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Sometimes such efforts are successful; on many occasions, they aren’t.
The back-and-forth between Trump and the “adults” has been evident on matters both big and small.
The notion that some officials are “adults” or “the grownups in the room” is an old Washington trope dating back decades before the arrival of Donald Trump.
It is linked to an opposing metaphor: in Washington parlance, others are said to be “in need of adult supervision.” These phrases go to the heart of the way those who work in Washington operate, see themselves, and, above all, talk about themselves.
Sometimes these involve questions of symbolic significance concerning the role of the president: when, at Trump’s first cabinet meeting, officials took turns in front of television cameras thanking Trump and singing his praises, as if the president were a Central Asian dictator, Mattis opted out, saying, “It’s an honor to represent the great men and women of the Department of Defense.” Sometimes these matters involve issues of sweeping importance: before Trump’s first trip to Europe, Tillerson, Mattis, and Mc Master joined together to put into a draft of his speech a reaffirmation of Article V of the Yet Trump ultimately cut the words from his speech.
Then, after the understandable and predictable uproar, he turned around and made the commitment.
Before Trump, this Washington lingo was usually a cover for policy differences.
Bernie Sanders has never qualified as an “adult” in the Washington usage of the word, although he is old enough to collect Social Security; nor did Ralph Nader; nor did Rand Paul, though he is old enough to perform eye surgery.
What made them deficient was not their character or their immaturity, but their views.
At first, the “adults” honorific was most commonly applied to the threesome of Tillerson, Mattis, and National Security Adviser H. Phrases like “the adults” or “the grownups in the room” seem on the surface to carry intuitive meanings but raise all sorts of questions that deserve scrutiny. Most importantly, what is the significance of the fact that most of Trump’s so-called grownups come from the military?
What does it mean to be an “adult” in Washington in general, or, in particular, under Donald Trump? To answer such questions, it helps to look at the history, both of the way the idea of “adults” has been used in Washington in the past and of the way military officers in the US have served in top civilian jobs.
As defense secretary, Mattis has a cabinet job that keeps him across the Potomac River, running the US government’s biggest department, and Trump seems to allow him considerably more latitude than the other “adults.”Mattis, a former Marine Corps general who served as commander of America’s Central Command forces in the Middle East, has the satisfaction of knowing he has strong-to-intense support on Capitol Hill, where John Mc Cain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, let it be known at the start of the administration that he would serve as Mattis’s protector.