Point de vue

How Dangerous is Trump?

Trump est-il dangereux ? Nous avons interrogé deux intellectuels phares outre-Atlantique afin qu’ils nous éclairent sur cette question qui fait trembler l’Amérique comme le reste du monde. Le premier, Todd Gitlin, professeur sociologie à l’université de Columbia, analyse le caractère impulsif et amoral d’un président voué à appliquer un programme très libéral. Le second, Peter Dreier, professeur en sciences politiques à Los Angeles, dénonce le bellicisme, le sexisme et le racisme du locataire de la Maison Blanche, dont les paroles et les décisions risquent de marquer profondément le pays, malgré une opposition grandissante. Voici, en intégralité, et en anglais, les analyses percutantes et passionnantes de ces deux observateurs avisés de la vie publique américaine.

Is Donald Trump dangerous? Is water wet? If Donald Trump is not dangerous then the word has no meaning. But danger, like genius and stupidity, comes in many varieties and intensities, and because Trump is deeply unstable, and because much of his government’s activity is cloaked in secrecy (journalists not having penetrated the inner workings of government bureaus), the sum of the ways in which he is dangerous cannot be pinned down. The safest thing to say is that he is dangerous for many reasons and in many ways, not all of which are predictable. Some of those ways are known and some are not; some might be, to adopt the inimitable phrase of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “unknown unknowns.”

 

First, Trump knows next to nothing about history, science, economics, or any aspect of government policy.He does not read books or even short articles. He gleans much of his “information” from right-wing propaganda that is not only ignorant but warped. Ignorance is normal for American citizens (among others) but to say the least, when the most powerful man in the world is in a position to make decisions that affect the well-being of hundreds of millions—billions—of people around the world, and he has shown a willingness to make decisions in the absence of evidence and logic, how can it be denied that he is dangerous in the severest, potentially most life-and-death sense? To say that there are some more knowledgeable, more sober, more rational people who work for him is true. It is equally true that, in the end, Trump gives the orders.

 

It must never be forgotten that Trump his proverbial finger on the proverbial nuclear button, though wags have pointed out that his spelling and typing are so atrocious that any message to launch a nuclear weapon would likely fail to register. It is unlikely that he will decide to incinerate the world, but a willful world-destroying onslaught by any American president is always unlikely. The problem, a perpetual problem, is the possibility of miscalculation and accident under high pressure.

 

One must not exaggerate the likelihood of apocalypse but one must not discount it. There is a precedent for this danger of all dangers. Consider that, on at least two occasions, high officials in President Nixon’s administration decided not to carry out his orders. In October 1969, as two knowledgeable New York Timesreporters wrote last year, Nixon ordered his secretary of defense, Melvin Laird, “to put American nuclear forces on high alert to scare Moscow into thinking the United States might use nuclear arms against the North Vietnamese.” Laird stalled. Accident was averted. Then, in 1974, at a time Nixon was ranting and drinking heavily, his hawkish secretaries of defense, James R. Schlesinger, a hawkish Cold Warrior, told the military to divert emergency orders — especially any that involved nuclear weapons — to him or Secretary of State Kissinger. Nixon was episodically deranged, but not so consistently and conspicuously as Trump.

 

Second, Trump is not only ignorant but he holds knowledge in contempt. The void in his psychological acumen may be illustrated by his difficulty sticking with a political staff, either during the campaign or during the seven months of his presidency. For him and for much of his political base, scientists are crooked and their purported knowledge—“expertise”—is a scheme designed by cosmopolitan liberals to put “real Americans” down.

 

Third, Trump has no core of moral belief. Not only does he know much about what is true in the world, he does not have the bearings to know what he wants and what he should want. Even to speak about his “beliefs” is to presume he is equipped with a working moral compass—that he is capable of believing (as opposed to saying he believes). He is, to say the least, ungrounded. During his career as a potential and then an actual politician, he has changed his “views” (to name only issues he addressed during the campaign), on Barack Obama’s birthplace, on abortion, on immigration, on supporting the Iraq war in the first place, on bombing Iraqi oil fields, on gun control, on the minimum wage, on climate change, on and on and on and on. He is usually unable to give reasons why he changes his mind.

