When Donald Trump mentioned the other day that he is “finally” assembling a cabinet and staff that please him, he was foreshadowing this week’s appointment of John Bolton — a dubious figure whose characteristics and history resemble nobody so much as Trump himself.
Those resemblances go well beyond the obvious, namely that Bolton is a dangerous crank whose monotone of belligerence could lead the United States toward actual hostilities against North Korea, Iran, or both, with unforeseeable consequences. In those crude policy positions he certainly fits well with the boorish aggression of his new boss. Their only difference is over the invasion and occupation of Iraq, a disastrous decision that Bolton, unlike Trump, continues to praise — presumably because he advanced the lies that made it possible.
Bolton is an anti-Muslim extremist and conspiracy theorist who fervently supported Trump’s unlawful “ban” on Muslim immigration, and he was a longtime aide to the late Senator Jesse Helms, an unapologetic North Carolina “white nationalist.”Beyond ideology and prejudice, however, Bolton and Trump appear much alike in their ugly, harshly overbearing style. When George W. Bush named him as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — a nomination twice rejected by the Senate — one top State Department official described him as someone who “kissed up and kicked down.” Carl W. Ford, who had served as chief of the department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, testified: “I’ve never seen anybody quite like Bolton … I don’t have a second, third or fourth in terms of the way that he abuses his power and authority with little people.”
Like Trump, Bolton is a tough-talking draft-dodger. While Trump cited “bone spurs” in one of his feet as a reason to avoid the Vietnam draft, Bolton — a Goldwater conservative — dodged service in the war he vocally endorsed by joining the Maryland National Guard. “I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy,” he said in 1995. “I considered the war in Vietnam already lost.” Now this pair of chickenhawks may well send other young men and women to their deaths in war.
Although Bolton isn’t known to have pursued porn stars, he appears to share some of Trump’s misogynist proclivities. Melody Townsel, a State Department contractor who had worked for USAID, testified during his confirmation hearings in 2005 about the horrific treatment she had suffered at the hands of Bolton after she criticized a company that he represented as a private lawyer. The firm had performed shoddy work for the government, which she duly reported. In retaliation, a screaming Bolton smeared her reputation, spread false rumors that she was a lesbian, and even threw objects at her in a Moscow hotel corridor.
Townsel told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Bolton had lurked outside her hotel room, banging on the door and ranting at her in a continuing outburst that lasted two weeks in 1994. She said that Bolton had behaved “like a madman,” and that when she attempted to return to her job, she learned that he had preceded her to spread false rumors that she was “under investigation for misuse of funds and likely was facing jail time,” while making “unconscionable comments about my weight, my wardrobe, and…my sexuality, hinting that I was a lesbian (for the record, I’m not).”
In short, Bolton is precisely the kind of bully that Trump finds attractive and admirable. And suddenly, with his appointment, the White House is an even darker place.