Trump's toy tough guys

He went to the mattresses with guys who don't even make their own beds

Published August 12, 2017 8:00AM (EDT)

Sebastian Gorka; Stephen Miller; John F. Kelly   (Getty/Chip Somodevilla/AP/Susan Walsh/Moises Castillo)
Sebastian Gorka; Stephen Miller; John F. Kelly (Getty/Chip Somodevilla/AP/Susan Walsh/Moises Castillo)

In case you didn’t know it before last week, our president is a Tough Guy. You want to know how tough? Listen to what he told Kim Jong-un last Wednesday after it was learned that North Korea possesses a nuclear weapon capable of being mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump announced from his golf club in New Jersey. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen before.”

I know you felt safer after he followed that up by bellowing on Thursday that North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un had pushed around the United States of America far too long, according to his learned lights: “They’ve been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years, and it’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries. So if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.”

And all of us will certainly sleep better this weekend after he went on Twitter early Friday morning and thumb-thwacked reassuringly that "Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong-un will find another path!"

But wait. Trump isn’t the only Tough Guy in the White House. He’s got a whole bevy of them backing him up. Bearded Deputy Assistant Crypto Corpulento Sebastian Gorka, a man who sports a Ph.D. he won’t let us forget about from a diploma mill called Corvinus University in Budapest, was out there on the shows following Trump with some tough talk of his own designed to keep those pansies in the president’s cabinet in line.

“The idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical,” the bearded bellower told BBC radio Thursday morning. Having delivered a firm spanking to the Secretary of State — who last time I looked outranks him — the Corpulento went on to point a stern finger across the Potomac, warning the warriors to stay in line: “It is the job of Secretary Mattis, the secretary of defense, to talk about the military options, and he has done so unequivocally. He said, ‘Woe betide anyone who militarily challenges the United States,’ and that is his portfolio. That is his mandate.”

Having dealt with the cabinet, Trump’s Tough Guy turned his ire on the press, “admonishing the journalists of the fake news industrial complex who are forcing our chief diplomat into a position where they are demanding he makes the military case for action when that is not the mandate of the secretary of state," the Corpulento told host Fox News Liz Claman. "That’s why we have a department of defense. If a journalist doesn’t know the difference between the secretary of state and the department of defense, they should hand in their credentials. It’s just absurd lack of understanding."

Who is this saber-rattling White House factotum? Naturally, he comes out of Breitbart’s bulging stable of genius national security analysts and owes his job to Breitbart house-nanny Steve Bannon. Before that, he and his wife set up a series of spurious think tanks and web sites in the Washington area, seeding the ground for his rise to Tough Guy-dom. The “Council on Global Security,” according to Katharine Gorka, was intended to work on non-specific but very much out-there-and-all-threatening “extremism.” “The Threat Knowledge Group” helped to provide “training to law enforcement and the military” according to Mrs. Gorka, because of course law enforcement and the military don’t know their jobs and need help from that national security cute couple, the Gorkas. And the “Westminster Institute” was founded to provide research on “the rise of radical Islam,” because they couldn’t find anybody studying anything about Islam or terrorism at say, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point or over at the CIA.

Just in case the Crypto Corupulento’s Tough Guy act wasn’t enough, Trump had the Gimlet Eyed Death Ferret Steven Miller standing in the wings, ready to be deployed to stare down the bad guys in the press if any of them dared to cross the White House red line. The Death Ferret took to the White House podium to defend a new law which would give preference to immigrants who are highly skilled and already speak English, a law that Miller himself had helped craft. CNN reporter Jim Acosta, whose father had been an immigrant from Cuba in the 1960’s, was ready for him:

“The Statue of Liberty says, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.’ It doesn't say anything about speaking English or being able to be a computer programmer. Aren't you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you're telling them, you have to speak English? Can’t people learn how to speak English when they get here?” Acosta asked. The Death Ferret replied that the Emma Lazarus poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty was “added later,” as if to somehow diminish the effect of its famous words.

“The Statue of Liberty has always been a beacon of hope to the world for people to send their people to this country. They're not always going to speak English, Stephen. They're not always going to be highly skilled,” Acosta shot back. “Are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?”

The Death Ferret fixed his Gimlet eyes on Acosta and unleashed the fury of a true Trumpian Tough Guy: “I have to say, I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English,” he intoned sternly. “It reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree.” Acosta managed to interrupt with “It just sounds like you're trying to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country.” But the Death Ferret wasn’t having any of it. He had on his Tough Guy big boy pants and let him have it: “That is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant, and foolish things you’ve ever said. The notion that you think that this is a racist bill is so wrong and so insulting.”

The Gimlet Eyed Death Ferret was first to refer to the proposed immigration legislation as “racist,” not Acosta. But tough guys don’t demure. Miller “had a blast,” a senior White House official told The Daily Beast later. “This is his fight.”

