“ Men cannot improve society by setting fire to it; they must seek out its old virtues, and bring them back into the light.”
Donald Trump’s campaign has become a source of intense preoccupation, for those who support, as well as for those who oppose, his candidacy for the White House. The uneasiness has ranged from the judgment that he is a racist and xenophobe to the serious possibility that he is mentally unstable and therefore not a rational actor. Many worry that he is woefully ignorant of policy and foreign affairs. Some conservatives reluctantly supporting Trump cannot shake off the feeling that they are being played by the ever-changing rhetoric of Mr. Trump.
Others have drawn parallels with the rise of Hitler to power in Germany. But the questions of how precisely Trump might severely damage democracy or cross the line into that which one could justly characterize as the rule of a dictator, remain murky.
The problem with any parallel to certified dictators such as Hitler is that this comparison requires a big jump for the human imagination and clearly one that is not warranted by the facts at present. The needed clarification is that the threshold for a totalitarian ruler does not require anything even close to the horrors perpetrated by Adolf Hitler. Slipping into totalitarianism is much more banal than people imagine.
Who Is In Danger?
In my view, the danger in a Trump presidency will not be so much for the Hispanic community but rather for the Muslim community.
To forcibly round up over approximately 16 million undocumented Hispanic immigrants would require the arrest and deportation of nearly the entire population of Ireland four times over. Trump would double the population in American prisons in his first 100 days if he were keeping up with the daily average of arrests necessary to accomplish this feat in two years.
So, Trump is bluffing when he speaks about plans for Hispanic mass deportations. But when he promises retaliation against Muslim families of terrorists, he believes he will have ample support. Trump clearly does not understand that the civilized world operates (correctly) under different rules of engagement than terrorists. He seems to think this is weakness. He has made it plain that the rule of law as it exists today in this regard is something he is eager to dismiss.
In the meantime, he has neither formulated nor explained a policy for actually dealing with the growing threat of ISIS, which Trump (ever the simpleton) vacuously describes as “…there is something going on that is really, really, bad. It’s bad…”
Trump’s solution to America’s problems with trade, terrorism, monetary manipulation, and the rest are all to be magically solved with his four-word incantation, “… we must get tough.” If only we were tough, Trump incants, America would be great again.
It seems hard to believe George W. Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney lacked a backbone. Undoubtedly, Barack has not even a hint of a solution. Nevertheless, there is no reason to think that we may fill the policy void by simply installing a national leadership which will willfully trample the rule of law and then be able to walk away smiling, with our democracy still intact. Reagan was tough on a much bigger enemy, the Soviet Union, but he was a rational actor. His precise and measured actions liberated millions of people and accomplished what many thought would be impossible. Thatcher was certainly no wilting lily. But Trump is no Reagan or Thatcher.
Trump and the Dangers of a Nuclear Exchange
It is hard to imagine how the United States would have averted nuclear Armageddon during the Cuban-missile crisis had Trump rather than Kennedy been in charge. Recall Trump fires first and then tries to clean up his mess. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara testified in 1964 before Congress that unleashing a nuclear exchange would have caused the death of over 100 million Americans in the first hour. If Trump had been commander-in-chief in 1962, it is very likely there would be no America left to make great again.
Trump is not someone who can deal with failure. Destroy the enemy at any cost seems part of his psychological make-up. What would happen when his “brilliant” strategy to destroy ISIS fails? Trump has repeatedly raised the threat of dropping a nuke on someone, “ I would be very, very slow and hesitant to pull the trigger,” “… well, someday, maybe…” “Of course if somebody… Let me explain if someone hits us within ISIS, you wouldn’t fight back with a nuke?” No, replies Chris Matthews. Trump in response to further questioning, “ Then why are we making them? Why do we make them?”
Trump has also stated the Japanese, the South Koreans and of course Saudi Arabia, should perhaps also get nukes. In fact, he even refused to take off the table blowing up a nuke in Europe. These are the words of a madman, not a potential president.
And herein lies the rub. Hillary Clinton is in so many ways worse than Donald Trump. But the manner in which Trump could be worse than Hillary Clinton is of apocalyptic proportions.
