By J.D. Munch
Certain truths about Donald Trump have been obvious since he began his presidential campaign. His ego supersedes everything else around him, to the point that he demands obsequiousness from everyone around him. He bristles at any slight and attacks with minimal provocation. He seeks to cover his lack of knowledge with grandstanding and bluster, usually coming in the 140-character bursts that pass as statements of his thoughts. And he values conflict, to the point that he builds it in to the way he manages.
To this point, much of this has manifested itself in the White House with backbiting and posturing—from the staff seeking greater influence on the administration as well as from the President himself lashing out at any sign of congressional opposition. Since Trump fired James Comey, though, the rhetoric and the activity levels have escalated. As Trump faces down a failure to accomplish anything, a Russia investigation that reveals more and more problems, and a resistance that continues to build, he has started to react more recklessly than ever. With North Korea escalating with its own crazy leader, and with domestic programs facing potential crisis points of their own, Trump is ready to go to war on all fronts. And this is objectively terrifying.
No one who has worked to resist Trump up to this point should be surprised at his push to fight. From the beginning of his campaign, Trump attacked anyone and everyone who opposed him. He pointedly refused to state his support for Republicans if he did not become the nominee. While the appropriateness of demanding a loyalty oath to whomever might emerge from the nomination process is questionable—as the terrible nominee who did come out demonstrated—he followed this by demanding that same loyalty of Republicans once he did in fact win. The hypocrisy in his shifting positions, and his antagonism toward anyone who did not demonstrate proper loyalty, served as harbingers of what was to come.
In fact, Trump’s entire campaign was built on identifying enemies, both within the United States and outside of it. He painted a picture reminiscent of Melisandre’s Game of Thrones admonition: “The night is dark and full of terrors.” Those terrors included Mexican immigrants, whom Trump described as drug dealers and rapists; ISIS, which he proclaimed—without evidence—was pouring through our “open borders”; and Barack Obama, whom he blamed for every problem, real or imagined, that currently faced the country. In his path to the Presidency, he bullied and belittled every candidate who challenged him, all while expressing open admiration for strongman dictators he sought to emulate.
Given this backdrop, the paranoid, bombastic bully currently occupying the White House should surprise no one. All the claims from supporters and apologists that the weight of the office would impose some kind of presidential gravitas were either the product of lies or delusions. The man is who he is, and given an absence of ideas or real accomplishments, he will fill the void by creating and attacking enemies old and new. His tantrums and vitriol will only increase, and when the world is watching, will weaken and endanger our country and our allies.
The First Six Months
The months after the election rolled out much of what everyone should have expected. Many praised Trump’s inauguration speech, in which he managed to actually read what was written with few deviations, but even then he spoke of enemies and darkness ahead. And in the infamous follow-up, Sean Spicer make the bald-faced lie that the crowd for the inauguration was the biggest ever at such an event. Trump has declared war on the media and on facts themselves, attempting to build a despotic America in which the only information consists of the propaganda his administration spouts.
This approach makes the United States a dangerous place for several reasons. Trump’s administration seeks to roll back our understanding of science and the planet on which we live; to destroy the rights that minorities and the LGBTQ community has fought for decades to reach; and to decimate the health care gains we have made under the Affordable Care Act. And in each of these areas, Trump and his administration have the audacity to cry freedom, to pretend this charlatan is saving us from unseen and invented dangers.
Worse still, the enemies Trump has created re-emerge every time he runs into trouble. And, as comes as a shock to no one who has tried to resist Trump’s rise to power, trouble has come often. Trump has tweeted and chest-thumped his way to a United States no longer seen as a leader in the world, but rather a hindrance to the progress the rest of the world seeks to make. His “leadership” has encouraged hate crimes from alt-right white supremacists, a group whose violent acts no longer count as terrorism under this regime. In a nation where the President wields his power by attacking the vulnerable, is it any wonder that these crimes are proliferating?
Donald Trump, in short, operates through bullying and bluster. He cries out in righteous indignation against all who oppose his agenda of hate and menace, and usually does so from one of the Trump properties at which he is spending government, taxpayer-provided money to enrich the businesses from which he has never extricated himself. He violates the Constitution daily, and rails against anyone who dares stand up to him. Perhaps this is why the craven congressional leaders in his party refuse to do so, bending to his every whim and downplaying the dangers to our way of life he represents. Unless they feel more potential pain from going with him than they currently fear if they opposed him, they will not act.
