This is the fourth in what has become an endless series on Donald Trump’s continuing attacks on the rule of law. Those attacks seem to work for him in one respect. Every new one displaces an old one. He’s now relying on “Trump fatigue” — a condition that causes voters to say, essentially, “What stupid thing did he say today?”
Then they discount his offensive, false, or incoherent remark du jour. But his comments over time create a more complete picture and — in the case of the military — a recipe for disaster.
Recipe: Start With An Obnoxious Comment That People Forgive…
A year ago, Senator John McCain learned that he wasn’t a war hero after all.
“I like people who weren’t captured,” Donald Trump said on July 18, 2015, when asked about McCain’s critical comments about him.
He probably thought he was being witty. But it was quite a statement coming from someone who had avoided military service in Vietnam because of a still ambiguous medical condition. Trump said it was minor bone spurs in a foot. Which one? He couldn’t recall. Maybe both.
But don’t worry. His physician assured us in December, “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”
Dr. Harold N. Bornstein didn’t describe how his physical examination of Trump compared with those he’d performed on Thomas Jefferson, Harry Truman, or Dwight Eisenhower.
Add Bigoted Cruelty That Troubled Some…
Having relegated McCain to the “loser” category in Trump’s binary world, he then revealed more completely his attitude about military sacrifice. U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for saving the lives of fellow soldiers in Iraq. At the Democratic convention, Khan’s father delivered a tribute to his fallen son. Trump lashed out, invoking stereotypes and generalizations to reinforce his anti-Muslim campaign theme.
“His wife,” Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopolous, “if you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me, but plenty of people have written that. She was extremely quiet and it looked like she had nothing to say.”
Mix In Lawlessness That Has Been Lost In A Crowd Of Outrageous Comments…
Between those July 2015 and July 2016 bookends came a more disturbing episode. During the March 3, 2016 Republican debate, Fox News’ Bret Baier asked Trump about his advocacy of torture. If he made good on his threats, he would be ordering the military to commit illegal acts.
What if they refused?
“They won’t refuse. They’re not gonna refuse me. Believe me.”
“But they’re illegal,” Baier insisted.
“I’m a leader, I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”
Stir In Disrespect For The Military Generally…
Soldiers such as retired four-star General John Allen won’t do it. He made that clear in his address to the Democratic convention, and Trump didn’t like it one bit. Within minutes, he tweeted, “General John Allen, who I never met but spoke against me last night, failed badly in his fight against ISIS. His record = BAD.”
Then Trump followed up personally at a rally in Denver.
“They had a general named John Allen. I never met him, and he got up and started talking about Trump, Trump, Trump… You know who he is? He’s a failed general. He was the general fighting ISIS. I would say he hasn’t done so well, right?”
Earlier, Trump had declared, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.”
Then he claimed that President Obama had “founded” ISIS. For the next two days, he and his media surrogates defended the falsehood as literally true. Then he said he was being sarcastic — “but not that sarcastic, to be honest with you.”
Whatever his intent, the impact has been clear. Within days, Hezbollah’s leader was using Trump’s absurd charge against America. Hassan Nasrallah is a Shiite backer of Syria’s brutal Assad regime, an ISIS foe, and a critic of the U.S. position calling for Assad to step down.
“This is not simple speech,” Nasrallah said in a speech to followers. “This is an American presidential candidate. This was spoken on behalf of the American Republican Party. He has data and documents.”
As Vice-President Biden observed, Trump’s comments caused the danger to military lives in the Middle East to go “up a couple clicks.”
Bake Until Someone Sees The Resulting Danger To The Country…
General Allen explained why he was speaking up when he did: “He’s talked about needing to torture. He’s talked about needing to murder the families of alleged terrorists. He’s talked about carpet-bombing ISIL. Who do you think is going to carpet-bombed when all that occurs? It’s going to be innocent families.”
Allen feared that if Trump actually followed through on his threats, he would be ordering illegal actions.
“I think we would be facing a civil military crisis, the likes of which we’ve not seen in this country before,” he said. “What we need to do is ensure that we don’t create an environment that puts us on a track conceivably where the United States military finds itself in a civil military crisis with a commander in chief who would have us do illegal things.”
Top With Callous Disregard for the Constitution…
Which takes us back to Khizr Khan. The most powerful 90 seconds of his convention remarks occurred when he looked directly into the camera and addressed Trump.
“Let me ask you: have you even read the constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.”
It’s a serious question. Among legal scholars, Trump has achieved rare bipartisan consensus on his disregard for the rule of law and the limits of presidential power. From unfair “Mexican” judges (born in Indiana) to religion-based discrimination to brazen attacks on the press that include warnings of retribution to the owner of the Washington Post, Trump has been frighteningly consistent.
Everything around Trump exists to serve him and his whim of the moment, whatever it might be. The military is no exception. Fortunately, the men and women wearing the uniform answer to a higher calling.
As General Allen explained, “When we swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution, which is a document and a set of principles and it supports the rule of law, one of those is to ensure that we do not obey illegal orders.”
The Final Product: Digest It If You Can
Trump doesn’t care that his orders would be illegal. In that respect, his world is eerily similar to the bubble in which President Richard Nixon lived. As I noted in an earlier post, three years after precipitating a constitutional crisis that forced him to resign from office, Nixon finally admitted, “Well, when the President does it, that means it is not illegal.”
At least Trump isn’t President… yet.
This is typical CEO disease–when you are surrounded 24/7 by sycophants, you think no rules, much less the rule of law, apply to you. And it is a rare lawyer who tells a potentially lucrative client something he does not want to hear, or that laws cannot be bent–and Trump was very close to the epitome of bully and fixer lawyers, Roy Cohn.