

THE NIGHT before the battle, for some still unexplained reason, the Union army was able to march down the road to Franklin from Spring Hill unobserved and unheard, right past the rebels camped along that same road. When Hood realized what had happened, the theory goes, he went into a rage, and the frontal attack was a mad attempt at punishing his army and commanders, whose failings had allowed the Union the advantage. The brilliant and now execrated General Nathan Bedford Forrest had proposed an alternative plan that would have avoided colliding head-on with an army that had had a full day to prepare for an attack. Hill ordered his generals to press on. Utter disaster ensued.

This is Trump to a tee.

His performance after the failure to repeal the ACA demonstrated his contempt for McConnell and the Senate Majority Leader’s failure to gather the votes needed for overturning the act. The war between the two men has gone on unabated since, and circumventing the Senate Republican leader to cut a deal with Schumer and Pelosi is a clear demonstration of that contempt for McConnell, but also for Ryan.

He feels no warmth for the congressional delegation either, attested to by his constant demand that they “do their job.” Trump is now acting like Hood, a general intent on destroying all those on his own side whom he considers to have let him down or failed to do their jobs.

The failure to repeal Obamacare was the equivalent of the Union army making it from Spring Hill to Franklin undetected, leaving Trump sputtering with rage. The demand that Congress do something about DACA is the Battle of Franklin, Trump sending his troops out to do something they are unable to do, all out of his own anger and unwillingness to listen to wiser heads.

Motivated by his pique and rage at his own party’s failures, Trump has sent the Republicans on a suicide mission, while at the same time undercutting them. He will continue the destruction of the Republican Party as a unitary institution by placing issues before them he knows they can’t unite on and, again like Hood’s army at Franklin, they will come out of the coming battles gravely weakened.

Hood would lose his command in January 1865, having reduced his army to a fraction of its effectiveness. Unlike General Hood, Trump will still be in office, and, having reduced his party’s leadership and Congressional delegation to laughingstocks for their failure to accomplish anything, he will likely come out of the battles personally strengthened, painting himself as the only man who can get things done. Nevertheless, murdering one’s own army is seldom a good strategy for a general. Hood’s actions at Franklin contributed to the Confederate loss of Nashville and ultimately the war. Trump’s actions could lead to the murdering of his own party -- which will likely save us all.

Mitchell Abidor, a contributing writer to Jewish Currents, is a writer and translator living in Brooklyn. Among his books are a translation of Victor Serge’s Notebooks 1936-1947, May Made Me: An Oral History of My 1968 in France, and I’ll Forget it When I Die, a history of the Bisbee Deportation of 1917. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Liberties, Dissent, The New York Review of Books, and many other publications.