Some say Trump’s accession to the White House represents a constitutional crisis. Others say he will precipitate one. They suggest our commonwealth has not faced this kind of internal threat from its own chief executive before. Yet we have been in a constitutional crisis at least since 2003, when President George W. Bush launched an illegal war in Iraq on the basis of fake threats. No matter what you think about 9/11, whether or not you believe it was a false flag attack, the war that followed was illegal, and the commander-in-chief used 9/11 as a pretext. Moreover, he appropriated our democratic military forces, including our national guard, and deployed them overseas for a mission that had nothing to do with national defense. That is a constitutional crisis.
The breach spawned a multitude of nefarious consequences, most of them difficult to predict. One of them, not hard to anticipate, is a total lost of trust in government. That is the other side of betrayal: suspicion, and withal contempt. That an unprincipled narcissist like Trump should ride waves of contempt and suspicion into the presidency does not discount their significance. He did not create the anger and loss of faith that helped elect him, but harnessed these emotions with some skill.
In that sense, Trump is a product, not a cause of our current state of weakness, confusion, and self-doubt. You don’t want to make yourself feel great again unless you do not feel good. Trump followed a proven political strategy: if people are not happy, find someone to blame. In a nation replete with immigrants, refugees, visitors, and so-called illegals, he did not have far to look. Ban them, he said, ban them all so we’ll be safe.
Yet root causes of our moral weakness and disorder, especially from a republican standpoint, comprehend the rise of the national security state, together with rule by thieves, both of which have grown for about seventy-five years now. Voters know something is wrong. The disunity that followed 9/11 grows from real divisions and real power dislocations, not from human pettiness, but from bitterness. A lot of people voted for Trump because they feel something is wrong, but they are not sure what it is. They might not use the words constitutional crisis, but they understand the rot’s subterranean significance.
Trump would be the perfect henchman for the national security kleptocracy, if the president and the state did not distrust each other so much. The last thing the state wants in the White House is an egotistical madman. It likes a lot of things about its current position, but unpredictability is not one of them. It makes plans based on recognizable forms. It even managed to put 9/11 into a set of recognizable forms, though doing so meant self-indictment on a huge scale. That’s the power of self-preservation.
When people talk now about how Trump is a new phenomenon we have never seen before, I would say, well yes, we haven’t had a chief executive like him in the past. But every president is idiosyncratic: someone we haven’t seen before. They all have strengths and weaknesses. This president’s weaknesses are more obvious than most, which you could say make him predictably ineffective. So far, we have not treated him like the foolish or reckless relative you humor or ignore at family gatherings. We’ve been so afraid he might do something harmful and irreversible. He could be like the three-year-old who burns down the house when people look away for a few minutes.
One helpful reminder is that nothing Trump has threatened to do, however horrible or outlandish, comes close to the damage Bush and Cheney did when they started the Iraq war. People at the time said this was the greatest strategic blunder in our history. Time and events have proven them correct. Policies pursued during Bush’s eight years in office completely wrecked what was left of our democratic republic, and I’ll have to say it had already deteriorated a lot by the time the Supreme Court appointed W. to the White House. Perhaps an illegitimate president thought he might just complete the job.
So to say that Trump poses a unique threat to our republic, to argue that his election makes a constitutional crisis inevitable, has become both an alarmist and a conventional view since November, though people have been guarded about reaching for the word crisis too readily. Crises come in many forms: they don’t always unfold over thirteen days, like the Cuban Missile crisis. Nor do they look like the secession crisis of 1860-1861, which ended only after four horrendous years of bloodletting. We’ve all had reason to remember Nixon by now. This crisis is all our own. Its current phase opened near the beginning of the millennium, on September 11, 2001. Trump’s presidency merely commences the next chapter in this unfinished history.
The outcome of our current troubles will look far different from any of the others we have been through. We have witnessed numerous indications of their direction, but little emerges to indicate the tempo of events, the location of turning points, or ultimate outcomes. Certainly Donald Trump’s personality and actions, with his unpredictable idiocy, intemperateness and self-absorption, will not give us substantive clues about the big picture. We could use some wisdom right now. We won’t find it in the White House, or in Washington.