I can understand why you feel Washington is a place of “petty nonsense,” as you said Wednesday when you called a news conference to rebut charges that you called Trump a moron last summer after a meeting of national security officials at the Pentagon.
I’m also reasonably sure you called him a moron, which doesn’t make Washington any less petty. You probably called him a moron because almost all of us out here in the rest of America routinely call him that.
But you’re right: There are far more important issues than the epithet you likely used to describe your boss.
On the other hand, your calling him a moron wouldn’t itself have mushroomed into a headline issue—even in petty Washington—if there weren’t deep concerns about the president’s state of mind to begin with.
I bet every cabinet secretary has from time to time called his boss a moron. I was a cabinet secretary once, and although I don’t recall ever saying Bill Clinton was a moron, I might have thought it, especially when I found out about Monica Lewinsky. But Bill Clinton was no moron.
The reason your moronic comment about Trump made the headlines is that Trump really is a moron, in the sense you probably meant it: He’s impulsive, mercurial, often cruel, and pathologically narcissistic. Some psychologists who have studied his behavior have concluded he’s a sociopath.
Washington is petty, but it’s not nonsensical. It latches on to gaffes only when they reveal something important. As journalist Michael Kinsley once said, “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth—some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”
Face it. You are secretary of state—the nation’s chief diplomat—under a president who’s dangerously nuts.
Last weekend, for example, Trump publicly said you were wasting your time trying to open talks with North Korea. Does he have a better idea? Any halfway rational president would ask his secretary of state to try to talk with Kim Jong-un.
And there’s Iran. You and Defense Secretary James Mattis have both stated the nuclear agreement should be retained. That, too, is only rational. The International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran has been honoring the agreement. Without it, Iran would restart its nuclear program.
But Trump is on the verge of decertifying the agreement in order to save face (in the 2016 campaign he called it an “embarrassment to America”) and further puncture Barack Obama’s legacy. His narcissism is endangering the world.
You tried to mediate the dispute between Qatar and its Arab neighbors. That, too, was the reasonable thing to do.
But then Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner sided with the United Arab Emirates, where they have business interests. Less than one hour after you called for a “calm and thoughtful dialogue” between Qatar and its neighbors, Trump blasted Qatar for financing terrorism. That was also nuts.
You are rightly appalled at Trump’s behavior. I can understand why you distanced yourself when Trump blamed “both sides” for violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. And why you were horrified when Trump gave a wildly partisan speech to the Boy Scouts of America, which you once headed.
Given all this, I’m not surprised to hear that you’ve talked about resigning, but that Mattis and John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, have talked you out of it.
I urge you not to resign. America and the world need sane voices speaking into the ear of our Narcissist-in-Chief.
As Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said recently, it’s you, Mattis, and Kelly who “help separate our country from chaos.” I don’t think Corker was referring to chaos abroad.
Let Trump fire you if he wants to. That would further reveal what a moron he is.
But if you really did want to serve the best interests of this nation, there’s another option you might want to consider.
Quietly meet with Mattis, Kelly, and Vice President Pence. Come up with a plan for getting most of the cabinet to join in a letter to Congress saying Trump is unable to discharge the duties of his office.
Under the 25th Amendment, that would mean Trump is fired.
This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.
Robert B. Reich is the chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley and former secretary of labor under the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His film, Inequality for All, was released in 2013. Follow him on Twitter: @RBReich.