Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus
February 25th, 2017
What is Donald Trump really up to?
The best case scenario is that this paranoid, sociopathic liar, totally ignorant of history, government and the Constitution, and incapable of operating the complex levers of American presidential power will flame out – perhaps within first year or so of his first term. In this scenario, Republicans in Congress will recognize their own political peril in the 2018 elections if they seem complicit in his chaotic leadership. So they seize upon impeachment or the 25th Amendment and Mike Pence ultimately becomes president. That won’t please Democrats, but most will go along believing that Pence is less dangerous than Trump.
The worst case scenario is that Trump succeeds in his less than noble ambition to remake his America in the style of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. It is not so much that he admires Putin personally - he envies Putin’s almost absolute power. It can be argued that Trump has already begun to expand his power grab, by repeatedly attempting to undermine the credibility of the three institutions which have the capacity to put the brakes on his ambitions – the judiciary, the intelligence community and the news media. It is not simply that he disagrees with the decisions or public comments made by these institution’s members. He and his White House henchmen dispute their very right to challenge his authority.
I hope that given my lifetime as a journalist, you won’t think I am being parochial when I express my horror that the President of the United States has declared the major news organizations of this country as “the enemy of the American people.”
Of course, all presidents have issues with the press. The usually revered John Kennedy once tried to get the New York Times to fire or at least re-assign Saigon based reporter David Halberstam, who had become a leading critic of U.S. Vietnam War policy. The Times did what it had to do. It kept him in Saigon.
Yet what Trump said was beyond the pale. Even as one who knows little history, he has to know the baggage of the phrase, “enemy of the people.” It was the mantra of mass murdering dictators like Stalin of Russia and Mao of China as justification to exterminate their opposition.
In what was one of Senator John McCain’s finest hours, he was sharply critical in his reaction to Trump’s pronouncement on Twitter that the press was the enemy of the American people. He spoke to Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet The Press.
“The fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital…..If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”
Todd: “That’s how dictators get started with tweets like that?”
McCain: “No. They get started by suppressing the press. In other words, a consolidation of power. When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press. And I am not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.”
This is a view strongly shared by Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University. He is the author of several books on European history, including the just published, “On Tyranny – 20 Lessons from the 20th century.” In a recent interview with the prominent German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Snyder sounded ominous warnings about the Trump presidency. While not directly comparing Trump to Hitler, Snyder said, “It is very important to stress that history does not repeat, but it does offer examples and patterns.” He does say this about Trump, “He doesn’t seem to care about institutions and the law except insofar as they appear as barriers to the goal of kleptocracy, authoritarianism and immediate personal gratification. It’s all about him, all the time.” But most alarming was Professor Snyder’s quote used for the headline of the interview, “We have at most a year to defend American democracy – perhaps less.”
I have not yet reached that level of pessimism – nor do I think the main stream reporters and commentators who regularly discuss Trump, are generally this negative. But they are very troubled. Some feel the focus now should be on what Trump actually does and not on all the outlandish things he says. The problem with that approach is that sometimes Trump does what he says and of course, sometimes he doesn’t. Frankly, the formula that is now truly working, is the aggressive nature of the reporting, led by the Washington Post and the New York Times, which has been aided significantly by inside sources at possible great risk to themselves. Trump calls them criminal leakers. From what I have seen they are very much in the tradition of Watergate’s Deep Throat, who believed Americans needed to know what their president was secretly up to.
Finally, to the pleasant surprise of most of his critics President Trump named Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his new National Security Adviser. By all accounts he is a major upgrade over the man he replaced, General Mike Flynn who was fired for lying to Vice President Pence about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador. McMaster has a distinguished reputation as a five year combat officer in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is an expert on counter-terrorism and an intellectual. His doctoral thesis at West Point was an unsparing critique of the highest ranking officers in Saigon and the Pentagon who repeatedly did not tell President Lyndon Johnson and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara the unvarnished truth about America’s failing Vietnam War policies. This became a successful book under the title, “Dereliction of Duty.”
Evidently, this new National Security adviser will not hesitate to tell truth to power. This is good news, although in his new post, it does raise the question of his longevity.
I welcome your comments. To post your thoughts, click the word "comments" below.