Feb 16, 2024

Never Forget Who Donald Trump Really Is

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

“You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent! No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.”

– Donald Trump, February 10, 2024, responding allegedly to a “leader of a big state” who asked “If we don’t pay” enough to NATO “and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?”

Donald Trump, widely known for stiffing his creditors, drew an enthusiastic response from a campaign audience when he made his troubling statements on behalf of “America First” and American isolationism.  These statements were reminders of his 16-minute inauguration speech in 2017, when Trump berated the Washington elites for ignoring the American people and allowing inner cities to fester in “crime and gangs and drugs.” “The American carnage stops right here, right now,” he said. “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first.”

Since the mainstream media is unable to let go of the issue of President Joe Biden’s age, perhaps it is time to remember just who the 77-year-old Donald Trump really is.  Trump poses a serious threat; he garnered more than 63 million votes in 2016, and despite a failed first term presidency, added 11 million more votes in 2020.  His control of the Republican Party is greater now than that of any other Republican in history.  Given the international trend toward authoritarian leaders in Europe and elsewhere as well as our own cynical populace, it is essential to review the personality and psyche of Donald Trump.

The fact that nuclear arsenals are in the hands of such unpredictable actors as Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Kim Jong-un is hardly reassuring.  Adding Donald Trump to that list would create greater concerns.  Presumably if Trump was seeking to become Airman Trump, he would not be certified as fit to handle nuclear weapons.  As someone who held high-level security clearances in 42 years of government service, I’m confident that Trump could not receive a security clearance at any level, particularly the Q level for nuclear weapons.  His own handling of sensitive intelligence materials at Mar-a-Lago and elsewhere is particularly dispositive in this regard.

Just recall that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s reference to Trump as a “fucking moron” was in response to the then president’s case for expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal as well as for justifying the use of nuclear weapons, including the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states.  Since the president of the United States has unlimited authority to launch nuclear weapons at a time of his/her choosing, considerable thought should be given to the trustworthiness of the commander-in-chief.  The Congress can decide the appropriate number of military bands; it has no role in the initiation of a nuclear holocaust. As the late Bruce Blair, a former Air Force nuclear missile launch officer, warned, “The presidency has evolved into something akin to a nuclear monarchy.”

We know all we need to know about Trump’s decision-making capabilities from his handling of the pandemic crisis in 2020.  Instead of authorizing the Federal Executive Management Agency (FEMA) to manage the crisis, Trump named his son-in-law to create a coronavirus response team that concentrated on the private sector.  Trump withdrew the United States from the World Health Organization and emphasized political messaging rather than professional information to inform the American public.  He told governors that the states were on their own for testing and producing masks. At a press conference in April 2020, Trump recommended an “injection” of disinfectant into a person to prevent a Covid infection.  Is it any wonder that U.S. rates of infections and deaths were among the worst in the world?

Mental health professionals spoke out in the first year of Trump’s presidency, but there have been no authoritative warnings recently.  In 2017, Bandy Lee’s “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President” was a New York Times best seller, which is highly unusual for an edited academic book.  The book was part of the Duty to Warn movement, which ignored the so-called Goldwater Rule that dissuaded psychiatrists from diagnosing a public figure they hadn’t personally interviewed.  Trump’s aberrant behavior, which has predictably worsened over the years, was too profound to ignore.  Trump’s appointments of two uber-hawks—John Bolton and Mike Pompeo—added to the anxiety of the time.  Trump tried and failed to appoint new leaders at the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency to enhance his authoritarian control of the bureaucracy.

Trump’s obvious instability has worsened over the past year as the legal and political challenges that he faces become more severe.  His behavior points to megalomania as well as a malevolent narcissistic personality.  Trump’s tantrums were on display in his first 24 hours as president, when he never tired of inflating the size of his inaugural crowd.  I criticized Trump’s appointment of so many retired and active duty general officers to key national security positions, but the troika of generals (Mattis, McMaster, and Kelly) actually became the “adults in the room.” Even more telling, they were among the first to leave the Trump administration because of his erratic and reckless behavior.  Trump put us at risk from 2017-2021; we would be at greater risk if he returned to the White House from 2025-2029.

Trump’s return to the White House would mark a renewal of his war on U.S. governance and democracy from 2017 to 2021.  Two of his targets were the oldest institutions in the country—the Post Office and the Census.  The Post Office was in Trump’s cross hairs because he was told (falsely) that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton due to widespread mail-in balloting fraud.  He also targeted the Census Bureau, which conducts the census that is key to our representative government, including our state representation in the House of Representatives and the distribution of $1.5 trillion for various public programs.  His politicization of the government had overwhelming support from the congressional Republican government.

Benjamin Franklin acknowledged to an inquiring citizen in Philadelphia in 1776 that the Founding Fathers had created a republic, but it would be up to the American citizenry to maintain it.  Too many authoritarians have been elected, gradually seizing power in an incremental and even legal fashion.  Donald Trump should not be allowed to join the list of authoritarians, such as Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte, Viktor Orban, and Javier Milei, who initially gained power legitimately.  And at the risk of putting too fine a point on it, there are the examples of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.

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