Tough Guys like “fights” and Twitter “wars” they can wage, hurling their little pitty-pat insults from million dollar luxury condos like the one the decidedly non-cosmopolitan Death Ferret lives in. He bought it with a $500,000 down payment made at a time he was making about $130,000 a year as a staffer for then-Senator Jeff Sessions. The Condo’s deed is held in the name of an entity connected to his wealthy father’s Santa Monica, California real estate businesses, because most Tough Guys in the White House grow up in tony zillionaire spa towns like Santa Monica and have rich daddies to help them buy condos. He previously owned a $450,000 condo, on which he made a $200,000 down payment a year after graduating from Duke University, because most tough guys get out of college and skip that whole rooming with two other dudes in a bad neighborhood thing and move straight into starter apartments in a luxury condo.

These two are the Toy Tough Guys left behind after the implosion of Toy Bad Boy Anthony Scaramucci a couple of weeks ago, who went all autofellatio in his interview with New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza before being fired by General John Kelly in his first act as Trump’s new Tough Guy chief of staff. Of course as Trump’s newest White House Tough Guy, Kelly’s big strength was expected to be that he would be the one who reigned in Trump’s insane thumb-thwacking on Twitter. We can all see after this week how well that went, as Trump’s tweets left in a heap on the floor former President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and peace on the Korean peninsula.

Having grown up in an Army family with a colonel as a father and a general as a grandfather on one side of my family, and the engineer colonel who built National Airport and most of the locks on the Mississippi River on my mother’s side, I’ve known a few tough guys in my day. But let me tell you a story about a guy I met in Iraq who really was tough.

I was standing around drinking coffee with some of the guys I was with in an infantry company in northern Iraq one morning when another soldier walked up. He had recently heard from a friend back home in Tennessee that his wife had taken the money he had been sending home by allotment and had bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle and was letting his best friend ride it all over town with his wife on the back, and to add insult to injury, she was fucking the guy. Shortly after he learned this, he received an email from his wife informing him that she was divorcing him and taking the bike and moving in with the best friend. He had R&R coming up, a rest and relaxation period when he would be flown back home for 10 days. He told us he was going to take the R&R and go home and kill both of them, the wife and the best friend, and he didn’t give a shit what happened to himself.

It took several of us the next two days to talk him down from this insanity. In the meantime, I made sure the company commander wouldn’t put through his R&R, just in case. About a day later, we were in a convoy going over to a base camp to pick up a hot meal for the company that night when the last vehicle in our convoy was hit just after it went past an IED. One guy, the machine gunner standing on the truck bed of the last Humvee, took some shrapnel from the blast and suffered a concussion, but luckily, the IED was triggered too late for a direct hit on that vehicle and didn’t injure anyone else.

The platoon in the convoy did a sweep of the neighborhood where the IED had gone off, and they found two guys who tested positive for explosive residue and arrested them. The guy from Tennessee was put on duty guarding them that night, since they couldn’t be moved to a more secure facility until the next morning. My ears were still ringing from the IED blast, and I couldn’t sleep, so in the middle of the night I wandered downstairs and walked past the room where he was still guarding the prisoners. They were flex-cuffed and sleeping on their sides on the floor. The guy from Tennessee was sitting on a chair with his M-16 resting across his knees. The guy who got hit in the last truck was a good friend of his. Now he was lying somewhere on a hospital bed at the base camp. One of the other guys in the squad had returned with the news that their squad mate still couldn’t hear and he was too dizzy from the concussion to walk, but he was going to be okay, he thought.

Two guys from the battalion, a Sergeant Major and his driver, had been killed earlier in the week. We had all attended a memorial service for them a couple of days earlier, and nerves were still raw. The IED attack earlier that day hadn’t helped. The guy from Tennessee told me that he would like to take the butt of his M-16 and pound the two prisoners in the head so they could feel just like his friend felt in the hospital, but we didn’t even know if they were the ones who did it. There were probably a dozen guys in that neighborhood with explosive residue on their hands, he said. Everybody knew the place was lousy with insurgents. He said these guys were just fuck-ups making bad choices like his best friend back home, the one who made off with his wife and the Harley he paid for. We’re all the same, sir, he said. We’ll all get ours one day, one way or another, these guys too.

He was about 20 years old, and over the last two or three days had gone through more shit in his life than most men twice his age, and he sat there stone-faced and sucked it up and did his duty. I stayed with him until another guy came to relieve him from his guard post a couple of hours later as it was getting light outside. Then we went upstairs, and he went to bed, and I sat down and took some notes on a guy who was as tough as they come.

By Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives on the East End of Long Island and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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Anthony Scaramucci Corey Lewandowski President Donald Trump Sebastian Gorka Steven Bannon