The Importance of Being Angry: John Bolton’s New Job

In The Godfather, the soft-spoken, mild-mannered character of Tom Hagen loses his role within the Corleone family because he may be a good lawyer, but he’s not a “war-time” consigliere. In conflict with the other ruling mafia families in New York City, Michael Corleone wants to rely on his father’s advice instead.  With John Bolton replacing H. R. McMaster as Donald Trump’s new national security advisor, heaven help us now that a “kiss-up, kick-down” character has the President’s ear. Out goes somebody Hagen-like in being a voice of reason; in comes Belligerence personified.

“Kiss-up, kick-down” was how Bolton was described during the U.S. Senate hearings in which Republicans helped deny Bolton’s formal nomination as America’s next U.N. ambassador. (George W. Bush gave Bolton the job anyway, for a while, by making him a recess appointee.) Bolton is colorful. A brown-noser of those in power above him while infamous for browbeating subordinates, Bolton has dismissed government bureaucrats as “munchkins.”

Not unexpectedly, a comparison of out-going McMaster’s emotive tendencies and Bolton’s points to major differences. McMaster is over five times more given to expressing surprise on his face than Bolton, also sadder, more anxious—and only half as prone to anger. In other words, McMaster tends to be more curious and sensitive to disappointments and danger. In contrast, over 50% of Bolton’s emotional profile consists of a single emotion, anger, the purpose of which is to hit out, attack, and remove what the person (rightly or wrongly) considers to be barriers to progress.

Anger can facilitate tunnel-vision; Bolton advocated for the war in Iraq, and still views it as having been a good decision to intervene there. He’s also called for the “swift takeover” of North Korea by South Korea, believes in bombing Iran, and sees wisdom in rearranging Syria’s borders (by force).

Neither of the two remaining generals near Trump—White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis—are exactly thrilled about Bolton’s new job. But it’s easy to see how Trump could be. Drama and ego are what the former Apprentice ringmaster feeds on. We already know that lead attorney John Dowd resigned in no small part because he objected to Trump’s desire to have a sit-down with Robert Mueller’s investigative team. How could Trump resist such a starring role? Forget the risk of getting caught perjuring yourself and thereby enabling possible impeachment hearings.

Being on trial would be exciting.  Stormy Daniels already was.  Why not go all the way, because what could be more diverting and dramatic than becoming a war-time president? With the help of Bolton and the new nominee for Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, Trump may just get there.  The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde’s satirical play about staid Victorian society, was a good fit for its time. But this is now the Age of Trump and in being a bully who constantly spoils for a fight, what’s more handy for the President than having henchmen who like to hit others, too.