By Joe Lapointe
By electing Donald Trump President of the United States, American voters have made a grave mistake. This much is clear after his first month in office.
It is as if we have tossed our car keys to the biggest, loudest, meanest drunk in the bar and said “Here, Butch, you drive us home.”
We saw this in Trump’s rambling and bellicose news conference in the White House last Thursday afternoon and in his belligerent rally in Florida on Saturday. We saw it in his Twitter tweet about the news media being an enemy of the American people. We see it in his streak of cruelty and recklessness, demonizing and deporting Mexicans and Muslims.
Some polls show Trump’s approval rating below 40 per cent. His foes might hope: How low before impeachment proceedings begin? Might his poor numbers bolster the courage of timid Republicans who control both houses of Congress?
Don’t kid yourself. Trump can fix this in a dangerous way. He boasted idly Thursday that he would be hailed as a hero if he blasted a Russian naval ship out of the waters of the Atlantic Ocean near the U.S. border. He probably won’t do it. But he commands a military force that includes nuclear weapons.
What might Trump do if his poll numbers drop further, if he feels desperate, if something in his ego tells him to show his manliness and legitimacy by sending American troops to war?
Military action often boosts the popularity of a leader, at least at first. Former President George W. Bush demonstrated this in the months after the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003. He was riding high before his war of choice was exposed as a bloody fiasco.
As was the case with Bush then, news outlets like Fox News Channel and right-wing talk radio will rally behind the leader and smear as unpatriotic any critics who find fault with their president “while our brave troops are in harm’s way.”
If the U.S. should fall victim by a terrorist attack – especially one by Muslims from a foreign country – the public and the mainstream news media will find it difficult to oppose a harsh expansion of the immigration ban of last month that targeted seven nations that are majority Muslim.
Imagine Trump’s rallies then, with a war psychosis. A sloppy politician but a skilled and instinctive demagogue, Trump knows how to charge up a chanting, cheering crowd, like the one in Florida Saturday.
The underlying message in such a gathering is “See how I can put together a flash mob? Who knows what these people are capable of if I rile them up? Nice country you’ve got here. Be a shame is something were to happen to it.”
And, in such a case, what might happen to the minorities Trump already has targeted? He’s stepped up deportation to Mexico of “illegals” who have lived here for a long time but have committed minor crimes. His Muslim ban – stopped temporarily by court rulings – will soon return in a different form, Trump has promised.
Would the plurality population – white and Christian – step up in a time of crisis to defend the rights of minorities under attack, especially if the terrorists come from one of those groups? And consider the way Trump treated two minorities at Thursday’s presser.
When a Jewish reporter with a yarmulke and beard asked Trump about an increase in anti-Semitic incidents since his election, Trump ordered the man to sit down and be quiet while he rambled about how nobody is less anti-Semitic than he is.
When a female African-American reporter asked if Trump would meet with the Congressional Black Caucus, Trump flippantly asked her if she was “friends” with the members and whether she could set up a meeting. He treated her like the hired help. He was disdainful in word and tone.
Remember how he treated Hispanic journalist Jorge Ramos when he tried to ask a question during the campaign? “Go back to Univision,” Trump said.
More ominously, Trump – in more than an hour of invective Thursday and during Saturday’s speech – showed no humility, no respect for others, no sense of introspection. He came across as what he is: A narcissistic, vengeful, delusional bully who will smear and attack his “enemies.”
At the moment, Trump has three years and 11 months remaining in his term. So far, he has yet to deal with his first real crisis, foreign or domestic. Chances are good that one is on the way. What then? It could get worse before it gets better.