But setting aside the good or bad of the appointments, what might account for Trump’s disproportionate reliance on brass? It’s tempting to offer a psychoanalytic explanation. Trump seems somewhat star-struck by generals; this is a man who attended military school, but repeatedly obtained draft deferrals on somewhat questionable bases, and may glamorize generals in a vicarious way. Trump, the consummate entertainer, also seems enthralled by dramatic figures like Patton and MacArthur, either in real life or through on-screen depictions.
Some of the reasons may be more pragmatic, though. First, Trump has no national-security experience, and has shown very little interest in gaining it. It’s important for both his administration and his credibility to have people who know what they’re talking about around him, and the military imprimatur provides that. Second, Trump alienated so many civilian Republican figures—especially those in the national-security and defense realms—that he has little choice but to look outside the proven class of civil servants.
There’s also a political valence to it, however. Trump has spent the last few months promising to “drain the swamp,” and railing at the establishment and the Republican Party. That rules out almost anyone traditionally qualified for top jobs, even ones willing to serve in a Trump administration. The military is one of the few institutions that remains widely trusted by American society. In a Gallup poll this summer, it was the most highly ranked option, exceeding even small businesses and churches. At 73 percent, the number of people saying they trusted the military at least “quite a lot” was more than double those who said the same about the presidency.