[This is longer than the general post; I saw no place for a logical break.]
On February 5, 2020, President Donald Trump was acquitted by the United States Senate at the conclusion of his impeachment trial. Two days after the acquittal, President Trump removed from their respective positions European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondlund and Director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, two witnesses whose undisputedly truthful testimony implicated the President in a scheme to pressure a vital but vulnerable ally for his own domestic political purposes. Four days after the acquittal, the United States Department of Justice, led by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, said that it was reducing the sentence it was recommending for convicted Trump confidante Roger Stone – described by former Trump Administration Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon during Mr. Stone’s trial as an “access point” to Russia conduit Wikileaks for the Trump Campaign — after the President tweeted that the 7-9 year term initially recommended by DOJ was “disgraceful” and a “miscarriage of justice.”
I tend to buy books in clusters. Largely driven by these Trump Administration actions (and, as it turned out, shortly before the oncoming Coronavirus so drastically changed our normal life patterns), I went to my local bookstore to acquire specific titles that I considered appropriate supplements to my copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William Shirer: Mr. Putin, by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy; The New Sultan, the story of Turkey’s President (and now autocratically inclined) Recip Tayyip Erdogan, by Soner Cagaptay; Fascism: A Warning, by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; and … a final selection — a volume generally available, but a title that causes you to lower your voice when requesting: Mein Kampf (in English, “My Struggle”), by Adolf Hitler.
At my last request, the young woman with whom I’d been working glanced up at me a bit sharply, then relaxed; apparently – thankfully — I look like a researcher, not a believer. She located Hitler’s opus, glanced at the price, added it to my pile, and observed sympathetically, “That’s a lot for such trash.” Then she added: “My Dad says I shouldn’t wear this necklace out like this.” I hadn’t previously noticed, but saw then: at the base of her neck was a small Star of David.
That is where we are today. Throughout President Trump’s term, we have seen countless instances of his deliberately sowing seeds of division among us, his lying, racism, religious bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, bullying, instability, narcissism, erraticism, avarice, pettiness, and flouting of norms, rules, and laws, his virulent attacks on the principled who disagree with him, a free press, and free speech, and his collaboration with foreign enemies for his own ends. Even so, never seriously did I contemplate the potential for his dictatorial inclinations until – after he was acquitted in the Senate — he dismissed Messrs. Vindman and Sondlund and meddled in Mr. Stone’s sentencing. Since that time, the Justice Department has sought to drop its prosecution of Mr. Trump’s former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn (after Mr. Flynn twice pled guilty), Mr. Trump has dismissed four Inspectors General (dismissals U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney called “a threat to accountable democracy”), he has issued an Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship after Twitter added corrective links to his completely unsubstantiated tweeted claims of fraud related to mail-in voting, he has called upon the nation’s Governors to “dominate” protestors in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, and on June 1 had peaceful protestors cleared from Lafayette Square, in part through the use of chemical agents, in order to provide himself with a photo opportunity.
The above list isn’t exhaustive, but it is indicative. Clearly Mr. Trump has considered himself unfettered since his acquittal, and has felt free to exact revenge and pursue vendettas against those he considers to have wronged him or his entourage. Does anyone think that Mr. Trump will be more restrained if he is re-elected? Does anyone wish to wager that Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has at times displeased the president with his candid assessment of the extent of COVID crisis, or Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, who each publicly separated themselves from the President’s actions in Lafayette Park, won’t be removed from their positions if and when Mr. Trump no longer considers such removals a danger to his re-election prospects? If Democrats can’t get out of their own way sufficiently so as to be able to convince the appropriate number of voters in the pivotal states that Mr. Trump needs to be removed this year, I am gravely concerned about our nation’s future.
Right now, Democrats and liberal media are gloating over the President’s repeated political missteps and his sinking approval ratings. They are currently chortling about what the Trump Campaign obviously recognizes was an extremely disappointing June 20 Tulsa rally. I would counter: it’s too early. The election is going to be close. What I glean from the polls is that Mr. Trump is well within striking distance in the swing states that will decide the election. For perspective, we are now approximately as far from Election Day (November 3) as we are removed from early February — the period in which the President was acquitted, our nation had fewer than 20 Coronavirus cases, and two and a half months before George Floyd’s killing. Like the momentum of a football game, the pendulum could well begin to swing back in the President’s direction: even if there are future serious Coronavirus outbreaks, states will be loath to again shut down their economies, so hiring may improve and the stock market may rise; a bipartisan federal bill regarding police behavior and techniques is expected to pass, which may provide a surface salve sufficient to quiet protestors’ concerns through Election Day; presumed Democratic Party Presidential Nominee Joe Biden – satisfied to remain in his basement under cover of COVID while Mr. Trump has continued to politically shoot himself in the foot – will have to emerge at some point, which will lead to Mr. Biden’s own gaffes and glitches that will be trumpeted by Republicans; whomever Mr. Biden names as his running mate will provide not only advantages but vulnerabilities that Mr. Trump can exploit and will cause Democrats disenchanted with the pick to revel in self-righteous indignation; we will have a number of candidate debates that might yield a pivotal moment; and there will be at least one other significant occurrence, such as FBI Director James Comey’s October, 2016, announcement that he was reopening the Bureau’s investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails, which at this point we cannot even fathom.
I have read passages from all of the books I bought last February, but confess that given the diversion of the COVID crisis, haven’t yet read any in its entirety. Although perhaps those that read these posts are already aware of this, it is nonetheless worth noting that Messrs. Hitler, Putin, and Erdogan all first assumed their leadership positions by Constitutional means in what were then actual democracies; none had to overthrow an established order before beginning their accumulation of control over their respective nations. While I draw a measure of solace from the manner in which Messrs. Esper and Milley have recently distanced themselves and the military from Mr. Trump’s Lafayette Park stunt – one can’t be an autocrat without an army – there are plenty of other Defense Secretary candidates and Generals from whom Mr. Trump can choose from if he is re-elected. I have seen a number of pundits suggest that Mr. Trump’s presidency is “over.” I suggest that we need be watchful, lest his dictatorship start.
Former President Barack Obama is reportedly fond of a statement by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” With all due respect to Messrs. King and Obama, I consider the sentiment poppycock. What is right and just is not inevitable; it must be defended. Messrs. Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant, and Messrs. Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Douglas MacArthur didn’t prevail in their struggles because they were right; they won because they had more troops and better weapons than the enemy. I would submit that this is the Fourth Election in which the American way of life is at stake. We citizens have only votes to defend the freedom this nation provides. The existential threats I referred to in Part I of this note were brought about by outside circumstances beyond the control of the Presidents called upon to address them; in this election, the sitting President is the existential threat. His presidency has revealed both the strength and fault lines within our system of government. I am pleased that Mr. Biden is poised to become the Democratic nominee because he is by all indications an honorable man, but any person of honor of any political philosophy will do for me.
Even as I type this, I recognize that some of it seems a bit … well … paranoid ;). There is nothing that I’d like better than to have friends laugh at me over a refresher in happier [and COVID-managed :)] times. That said, I’ve reflected in recent days about my father, a decorated WWII Marine veteran of Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal. He volunteered after Pearl Harbor, willing to give his life for his country. Aside from paying taxes – to which I’ve always considered it churlish to object, given the opportunities this nation provides — I’ve had to do virtually nothing to avail myself of the blessings of American citizenship. I hope it won’t be necessary, but if it is, on November 3, for the country I want my children and grandchildren to live in, I will be willing to shake the hands of 20 desperately ill COVID patients and hug 20 more if that is what is required to reach a ballot box to vote against Donald John Trump.