When Donald Trump usurped the presidency with the assistance of lies and foreign help in 2016, many of us (including me) consoled ourselves in our more hopefully optimistic moments with the thought that maybe, just maybe things would turn out okay. No one sane entertained the possibility that Trump would be a great president, let alone a good one, but we allowed ourselves to hope that America’s institutions, her checks and balances encoded in law, in supreme and federal courts and two houses of Congress, would be sufficient to constrain him from doing any real harm.
We watched him like the nervous parents of a destructive three year old negotiating the room where we keep our best antiques, and crossed our fingers. The ensuing coruscating crash of destruction confirmed our worst fears. To borrow a phrase from Trump himself, no one has ever seen anything like it before.
The list of Trump’s crimes is so long I’m faced with the dilemma of the Oscar winner. No matter how much time they’re given to mention people who made the moment possible, they’re bound to offend someone with an omission. I hope you’ll forgive me for not attempting such a list just now. My heart just is not in it.
I will say this. We now know there are no limits to how low this tyrant will sink. America was the nation that used to condemn such tyranny, but, perilously close to the thirty-first anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Donald Trump ordered the National Guard to attack a peaceful protest with tear gas and rubber bullets so he could preen and pose and posture with a bible in front of a church. Apparently, not even the right of peaceful assembly enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution is allowed to get in the way of Donald Trump’s ego.
In 1962 John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make violent revolution inevitable.” Trump’s aim is clearly to make Kennedy’s formula a necessity by betraying his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” No president should be the provocateur of violent revolution, but Trump doesn’t care, and he will provoke it, if it serves his purposes.
The worst part in all this, and this is the part I really don’t want to write about, is that Donald Trump has confirmed he can order American troops to attack peacefully assembled Americans — and those troops will obey him. That is not a lesson I wanted Trump to learn this close to an election that will almost certainly see him out of office. That is a dangerous position for us to be in. It’s not the five months ahead that worry me so much, it’s the 78 days after his defeat that concern me.
Right now Trump is sowing the seeds of discord between us. He’s cynically using the brutal and unlawful murder of George Floyd to villify those who express their mourning of that disgraceful death with Constitutionally protected nonviolent protests. Trump has only hate and discord to give because it’s the only thing he understands.
I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you that, while victory is almost certainly ours, it’s a long and turbulent road to January. Trump’s ego will make him more dangerous than he’s ever been on the morning of November fourth, and we need to be ready for that. It’s too facile to say he will be made powerless by defeat in November. He will still be president of the United States for the next 78 days, and he now knows he can order troops to attack law abiding Americans. This tyrant has shown us beyond all shadow of a doubt that he will destroy us for the sake of his ego, and the worst elements of America stand ready to help him.
Our best recourse just now is tolerance and peaceful protest. We can’t afford to provoke the situation any longer. A dangerous psychopath is about to be backed into a corner with a defeat that his monstrous ego won’t be able to process, and we need to proceed with great caution. We can at last permit ourselves a sigh of relief, not on November fourth, but on January 21st, 2021. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.