 

But through the fog of his mind, there appear to be four intertwined constants. One is that he is destined to be a “winner” and that scruples are for “losers,” who are contemptible. He also assumes that adversities are opportunities to rise up stronger; that his wealth is inseparable from the public good; and that, as with a mafia chief (in his third marriage) only his family can, in the end, be trusted. None of this contributes to stability of judgment.

 

Fourth, as Trump’s record in hiring and firing makes abundantly clear, he is impulsive. It is sometimes hard to know when he is acting whimsically or tactically, for he courts danger. He is said to be especially impressionable to the last person he’s spoken with. When, in May, he denounced his FBI chief James B. Comey as “crazy, a real nut-job” to visiting Russian officials, was he assuring Vladimir Putin’s that he was wiling to play ball, or simply popping off?

 

Fifth, rhetoric aside, Trump has stocked the government with savage enemies of—governing. Career civil servants, from Housing to Defense, are retiring when they can afford it. Indifference and mismanagement flourish. Trump and his minions are eliminating health, safety, and financial regulations with aplomb. it was only to a last-minute revolt by three Republican Senators that killed Trump’s health care “reform” that would have deprived many millions of the poor of affordable health insurance.

 

Appointing enemies of government is one of his way of proceeding with the right-wing program that the recently fired but unforgotten “strategist” Steve Bannon called, in February, “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” A thoroughgoing article by the journalist Alec MacGillis calls what Trump’s appointee is doing to his department “disembowelment.” MacGillis details how savagely and obliviously Ben Carson, Trump’s ignorant, ideologically skewed, and inexperienced appointee as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has slowed down, shredded, or derailed programs already funded, especially those that serve the poor and people of color. Capital funding for public housing,” MacGillis, writes, “would be slashed by a whopping 68 percent.”  As one regional administrator, Carson has appointed, for the southwest, the mayor of a Texas town who has been up in arms about the growing danger of Sharia law. For New York and New Jersey, the region that has the largest concentration of subsidized housing in the country, his liaison is a woman who has served the Trump as event planner.

 

So we may count the many ways in which Trump is a danger. But is this what people believe about Trump? Polls are not perfect sources of knowledge, but they are suggestive. I have been unable to find any poll of Americans that asks specifically about whether Trump is dangerous, but the Pew Research Center regularly polls attitudes globally. In June, their survey in 37 countries outside the United Statesfound that, overall, 62 percent answered Yes to the question, “Do you think of U. S. President Donald Trump as dangerous?” (By contrast, 75 percent found him “arrogant,” and 68 percent “intolerant.”)

 

In ten of those countries, the percentage who found Trump dangerous was 70% or higher. Unsurprisingly, the highest, with 83%, was Mexico, which Trump targeted as a nation of rapists and murderers during his campaign, and brags that Mexico will pay for a wall that they disapprove of.The next highest was France, at 78 percent. Four were tied at 76 percent. Two of those were European: Spain and Germany. One is Chile, which has some of its own experience with American-sponsored “regime change.” The fourth is, also unsurprisingly, South Korea, rationally horrified at the prospect of being dragged into a potentially annihilating war with the North by its “America First” super-ally. Strikingly, South Korean fear cuts across political lines. 84% of South Koreans on the left think Trump dangerous, 78% in the center; and even 70% on the right.

 

Finally, there is a serious possibility that much of the world senses that Trump has, as Khizr Khan said, “no soul.” Khan is the Pakistani-born Muslim lawyer whose American soldier son was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq in 2004. As his wife stood silently next to him, wearing a hijab, the bereaved Khan spoke to the Democratic Convention to endorse Hillary Clinton. Trump remarked that she was silent because “maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say.” Khizr Khan told the Washington Post that the presidential candidate’s words were typical of a person without a soul.” I don’t think the Pew Research Center asks respondents how they feel about souls. But this might be the heart of the global judgment they delivered. This might be one of the times when a global consensus on profound matters heaves up from subterranean levels into plain sight.

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