The Current Domestic Front
All of this represents some of the worst nightmares our Founding Fathers could have imagined: a leader operating as a tyrant, consolidating power and ruling through fear rather than through judgment. But now, the situation stands to become much darker. Trump has to date not accomplished anything on his agenda. His moronic border wall remains unfunded, and the charade that Mexico would ever have paid for the wall unravels a little more with every funding request. His attempt to dismantle the ACA has failed, perhaps for good, as a few Republicans put their minds and their consciences above their party. Tax reform remains a distant thought, and already has been described as becoming nothing more than a proposed tax cut for the rich. And the investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russian entanglements continues to uncover more evidence of collusion, more potential to bring down Trump and perhaps his entire administration.
Already a man who is clearly imbalances, these developments have Trump completely unhinged. He has lambasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his Russian recusal, to the point that this odious, racist little man almost cuts a sympathetic figure. Trump rails against his old enemies in the process, claiming Sessions should be leading investigations and prosecutions of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for… something. He attacks Congress more and more, including threatening members of his own party for failing to vote in favor of the horrendous new health care bill. He is isolating himself more every day from the Republican party that has enabled him to this point.
His hire of Anthony Scaramucci represented the same kind of knee-jerk reaction Trump has applied to most of his decision-making: people were saying bad things, and this man was extolling Trump’s greatness on Fox. The results were predictably disastrous: Spicer resigned, Reince Priebus was forced out, and Scaramucci went on a tirade that left Trump little choice but to fire him—especially when his new chief of staff demanded it.
Meanwhile, Trump is openly threatening to undermine health care for millions with the idea that his administration may not make required payments under the ACA. For a man who accused Obama of lawlessness for choosing not to enforce federal drug laws on states that had legalized marijuana, this smacks of hypocrisy. And for a man who rode the votes of the working white poor to his election, this threatens to devastate millions of those who supported him, all to prove a point and undermine a Barack Obama success. He simply does not care whom he hurts.
The current state of affairs, then, has Trump backed into a corner and fighting violently against attackers of all kinds, whether they are real or not. His selection of a military leader as Chief of Staff was no mistake. Trump sees every moment as a battle, one in which he must only fight harder and more belligerently to impose his will on a nation, a will that, based on his viewing of Sean Hannity and Fox and Friends, he cannot be persuaded is as terrible as every intelligent, thinking person realizes it to be.
Looming International Crises
All of this is bad enough. But Trump faces additional image problems in the ongoing saga with Russia and his international failings. Our allies mock us and distance themselves from us, with Germany essentially assuming the mantle of leadership on a global scale. Our steps toward isolationism threaten the support of an international community on which we depend more than Trump realizes. Meanwhile, Russia has expelled United States diplomats in retaliation for sanctions against it—an act about which Trump has remained silent, against a bill he has yet to sign despite that rarest of breeds in Washington today: overwhelming bipartisan support.
While international problems and lack of support push ever forward, Trump has reached blindly for anything he can claim as a victory. And this creates a terrifying scenario. As North Korean rhetoric and testing escalate, Trump seems to see an opportunity. Nikki Haley, his Ambassador to the United Nations, declared that she did not see value in another UN Security Council meeting on the subject. Trump is calling out China as part of the problem rather than trying to work with that nation to develop a robust solution. We are flexing military might with exercises meant to intimidate a North Korean dictator who has shown himself to be as impulsive and reckless as Trump. And in the process, Trump is playing a game of chicken likely to provoke a battle of thin-skinned leaders driven by little more than their own thirst for power and acclaim.
Breaking Through the Barrier
In this historical moment, we face dangers not seen since the height of the Cold War. Trump doubles and triples down on every false statement and braggadocios utterance he makes, and with every challenge he buries himself deeper in his hubris. The notion that he will pull himself out of his pattern and govern intelligently is foolhardy. Trump will be Trump; he will thunder and tweet against the world for trying to impose facts he does not like on his existence. And the further he backs into a corner, the greater his instinct to fight will be.
In many people, this fighting instinct operates as a positive. For Trump, though, we must face possibilities we have never seen: the notion he might declare martial law to hold his power; the potential that he might go on a firing spree and dare the craven congressional leaders to resist; and the terrifying specter of a nuclear war that would kill millions, all in the name of flexing his ego and clawing for some accomplishment on which he can stamp his gold-plated name.
We no longer have the luxury of time. Trump is declaring war on the Constitution, on the people of this country, and on everyone that dares speak out against him. It is only a matter of time before this manifests in missiles and devastation across the globe. The resistance cannot lurk on the fringes of this battlefield; we must swell up from the ground and push our congressional leaders out of their complacency and into the fore. This will require profiles in courage far beyond John McCain’s healthcare vote, but when faced with a constituency that can accept nothing less, Congress will act. We must make it do so before it is too late.