Twin near-disasters have pushed J. BROOKS SPECTOR into thinking through how Donald Trump can leave the White House and return to his penthouse in New York City for good. (And with a tip of the hat to the anti-Nazi German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.)
When Donald Trump publicly attacked in print a group of young black men for having committed a violent sexual assault on a young woman in a public swimming pool, most of us stood back or clucked our tongues. After all, we weren’t young black swimmers in New York City.
When Donald Trump insisted Barack Obama had been secretly born in Kenya and smuggled into America, most of us just shrugged our shoulders and said, “Well, what can you do with someone like that.”
When it became clear via both videotape and accusations from a baker’s dozen of women that Donald Trump was a misogynist of near-global proportions, most of us probably said to ourselves, “Oh well, we already knew that sordid stuff from the tabloid newspapers.”
When Donald Trump attacked Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, and many other politicians and ridiculed them with stupid, offensive names and half-truths about their lives and families, most of us just grimaced and assumed he was just a buffoon and a clown who would eventually get his electoral comeuppance.
When Donald Trump called nearly every US international agreement a lie, a job killer, or the worst deals in history as deals that had sold off America’s birthright and cost the country billions, most of us just assumed he was ignorant or wilfully blind and that somebody, eventually, would set him straight.
And when Donald Trump announced that, yes, there were some good people marching right among those skinheads, neo-Nazis and violent white supremacists, we went wide-eyed, but, still, we assumed it was all just foolish, empty words because he was such an ignorant man.
And so it has gone as well as he has continuously attacked the nation’s news media as if they were a gigantic, evil cabal designed to bring him low and to wreck the nation with their “fake news”, most of us just continued to shake our heads and mutter, “What can you do with such ignorance and crass stupidity?”
But finally it has come to the point that the president of the United States, in front of veteran senators and congressmen attempting to work with him to deal with America’s complex and troubled immigration laws, used that opportunity to utter gutter language aimed at Haitians, El Salvadorans and the entirety of Africa such that pretty much anybody else’s mouth would have been washed out with a stiff dose of borax soap by an actual adult; someone determined to teach this man-child some decency and manners.
Unfortunately, Donald Trump’s basest impulses have now been given a near-total free ride by a gutless Congress. His wild thoughts are blurted out whenever he wants to do so, and in the ugliest language he can muster.
By now, he has insulted, slurred, smeared and demeaned pretty much the whole world, save for Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, his own immediate family, and a small and shrinking coterie of his equally rich, equally ignorant, equally embarrassing friends and political appointees. At this point, the question is one of who’s left to protest Donald Trump’s latest diatribe? … Just as in that terrible lament from Bishop Dietrich Bonhoeffer during World War II.
By last week, and as the furore over the contents of Michael Wolff’s tell-all book on the first year of the Trump administration, Fire and Fury, had been digested by politicians, the media, and readers worldwide, it is fair to say the American president’s mental health (or the evident lack of it) had become a global topic of conversation, puzzlement and concern. One easily could have thought that by now there were few depths left to explore in relation to Trump’s mind. But, it turns out we were all wrong. The mask slipped further when, according to various people in attendance, he excoriated an entire continent (plus two Caribbean nations) as “shitholes”, a remark that, besides provoking ire globally, gave broadcast and print media the problem of whether or not the president’s latest remarks were simply too vulgar to print or pronounce without parental guidance labels – and ellipsis in spelling.
But anger has not been limited to Africans, or Haitians, or Salvadorans. Normal people around the world have been astounded to realise that they no longer can cut Donald Trump any slack in the “is-he-or-isn’t-he-a-racist” sweepstakes. The simple answer is “yes” and it extends backwards through his life and career (from his time in business with his father and their having been sued by the feds over civil rights violations) – like the faint trail of iridescent slime left by a snail or slug in the garden.
An old friend of mine, a veteran English teacher who taught in an ethnically diverse high school in the state of Virginia for nearly four decades, and who was that school’s men’s wrestling coach for many years as well, was impelled by this latest Trumpian eruption to write, “Where does Trump think the former (his words) greatness of America came from? In thirty-nine years I taught kids from Vietnam, Iran, Haiti, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and dozens of other countries. No one, not a single student from anywhere in the world, failed to appreciate what this country offers.
“My grandparents came here from Lithuania and Russia, that did not make my parents lesser Americans. My father earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star as a medic in WWII. My son-in-law served in Iraq and his father immigrated from Iran. People chose to come to this country because it accepted them with open arms and offered opportunities not available in their home countries.
