Introduction: Today we share this essay by John Miller (“the OLD Philosopher”), pastor of the Chapel without Walls, Hilton Head, South Carolina, U.S.A.
“THE GUARANTOR OF ‘AMERICA SECOND'” or: “How Much Time Will It Take, and How Much Time Should He Be Given?”, June 7, 2017
For the past few weeks I firmly resolved both as a preacher and as a citizen to refrain from directly addressing vital issues prompted by the actions or statements of the President of the United States. However, as both Isaiah (62:1&6 and 64:12) and Jeremiah (4:19) said, I can no longer keep silent.
Almost immediately after being sworn into office, the President made an executive order greatly inhibiting immigration and travel to the United States by anyone from Muslim-majority nations. That was immediately struck down by two federal courts, and the Supreme Court is about to render its decision regarding the constitutionality of his action.
Then President Trump proposed to revoke and to reform the Affordable Health Care Act. The details were sparse, but the intent was there: a major tax break for the very wealthy, higher insurance premiums for many, fewer people would be covered who had pre-existing conditions, and eventually, depending on whose numbers you choose to believe, from twenty to fifty million additional Americans, in addition to those already not covered, would lose their health insurance altogether. It was dismaying. Yet it was unashamedly touted as health care reform.
Then tax reform. There would be fewer tax brackets than previously, and all taxes would go down. The biggest advantage would go to the wealthiest Americans. Millions of Americans would have to pay only 15% in taxes on their income, because they could incorporate themselves as individuals and pay the 15% corporate tax instead of the individual tax. For many taxpayers, that would lower their taxes by more than half. But again, very few details were offered.
Neither health care reform nor tax reform has gone anywhere in Congress. It is not only because of Democratic opposition; many Republicans are also opposed. How can anyone vote on something which is not clearly spelled out? Because most of the White House staff are political novices, they have no idea of how to negotiate the inscrutable but essential process of getting legislation passed. The President attempts to manage them by threatening to fire staff members. After all, he did that each week on his reality television show.
In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Peggy Noonan, the longtime Republican insider, wrote, “It is absurd to think the president can solve his problem by firing his staff. They are not the problem. He is the problem. They’re not the A-Team, they’re not the counselors you’d want, experienced and wise. They’re the island of misfit toys. But they could function adequately if he could lead adequately.”
Charles Krauthammer is a longtime conservative columnist. He was unrelenting in his attacks on Donald Trump during the Republican presidential primaries. A few weeks after Mr. Trump was elected, Krauthammer wrote, “With near unanimity, my never-Trump friends confess a sense of relief. It could have been worse….Admittedly, this is a low bar. And this is not to deny the insanity, incoherence and sheer weirdness emanating daily for the White House, with which we’ve all come up with our own coping techniques. Here’s mine: I simply view President as the Wizard of Oz. Loud and bombastic. Nothing behind the screen – other than the institutional chaos that defines his White House and the psychotic chaos that governs his ever changing mind.”
These are not the opinions of dyed-in-the-wool Democrats. These are lifelong Republicans writing these sentiments.
Trump ordered the bombing of a Syrian Air Force base. By doing that his plummeting ratings went up several points for several days, before plummeting again. But many citizens were pleased that the President had finally made what seemed like a sensible decision and actually carried through on it. Its sensibility is debatable.
He ordered the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb to be dropped on an ISIS complex of caves in eastern Afghanistan. He approved a shipment of arms to a group of Kurdish rebels in Turkey, despite the strong objections of the Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The US has tried to keep a strong relationship with the increasingly autocratic Erdogan for years, because Turkey has been one of our strongest allies since the Korean War. That did not deter our President from taking an arbitrary action which greatly peeved Erdogan.
Diplomacy does not seem to be one of the President’s long suits. Still, it is surprising the President forged ahead to take a step he should have known would anger Erdogan. Despite that, he seems to relate better to dictators than to democratically-elected heads of state. But no one can predict what he will do, or why he will do it.
Trump attempted to prevent any tourists or immigrants entering our country from several Muslim nations where terrorists and terrorism are in abundance. Many of these are refugees from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in which American troops have been engaged for years. Most of these particular refugees also supported our side in those conflicts. If they are not admitted into the US, some of them will surely be killed by our enemies in these wars. But because they are Muslims, and because they were born in Muslim states where terrorists find refuge, they are prevented from applying for asylum in America. It makes no sense.
