Trump’s War on Democracy

“I’ve had a lot of wars of my own.  I’m really good at war.  I love war….”

– Donald Trump, Campaign Rally in Iowa, 2015

“When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it.  Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength.  That shows you the power of strength.  Our country is right now perceived as weak.”

– Donald Trump, Interview with Playboy magazine, 1990

Donald Trump has been at war for the past three and a half years as president of the United States. But he is waging his war against U.S. institutions and norms. He began his verbal assaults on American governance  in his inauguration speech (“American Carnage”) in January 2017, and ever since he has assaulted the Department of Justice and the justice system itself; the intelligence community; the departments and agencies of government that deal with science and reason; and the international world order that Democratic and Republican administrations have supported since the Second World War.

His recent attacks on the nation’s Inspectors General has compromised the government’s ability to conduct oversight and accountability. His attacks on the treaties and accords of arms control and disarmament have weakened our national security.  His pardon of a war criminal who was convicted by the U.S. military has undermined the Pentagon’s command and control for unconscionable conduct.

But Trump’s statements and actions in the wake of the killing of George Floyd have raised Trump’s war on democracy and governance to a new and dangerous level.  He is exacerbating social unrest and provoking greater violence in the United States.

–In a teleconference with the nation’s governors, Trump described the crisis as a “war,” and urged them to “use the military.”  He told the governors “You have to dominate.  If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time. They’re going to run over you.  You’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”  With the exception of Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker, most of the governors pandered to the president.  Republican Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan, for example, told Trump he “couldn’t agree more with what you just said.”

—After Maine Governor Janet Mills tried to convince Trump to cancel a trip to Maine for “security reasons,” he told his advisers “She tried to talk me out of it and I think she probably talked me into it.”  He tellingly added “She just doesn’t understand me very well.”

–Secretary of Defense Mark Esper spoke briefly to the governors and told them “We need to dominate the battlespace,” a bizarre statement by the very official who is supposed to maintain civilian control of the military.  Esper said that the “sooner you mass…the quicker this dissipates and we can get back to normal.”  Trump described the arrival of the National Guard in Minneapolis as “domination” and a “beautiful thing to watch.”  Esper, Attorney General William Barr, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are Trump loyalists who can be counted on to support the worst of Trump’s statements and actions.

–After spending several hours in a White House bunker on Friday night, Trump decided to deploy a “palace guard” for his own protection, so that he could walk across the street for a photo opportunity.  This force included active-duty military police; National Guard troops from several states; the U.S. Park Police; the Drug Enforcement Agency; and a variety of law enforcement agencies.  Even the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team was brought into Washington to “assist” local police.  His need for “protection” resulted in peaceful protesters—including church clergy—being attacked by this overwhelming force.

–Trump announced that he had placed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley “in charge” of managing the unrest.  The Pentagon had no comment on this statement, and referred all questions for       comment to the White House. Pentagon lawyers presumably recognize that Trump’s actions could ultimately violate the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act that prevents use of the military in domestic law enforcement unless there is an act of Congress.

–He said that he would “activate” Attorney General Bill Barr “very strongly,” which was his most indecipherable statement.  No one in the White House or the Department of Justice could explain this assignment for Barr. Over the past year, however, Barr has been weakening efforts of the Department of Justice to scrutinize shortcomings in police departments, such as the notorious one in Baltimore.

Trump told the governors they should make no concessions to the protesters and encouraged them to throw caution to the winds.  “You’re allowed to fight back,” he said.  “When someone is throwing a rock, that’s like shooting a gun.  You have to do retribution in my opinion.”  Several days earlier, he repeated the warning of a white segregationist police chief, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”  In the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday, June 1, Trump gratuitously invoked the importance of the Second Amendment.  All of Trump’s comments were framed for his base, particularly the white supremacists who favor use of force.  His blasphemous pose, holding a bible in front of the St. John’s Episcopal Church, had fascist imagery.

