Alan Zendell, September 18, 2017
There are many points of view concerning Donald Trump in our divided country. What I find most disturbing is the large number of people who are willing to treat the presidency and the various crises our nation faces as a long-running TV reality show. I know that’s almost a cliché by now, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a serious problem. Perhaps we’re so immersed in television shows like Homeland, House of Cards, and Designated Survivor that we forget there’s a real world out there that’s pretty dangerous.
Way back when The West Wing was so popular it always disturbed me that people really believed the main preoccupation of the occupants of the White House’s business wing was exchanging witty repartee. Serious business is conducted there, and it can’t be done effectively by people whose principal agenda is individual power grabbing and one-upmanship. No one’s going to shut down Twitter or Facebook any more than we can close the Pandora’s box of nuclear weapons. We have to learn to adapt to a world filled with nuclear proliferation in which anyone can tweet any irresponsible nonsense and have millions of followers cheering.
We’re used to the media rants of Kim Jong Un, and most of us dismiss them for what they are: bombast intended to convince his own people that he will let nothing stop him from making their country secure, and in a country in which the population has known nothing but lies and propaganda, shut off from the outside world, that can work. We’re accustomed to the extremist websites utilized by ISIS and other terrorist groups, all of which have one thing in common, attempting to create fear and disarray among the people and countries they hate while propping up their own base.
For years we were bombarded with threats from Iran, but until recently, when Trump began talking about pulling out of the nuclear accord, they’ve been pretty silent. What we can infer from this is that as nations and regimes mature, they learn that bombastic rants simply label them as rogue nations. We are wary of them in the same way that we’re aware of swarms of killer bees on our neighbor’s property, but no one takes them seriously as responsible international partners.
Nations and leaders that behave that way are eventually isolated and ostracized. Nations that are secure in the knowledge of their own strength and values have no need for bombast, just as true heroes need not parade their egos around on their sleeves. Israel, for example, while always vigilant in defending against external threats, is also fully aware that their military can completely destroy anyone that attacks them. Thus we do not read tweets from their leaders about will happen to their enemies if they misbehave.
Our two greatest potential adversaries, Russia and China, conduct themselves in a statesmanlike if not always friendly fashion. Mr. Putin’s words are carefully measured as are president Xi’s. The worst we ever hear from them is veiled warnings about what may happen if we act too aggressively against their perceived interests. That doesn’t mean they’re our friends. It means that they are mature leaders secure in their power.
And yet, we have a president, even after eight months of on-the-job training, who thinks wild threats of nuclear destruction are an effective way to conduct business. He thinks that claiming to be prepared to exercise military options which we all know don’t really exist will somehow silence an enemy that has no intention of being soothed until he gets what he wants. What I conclude from all this is that all of our worst fears about Donald Trump are well founded. He craves more than anything the cheers of the crowd even if he has to invent scenarios in which he can cast himself as the hero. But that’s not what our presidency has ever been about. It’s supposed to be about humility and reasoned leadership, and sincerely crediting others with success, which are the truest signs of strength, while at every turn our president continues to express all the characteristics of a schoolyard bully.
If you’re not sure about this, I have a serious question for you, one that’s very worth pondering. Suppose that behind closed doors, our military strategists devised a solution to the current problems with North Korea. Suppose they proposed it to the president with the caveat that he had to remain in the background, and it would only work if he didn’t claim credit for its success. One tweet from him and it would all be undone. Faced with that choice, what would the Donald Trump we know do?
Would Trump, even under those conditions be able to place country over the roar of an adoring crowd? Nothing we know about him says he could, and that’s as dangerous an indictment of our president as anyone can make.