In late May the Secretary of State announced that the State Department would be breaking a two-decades-long tradition of holding a reception in Foggy Bottom to mark the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Mr. Trump considers radical Islam to be our primary enemy, as he has often stated, and he seems quickly to have acquired an extraordinary skill in creating many other radical Muslims.
The President insisted that General Michael Flynn become his National Security adviser, despite strong objections from many quarters, including Republicans in Congress. Within fifteen days Flynn was fired because of allegations over improper contacts with the Russian government prior to and after the presidential election.
Having complimented FBI director James Comey on his handling of the Hillary Clinton investigation regarding the Bengazi attack and her email problems, the President fired Mr. Comey within weeks of his compliment when the director apparently refused to stop the investigation into the growing instances of the so-called Russian Connection with the President. Early in his presidency, Donald Trump has gained the reputation of man who threatens to end or who actually ends the employment of many high-level government officials. He is a first-class firer.
It is bruited that life in the Trump administration feels secure for almost no one, save for family members. Now, even they, or at least one of them, may be in jeopardy.
The President hailed his first trip abroad as a great success. He met with members of the Saudi leadership, with Benyamin Netanyahu in Israel, and with the Pope. When he got to the NATO meeting, he managed to alienate nearly every head-of-state of every western liberal democracy gathered there. Even to hint that the US might be less committed to the major alliance in which we have been a signatory since the end of World War II is a huge military and diplomatic blunder. But he did that with no hesitation. The looks on the faces of his international counterparts spoke volumes of how very negatively his remarks were received.
A week later, after having previously alerted the press that after giving climate change more thought, he would soon be making an announcement about the Paris Accord on Climate Change. And shortly thereafter the President indeed made his statement before a collection of sycophants. Previously there were only two nations in the world which had refused to affirm the Paris Accord: Syria and Nicaragua. Now, by his action, he rescinded the American official commitment. “So we’re getting out,” he proudly declared. But then, to honor the title of his book, he added, “We will start to negotiate, and we’ll see if we can make a deal that’s fair.”
There is no way to minimize the massive damage of the President’s speech at the NATO summit and his remarks on the lawn of the White House. His impetuous, ill-considered words are disastrous for American foreign policy. NATO was the main means of containing Soviet aggression from 1945 to 1989. It has held the line against Russian aggression from the time Putin succeeded Yeltsin as leader of Russia to the present.
As for the Paris Accord, it was never envisioned as a panacea in guaranteeing planetary environmental health. But it was widely accepted as an enormous step in the right direction. Now one unpredictable and misguided man may have erased the efforts of hundreds of diplomats to garner widespread agreement to move forward, if only in small increments. And by his impetuosity, he may also encourage other nations to back out.
From the earliest days of his campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency, Donald Trump trumpeted “America First” as his campaign motto. As President, he has persisted in maintaining that stance.
Trump has often stated that he wants an emphasis on American jobs, American products, and American power. Overtly and covertly, he turned away from internationalism in trade and diplomacy to unvarnished nationalism.
It is ironic that our President insists on “America First” as our national and international policy. The irony is that unless his policies are reversed, and quickly, we shall inevitably become “America Second.”
In only a few months, three of his pronouncements have especially eroded America’s position as Number One in the world. His attempt to ban Muslim tourists and immigrants, his thumbing his nose at NATO, and his cavalier removal of the United States from the Paris Accord have all had the unavoidable effect of elevating China into the world’s Number One position.
China, under the adroit if also autocratic leadership of Xi Jinping, has taken many long strides economically in the past few years. Their GDP has grown geometrically. Since Deng Shiaopeng led the Middle Kingdom from Maoist ideological communism into state-managed capitalism in the 1960s, China has quickly moved into second place in the world economy. Now, courtesy of the major mistakes of Donald Trump, it could be argued that suddenly China has politically moved into the Number One position. Trump has effectively knocked us out of that position all by himself.
Clearly the President never intended to do that. But just as clearly, he gave no thought to the results of the Muslim immigrant ban, the deliberate undermining of NATO, and the American removal from the Paris Accord. Donald Trump does not carefully calculate the results of anything he does; he just does it, on impulse.
Elections in democracies are, by definition, democratic. Ultimately the people rule, by means of their votes. However, in the USA, the Electoral College rules, but that is the topic of another essay. By the uniquely American constitutional compromise of its Constitution, Donald Trump won the 2016 election, even if he received three million fewer votes than his chief opponent.