Trump’s failure to develop a coherent national strategy to deal with a real “war,” the pandemic, ensures that he will not be able to develop a compassionate strategy for dealing with a crisis in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.  The fundamental problem is that Trump is Trump; he is not capable of dealing with a crisis.  For Trump, every crisis is a personal crisis, and his malignant narcissism and paranoia creates incoherence and confusion.  The very nature of our republic is at risk as a result.

As Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, an anxious citizen asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”  With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”  We will find out in November whether Donald Trump is a comet across the sky or someone who changed this nation forever.


More articles by:

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. and A Whistleblower at the CIA. His most recent book is “American Carnage: The Wars of Donald Trump” (Opus Publishing), and he is the author of the forthcoming “The Dangerous National Security State” (2020).” Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.

Weekend Edition
July 10, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Lynnette Grey Bull
Trump’s Postcard to America From the Shrine of Hypocrisy
Anthony DiMaggio
Free Speech Fantasies: the Harper’s Letter and the Myth of American Liberalism
David Yearsley
Morricone: Maestro of Music and Image
Jeffrey St. Clair
“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
Rob Urie
Democracy and the Illusion of Choice
Paul Street
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama
Vijay Prashad
The U.S. and UK are a Wrecking Ball Crew Against the Pillars of Internationalism
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post and Its Cold War Drums
Richard C. Gross
Trump: Reopen Schools (or Else)
Chris Krupp
Public Lands Under Widespread Attack During Pandemic 
Alda Facio
What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Inequality, Discrimination and the Importance of Caring
Eve Ottenberg
Bounty Tales
Andrew Levine
Silver Linings Ahead?
John Kendall Hawkins
FrankenBob: The Self-Made Dylan
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Deutsche Bank Fined $150 Million for Enabling Jeffrey Epstein; Where’s the Fine Against JPMorgan Chase?
David Rosen
Inequality and the End of the American Dream
Louis Proyect
Harper’s and the Great Cancel Culture Panic
Thom Hartmann
How Billionaires Get Away With Their Big Con
Your 19th COVID Breakdown
Danny Sjursen
Undercover Patriots: Trump, Tulsa, and the Rise of Military Dissent
Charles McKelvey
The Limitations of the New Antiracist Movement
Binoy Kampmark
Netanyahu’s Annexation Drive
Joseph G. Ramsey
An Empire in Points
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
COVID-19 Denialism is Rooted in the Settler Colonial Mindset
Ramzy Baroud
On Israel’s Bizarre Definitions: The West Bank is Already Annexed
Judith Deutsch
Handling Emergency: A Tale of Two Males
Michael Welton
Getting Back to Socialist Principles: Honneth’s Recipe
Dean Baker
Combating the Political Power of the Rich: Wealth Taxes and Seattle Election Vouchers
Jonah Raskin
Edward Sanders: Poetic Pacifist Up Next
Manuel García, Jr.
Carbon Dioxide Uptake by Vegetation After Emissions Shutoff “Now”
Heidi Peltier
The Camo Economy: How Military Contracting Hides Human Costs and Increases Inequality
Ron Jacobs
Strike!, Fifty Years and Counting
Ellen Taylor
The Dark Side of Science: Shooting Barred Owls as Scapegoats for the Ravages of Big Timber
Sarah Anderson
Shrink Wall Street to Guarantee Good Jobs
Graham Peebles
Prison: Therapeutic Centers Or Academies of Crime?
Zhivko Illeieff
Can We Escape Our Addiction to Social Media?
Clark T. Scott
The Democrat’s Normal Keeps Their (Supposed) Enemies Closer and Closer
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
In 2020 Elections: Will Real-Life “Fighting Dems” Prove Irresistible?
David Swanson
Mommy, Where Do Peace Activists Come From?
Christopher Brauchli
Trump the Orator
Gary Leupp
Columbus and the Beginning of the American Way of Life: A Message to Indoctrinate Our Children
John Stanton
Donald J. Trump, Stone Cold Racist
Nicky Reid
The Stonewall Blues (Still Dreaming of a Queer Nation)
Stephen Cooper
A Kingston Reasoning with Legendary Guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith (The Interview: Part 2)
Hugh Iglarsh
COVID-19’s Coming to Town