It’s a cliché that a Trump presidency is a terrifying prospect. After all, the man is insane, volatile and clearly an imbecile. Add to that the mantra that he is both “literally Hitler” and the Antichrist, and there is more than a little cause for concern. It might very well be true that a Trump presidency is a terrifying possibility. But a calmer analysis points to the fact that it is the presidency itself that is a terrifying reality.
Mr. Trump’s suggestion that the families of terrorists are fair game received a huge amount of backlash from pundits of all stripes. Yet the outrage over such a potential policy is baffling, given that his position represents what is in fact the status quo. Earlier this week Pakistani tribal leader Malik Jalal penned an article for The Independent describing what it’s like being on the United States government’s kill list. It is possible to assume that he is disseminating, that his murder by the government is both moral and warranted. Yet the constant deaths of civilians with whom he associates remains undeniable—and, in fact, the government doesn’t bother to deny that these sorts of incidents happen all the time. Worse than guilt by association, this is literally murder by association. This is the presidency at its most terrifying.
Many things that Mr. Trump has said are off-putting. Yet none of them, not even all of them combined, are worse than taking the life of a single human being. Last year, Mr. Trump made references to blood coming out of Megyn Kelly’s eyes and out of her “whatever.” Yet our current president has caused blood to come out of every orifice of many innocent men, women and children. “Whatever,” right? He’s the president. He knows what he’s doing. It couldn’t be helped, apparently.
In 2010, Mitt Romney authored No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. In that very specific sense, President George W. Bush and now President Obama have certainly made America great again. Our drones and our armed forces kill, and the apologies are never forthcoming. We live in a time where the U.S. Air Force bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan causes as much furor as President Obama’s decision to wear a tan suit. True, President Obama is not perceived as erratic. He does not make glib comments about his opponents. When he executes, he does so with a steady hand.
If the choice is between the man in the smart tan suit and the guy in camouflage, right-thinking people know which one to choose.
Most of the Republican candidates blithely advocated shooting down Russian planes, their reasoning amounting to the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law transferred to an international arena. It is George Zimmerman armed with drones and missiles, rather than a handgun—and this is somehow more moral and more appropriate, not less. It is true that these candidates are smart, reasoned and educated, and that Mr. Trump speaks in a far more “common” manner than them. It is also true that what they were advocating would amount to war, with unimaginable collateral damage. When Mr. Trump advocates sitting down and cutting a deal with Vladimir Putin, he is insane. There is no negotiating with that madman! Mr. Trump’s approach—long the position of the left—is somehow regarded as crazier than attacking one of the strongest militaries on earth.
The major unmentioned difference between President Obama and a would-be President Trump is the issue of respectability. The vitriol with which Mr. Trump has been attacked by the media has been unprecedented in decades, and perhaps even warranted. Yet it is precisely this scrutiny, this lack of establishment support, that would do so much to tie his hands. Both Nixon and Reagan’s presidencies were given crippling blows when they acted unilaterally in international affairs. The magnifying glass Mr. Trump would be under would be there from the moment he put his hand on the Bible.
Of all the powers of the executive, the power to kill is its most terrifying. It is far easier to forgive when “we” do it then when “they” do it—and Mr. Trump and his followers are very much a case of “them,” at least for the overwhelming majority of the members of the press. We’re all Kaelians now.
The contempt from the learned class toward the Trump voter cannot be overstated. Their ignorance and simplistic ideology is mocked constantly and relentless in every medium. Yet these are the same men and women who are most likely to serve in the military. It is not a cognitive leap to say that if their views matter less in an election, then their lives matter less in a conflict. That’s what they’re there for, right? They signed up, they knew what they were getting themselves into. If the choice is between the man in the smart tan suit and the guy in camouflage, right-thinking people know which one to choose.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.