After the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama said, with an uncharacteristic gloat, “Elections have consequences.” Nevertheless, no one could have adequately imagined the unintended consequences of the 2016 American presidential election.
It is constantly evident that the President’s actions are still approved by the great majority of his political “base.” It is less evident that other Republicans, particularly Republican Members of Congress, are becoming increasingly alarmed by the President’s capricious and sometimes outrageous behavior. Nonetheless, recently more notable Republican office-holders have been willing to speak out against some of the more clearly egregious actions Mr. Trump has taken as President.
It is not possible for any of us to have a detailed knowledge of every American presidency. But surely no previous President has ever begun his time in office under such a cyclone of controversy as has this President. Everyone other than the most dedicated of Trump supporters would have to admit some if not many reservations about some of the things the man has said and done.
Because of who Donald Trump is, and because of who he very likely shall continue to be, he has thrust America into a totally uncharted situation in our history. If advisors were able to deter him from his impulsive behavior, it certainly would have happened by now. But they cannot and it shall not.
We are in the midst of a unique constitutional crisis in our national history. There is nothing thus far that warrants an impeachment trial of the President. But demands for impeachment increase by the week. The demands themselves add to the gravity of our constitutional crisis, because what is demanded cannot come to pass under current conditions.
There are three “Russian Connection” investigations presently underway, the two in the two Houses of Congress and the special one by special prosecutor Robert Mueller. If any of these probes quickly turns up evidence of any “high crimes and misdemeanors” (the constitutional necessity for even contemplating impeachment), then an impeachment trial could quickly begin. Such a rapid discovery of irrefutable evidence, however, is quite improbable. By its very nature, impeachable evidence is difficult to obtain.
In the meantime, the national dis-ease grows. Most who supported Mr. Trump from the early stages of his campaign continue to support him, and apparently very few have fallen away. Many of those who were neutral about him remain neutral, though some have openly begun to question or even to denounce him. Those who were viscerally opposed to him since late 2014 are even more opposed in mid-2017. Politically the American people are fraying very badly.
John Gartner is a practicing psychologist who has taught in the Department of Psychiatry of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine for nearly thirty years. He has founded an organization which includes hundred of mental health professionals. The group is called Duty to Warn.
Dr. Gartner wrote a recent article in USA Today. It was entitled “Diagnosis: Malignant Narcissism.” Here are two paragraphs from his startling monograph.
“Psychologist and Holocaust survivor Erich Fromm, who invented the diagnosis of malignant narcissism, argues that it ‘lies on the borderline between sanity and insanity.’ Psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg defined malignant narcissism as having four components: narcissism, paranoia, anti-social personality and sadism. Trump exhibits all four….
Some say it is unethical to dare to diagnose the president, but hundreds of mental health professionals have come together to found Duty to Warn. We believe that just as we are ethically and legally obligated to break confidentiality to warn a potential victim of violence, our duty to warn the public trumps all other considerations.”
These are extremely serious allegations. Professional mental health experts would be very hesitant to affirm such statements unless they were truly convinced of their accuracy.
Countless Americans are gravely concerned about the behavior of our President. The longer they remain silent, the more likely it is that behavior shall continue unabated. Political caution may incur incalculable damage as long as caution is the national modus operandi. How long will it take, and how much time should he be given?
At the present time, there is probably nothing that can be done to deflect the President from impulsive and disastrous tendencies. But sensibility should tell us that it is no longer either acceptable or wise to remain silent.
An enormous public outcry for the President to resign will only heighten the crisis. A man of his stubborn temperament will never resign. But also to say nothing only further encourages more of his outrages. We are faced with a massive political dilemma.
The President has had more than enough time to learn the essentials of statecraft. He has proven himself incapable of learning even the most elementary of lessons. The American people at large do themselves no service by continuing quietly to give the leader of our nation more time to conduct himself properly in his office. By now it is evident that shall never happen.
The presidency of Donald J. Trump has become a carbuncle boil on the American body politic. Until it is lanced, the problem will only get worse. Who does the lancing and when and how it is done are the questions that shall vex us until something is done.
Shall it be the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution that solves our dilemma? How shall the boil be cured? How shall the republic be saved?
Everyone of good will has a duty to join the chorus of alarm. But what shall result from the growing turmoil is anyone’s guess.
John Miller is a writer, author, lecturer, and preacher-for-over-fifty-years who is pastor of The Chapel Without Walls on Hilton Head Island, SC.