I can easily imagine worse evils than a liberal Supreme Court. We’ve lived with that reality for decades. Trump is in any case no guarantee of a solid Supreme Court. His great friend (but equally out of control), Bobby Knight, boasted while Trump stood next to him proudly smiling, that Trump, like Truman, would drop the A-bomb. Truman, Bobby Knight said, was great because, “… he had the guts to drop the bomb… and that’s what Harry Truman did and here is a man (Trump) that would do the same thing…”
Clapping and cheering ensued. Great, Bobby, sign me up. Let’s make America great again.
These early signs should lead to the obvious conclusion: Do not give nuclear weapons, police powers and the military to a man that is not of sound mind. For these evils will be beyond your control.
That Trump may opt for a final solution, when his “brilliant” solutions to eradicate ISIS fail, is the stuff of real nightmares. To think suicide bombers will be paralyzed in fear at his threats is delusional. When asked about the incompatibility of his crazed words with the Geneva Convention, we get insight into what might take place when he starts losing the battle against ISIS. Trump: “Everybody believes in the Geneva Convention until they start losing and then it’s okay, let’s take out the bomb.”
The risk of a nuclear exchange due to Trump’s madness is real and the consequences of such an exchange would be unthinkable. Most Trump supporters, or the people claiming dogmatically that Trump is better than Hillary, fail to see the real potential for the unprecedented evils that we could usher by giving ultimate power to a mad man, like Donald Trump.
Trump and the Slide into Dictatorship
Also revealing is Trump’s view regarding the problem of how America’s military should face and fight an enemy that does not share our nation’s principles of law: “ …You have to fight fire with fire…we have to fight so viciously. And violently because we are dealing with violent people viciously.” Trump confuses the virtues and courage of our soldiers with viciousness, which is a vice. Our soldiers, police powers, and law enforcement agencies are not rabid dogs, which are sent to destroy and attack as Trump commands. This mindset vis- á-vis security forces, the military, and police is indeed shared by many a dictator around the world.
One wonders if there is a single politician or analyst in the world who concurs with Trump’s notions of how America should understand the issue of terrorism. Trump’s “policies” are so absurd and ridiculous that if told at a dinner table in all seriousness, they would certainly cause the guests to wonder about the IQ and sanity of the narrator. Some of us no longer wonder.
‘Take Out Their Families’
But Trump has even “better” ideas, and here I come to the crux of the democratic crisis. Trump has also promised a strategy of retaliation against the families of terrorists that is inclusive of wives and children. Irrational Trump nonchalantly doubles down: “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families…When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”
The common article 3 of the Geneva Convention forbids the following acts against those not engaged in the hostilities, “ … the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever…violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.” Trump’s telegraphed future atrocities are also forbidden by the Hague Conventions.
Trump here makes clear that he recognizes no rule of law that is able to constrain him. Not that of God. Not that of man. Trump, I submit, believes he is a law unto himself.
And it is in acting on this promise, which Donald Trump has reiterated in many ways, that Trump would transform himself from a democratically elected president into an illegitimate dictatorial ruler. If Donald Trump uses the police, military, or his personal Trump-made security force to assassinate the innocent or civilians, perhaps even Muslim-Americans whose relatives were involved in terrorism, we will have stepped into a spot we have never before approached as a nation: A president that disguises the rule of a dictator by pretending to defend America.
At that point, if we were to salvage the legitimacy of our democracy, Trump would have to be impeached for high crimes.
Note this easy, singular step into the death of democracy does not require that Trump murder millions of people. Trump does not have to unleash a reign of terror before we realize we have crossed the boundary that separates free societies from those ruled by dictators and criminals. This risk is simply something many of us are not willing to entertain. While we will indeed vote in the Senate and House races November 8th, casting a vote for Donald Trump or Clinton, we leave to others.
The clapping and cheering of thousands when Trump speaks thus, should give us pause, for we have seen this scene before. These lethal actions against democracy and the world, given Trump’s promises and irrational mindset, are in fact, not hard to imagine.