by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
My political positions have very frequently been countercurrent. When the Liberals were calling for Trump’s head, when Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Nancy Pelosi in Congress were preaching all-out obstructionism against the newly inaugurated President to thwart his policies, I was urging Progressives to lay down their pitchforks and try to deal constructively with the new administration for the good of the nation.
Now, in the past several weeks, in a belated show of bipartisanship, Democratic Party leaders have finally found a negotiating partner in Donald Trump, starting with relief to the “Dreamers” in the sphere of immigration policy and extending to the bill raising the national debt ceiling. More deals are said to be underway. In theory, that is all to the good.
However, in the meantime this President demonstrated fulsomely in his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations, that it is high time for him to go. And that is not because of his widely discussed volatility, impulsiveness and narcissism. It is because of his irremediable stupidity, primitivism and thuggery that are leading this country on a path to commit unspeakable horrors abroad.
To be sure, Trump’s shocking debut at the UN comes as the culmination of a lengthy decline in civilized behavior by our national leaders over the past two decades.
The swagger and bloated self-importance of George Bush did not itself come of a day. At the start of his presidency, after 9/11 but before the fateful invasion of Iraq, Bush would make one or another outrageous, lying statement about international affairs, such as the “weapons of mass destruction” he alleged were retained by Saddam Hussein. Then he would pause and look into the camera with hesitation, as if wondering whether his whoppers would be swallowed by the public. Satisfied that he had gotten away with it, he resumed his rant. That hint of self-doubt or fear of discovery disappeared with the years even as adversity on the battlefield and in the economy that his misguided, if not criminal acts gave rise to progressed apace. Bush limped along to the end of his second term none the wiser.
Our intellectual president Barack Obama, with his term on the Harvard Law Review as seeming proof of mental and cultural distinction, never did learn to behave in a statesmanlike manner. From start to finish, he conducted himself with scandalous insouciance. His well-meaning arm over the shoulder of Queen Elizabeth, which the Brits saw through as disrespect for court decorum, his chewing gum while standing before the public eye were noted by our commentators indulgently. They never noted, however, when he slipped beyond faux pas to openly insulting behavior towards leaders of the world’s great powers, when he issued slurs which in other people’s mouths would be denounced as a form of racism.
One such case occurred when Obama stood by the side of Chinese President Xi in the White House Rose Garden for a press briefing, and said that he would be watching closely to see that the Chinese implemented the actions that had been agreed upon. Then there was his likening Putin to a misbehaving schoolboy, skulking at the back of the classroom. Or his description of the whole country, Russia, as a fading regional power that produced nothing that anyone wanted. This was gratuitously insulting, degrading and finally very primitive behavior for the leader of the world’s mightiest country. And the content of his remarks was based on verifiable untruths, if only he had taken care to do fact check.
However, all of these inexcusable verbal misdeeds of the recent past are nothing compared to what Donald Trump delivered on Tuesday during the 42-minute speech marking his debut at the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Trump’s vicious remarks directed at Iran and Venezuela may have been in line with the “Axis of Evil” speeches of George W. Bush. But his threat to “totally destroy” North Korea, a country of 22 million, if it so much as “threatened” the United States and its allies went beyond incivility.
The name Adolph Hitler has come up repeatedly in American political discourse over many decades in a search for a likeness going beyond the pale. It was applied famously by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Russian President Vladimir Putin when she sought to vilify the Russian leader as had never been done before even in the worst days of the original Cold War with the Soviet Union.
By his threats to annihilate a nation issued from the tribune of the world’s greatest forum for peace-making, Trump cast himself as a modern day Hitler.
Those of us who once backed Donald Trump on the basis of his promised normalization of relations with the world’s other nuclear superpower were initially confused and disappointed when he surrounded himself with Neocons, Liberal Interventionists and other advisers and implementers who proceeded to speak and act in ways that directly contradicted Trump’s promised changes to US foreign policy.
But now there is no room for confusion or indulgence. We cannot point a finger at his defense secretary, “Mad Dog” Mattis, or at his Neocon ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, or at any of the generals propping him up from the right and the left. This time it is the boss himself who spoke outrageously, who delivered what some media outlets properly called a “tirade” and others, more timidly spoke of as “bellicose.”
What marked this speech from the long series of uncontrolled, self-indulgent tweets on foreign and domestic affairs from this President, was that it was precisely a scripted speech in which every word had obviously been weighed beforehand for its likely interpretation and public impact. And it was the speech of a thug, of a dictator whose place in the world’s gallery of aggressors and war-makers is safely reserved.
On the day of the speech, major U.S. media contented themselves with quoting Donald’s more remarkable statements, starting with his threat to North Korea. On day two, the editorial boards reached their conclusions on how to handle it and the remarks became more interesting and revealing. The New York Times, for example, allowed itself to point to the contradiction between Trump’s celebration of sovereign nation states, with their own traditions and patriotism and his call for regime change with respect to the three states singled out as “rogues” threatening the world order
Indeed, the sovereignty for some and not others approach on which the entire speech was built is a fault line of illogic in Trump’s thinking, if we divert ourselves with a rational analysis of what was an irrational speech. The same fundamental contradiction was inherent in all of US foreign policy these past twenty-five years, that of some farm animals being more equal than other farm animals, to put it in terms of George Orwell. However, until now it was masked by the stress on universal values as the guide to foreign policy and as the justification for punishing evil-doers. When that fig leaf is stripped away, when foreign policy is said to be built on principles of Realism and national interest, then the whole logic of might makes right, and US assertion of its right to be the world’s judge and jury is plain for all to see.
After he is removed from office on whatever grounds will do the trick, including phony charges of collusion with the Kremlin to win the presidential race, I wish Donald Trump a comfortable retirement to a bar stool at one of the lounges of Trump Tower, which is where he and his bombastic remarks truly belong.
© Gilbert Doctorow, 2017
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Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015. His forthcoming book Does the United States Have a Future? will be published in October 2017.