“Our ‘President’ obviously has never met anyone who is not white and wealthy … he wants to turn this country away from that which has made America great and a world leader for years. If he thinks calling other countries ‘shitholes’ he needs to be educated otherwise. To all of my former students from the many countries you represent … I stand with you against the asininity of our so-called leader! We shall overcome!” [Ellipsis in the original]
You could be excused for thinking that with Donald Trump’s mask having now slipped to the floor, it might be enough to even the most jaded that he is simply unfit to be president, but, wait, there has been more. Over the weekend, an emergency disaster alarm was accidentally triggered for the entire state of Hawaii, reaching millions by text or the media, announcing, erroneously as it turned out, that a foreign ballistic missile was headed directly for the islands – and that this message was not a drill.
In the more than half an hour before a correction was finally released, panic broke out across Hawaii as state officials struggled to find out what had happened to go so horribly wrong. This alert system had been upgraded to be more effective in warning people of disasters such as a missile attack, but also in the event of tsunamis, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that could also occur.
Key to this panic, of course, has been the greatly heightened tension and fear generated by Donald Trump’s near-constant tweets and public statements over North Korea’s nuclear/missile ambitions and the chance the US might well use military force to annihilate North Korea, its government, or – at the minimum – its military capabilities. For its part, of course, North Korea’s president has threatened to attack the US as well. As a result, tension is high. The problem here is the possibility that such hostilities might well start from a misapprehension of an attack, especially since there might well be only a 15-minute window to understand what had happened – and how to respond to it.
During the Cold War, there was a veritable cottage industry of escalation scenarios and plans by and for the government addressing how to respond to nuclear attacks. There were also various novels and films that explored the consequences of a mistaken reading of an imminent nuclear attack – ranging from the dark comedy of Doctor Strangelove to the much grimmer, more realistic story line of Failsafe. In most cases, however, the assumption was that rational people were in charge.
But throughout this Hawaiian panic, where was Donald Trump? Why he was golfing in Florida, and by Sunday night had yet to take any steps to communicate with a startled nation that suddenly had been forced to contemplate the possibility of an actual nuclear exchange. Instead, there was a solitary tweet that effectively had said, “Oh well, Hawaii made a big boo boo. Bad.” The dark underside to all this is that one must now begin in earnest to think about how Donald Trump might react if there actually was a missile launched at American territory. Would he rely on his so-called stable genius and set off a major shooting war, all while operating on zero impulse control autopilot? Or what? Now, chew on that thought for a while.
Put that question together with his reflexive racism and divisiveness and his other public miscues and you have the necessary raw material for a call to Donald Trump to man up and for the sake of the country to step down from his current position, before something terrible occurs. However, it is truly unlikely that, at least until November 2018, a Republican-led Congress would have the courage to begin impeachment proceedings, or that his own hand-picked cabinet would decide to carry out the provisions of the 25th Amendment – the disability amendment – unless he does something like start speaking in tongues, demonstrating the thousand-metre stare of the mentally infirm, or rip off his shirt at a public event. Of course, that would make the vice president, Mike Pence – a sanctimonious, right-wing prude – the president, but at least no one has wondered about his sanity, so far.
And so, that leads us inexorably to the upcoming election. Trump’s voter support continues to slip into truly dire numbers, and a growing number of Republican congressmen are now choosing not to run for re-election this year – perhaps fearful of a crushing defeat at the hands of angry voters. Current projections, admittedly very early ones, are that Democrats might just be able to achieve a net gain of the 24 seats needed to win the House, and perhaps even pick up the two seats needed among senators to claim victory there too, although the latter goal is more distant.
If all this is the case, perhaps the best strategy is for Democrats to run hard on a message that the current president is a dangerous man who must be restrained by a second branch of government – or even removed if things get more difficult. Sure, the stock market is up and unemployment continues to be low, and Trump will hold these developments close to his heart, but both of these were put in motion during the Obama years, so “quit your idle boasts, Donald” must also be part of that messaging.
But all of this means that 2018 will be a nasty, dangerous year, and the same international issues such as North Korea, Iran, or Russian intervention in electoral campaigns that have bedevilled 2017 will be top of the heap this year as well, right along with an extremely contentious domestic scene with its battles over such things as immigration policy and government funding. Or, as Trump himself would say in a tweet, “BAD. VERY BAD!” DM
Photo: US President Donald J. Trump returns to the White House in Washington, D.C., USA, 07 January 2018. EPA-EFE/KEVIN DIETSCH / POOL
Daily Maverick © All rights reserved