If character keeps homo sapiens from the abyss, it often seems to desert us when we reach the top of the mountain. This unfortunate reality of human nature seems inescapable for many in Washington. Pennsylvania Avenue is paved with good intentions gone, and campaign promises sold to the highest bidder. It is also the road to power for many venal politicians who cloak self-interest in the rhetoric of democracy and patriotism – “Make America Great Again”, for example.
All the signs were there in 2016.
Donald J. Trump was not presidential material.
Outgoing President Obama encapsulated global concerns in his statement, “Donald Trump is uniquely unqualified to be President.”
Four mad years later, the reality of President Trump has proven to be beyond even the most active imagination. While many questioned his motives, competence and moral character, it would not have been possible to crystal-ball the extent of the damage that would be done – to the presidency, to America and the world, to democracy, to truth, and to the fabric of society. Disbelief hovers still. Full comprehension eludes us. A post-mortem will require the clarifying perspective of time.
History may well record the Age of Trump as the time when democracy fell apart.
Trump’s remarks at a rally in Arizona on October 19th provided yet another surreal bearing on his skewed moral compass, when the President of the United States described a possible scenario where he would extort $25 million in campaign donations from the CEO of Exxon in exchange for exploration permits. Exxon was quick to deny that any such conversation had taken place, however the fact remains that the President had at least thought about it – his remarks perhaps even Freudian.
Try to imagine FDR bragging during his famous “Infamy Speech” that he could call up Boeing and propose a donation in exchange for a B-17 contract; or JFK suggesting in his “Moon Shot Speech” that he could leverage some quid pro quo campaign bucks out of Convair for an Atlas rocket contract. Unthinkable.
Perhaps the FBI will open a new file on Trump.
The fact is, no previous president would have done anything remotely like this… and we all know that.
Public amazement however was muted, considering the possible implications of the statement. Over time, Trump has lowered the bar on our expectations of presidential behaviour. Psychically numbed by four years of Trump, shock value is diminished with each outrageous Presidential tweet. We have become dangerously inured to this reality-show president, and that is bad for democracy.
Consider the extraordinary circumstances that would motivate hundreds of former senior military and security leaders across the country to organize against the Commander in Chief.
National Security Leaders for Biden (NSL4B) is a concerned bipartisan group of retired Generals, Admirals, Senior Non-commissioned Officers, Ambassadors and Senior Civilian National Security Officials headed by Rear Admiral Michael E. Smith, USN (Ret). Smith served as Commander, Carrier Strike Group Three, and advisor to Admiral Mike Mullen – then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and senior military advisor to the President during the Bush and Obama administrations.
On September 25th NSL4B announced their support for Joe Biden in an open letter to the American people, signed by 489 members.
There number has now grown to 780, many former heavyweights in Washington.
NSL4B members include John Kerry (former Secretary of State), Madeline Albright (former Secretary of State), Susan Rice (former UN Ambassador and National Security Advisor), General Michael Hayden (former Director of the CIA), Anthony Lake (former National Security Advisor), Catherine Bertini (former UN Under Secretary General), Tom Maertens (former Director, NSC), Denis McDonough (White House Chief of Staff under Obama), Ashton B. Carter (former Secretary of Defense), Janet Napolitano (former Secretary of Homeland Security) , William Cohen (former Secretary of Defense), Leon E. Panetta (former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense), William J. Perry (former Secretary of Defense), Elisa Ewers (former Director, NSC), Chuck Hagel (former Secretary of Defense)… and too many former flag officers, under-secretaries, assistant-secretaries and ambassadors (including Caroline Kennedy) to mention.
NSL4B are serious people who fear for the future of the country; “The current President has demonstrated he is not equal to the enormous responsibilities of his office; he cannot rise to meet challenges large or small.”
The upcoming election will be more referendum than political contest.
It will be a referendum on America.