America is being held hostage by a bloody madman — and he’s in the White House

Donald Trump (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/Salon)

America is being held hostage by a bloody madman — and he’s in the White House

Donald Trump has his finger on the button. We now know he’ll push it, if he thinks it can get him re-elected

 1 2

LUCIAN K. TRUSCOTT IV
OCTOBER 19, 2019 12:00PM (UTC)

These are the most frightening words Trump has uttered since becoming president:

“Sometimes you have to let them fight a little while. Sometimes you have to let them fight like two kids. Then you pull them apart.”

He said this at a campaign rally, naturally. In Texas, naturally. He tossed out the remark like just another chunk of red meat, so we can assume he meant what he said, because that’s when Trump tells us who he is, when he’s standing before an adoring crowd and he goes “off script.”Advertisement:

Trump’s entire presidency has been “off script,” but it’s telling when his excursions into the la-la land of his mind are this specific. He was speaking of the Kurds and the Turks, who have been engaged in bloody battles along the border between Syria and Turkey ever since Trump effectively gave Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the green light to invade Syria on Oct. 5. Kurdish forces have already lost as many as 11,000 since they began fighting ISIS alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. Now hundreds more have died, and thousands may yet lose their lives. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced and are refugees. It’s a bloody disaster that Trump refers to as a fight between children on a playground.

It isn’t just that Trump is a chickenshit draft-dodger who was famously exempted from military service because of bone spurs on his heels, and it isn’t just that he is famously disdainful of the advice of his own military commanders and foreign policy experts. 

Because he is the president of the United States, he is the man who as commander in chief has the power to use nuclear weapons, and for the first time since he took office, I am afraid that he would not hesitate to use them if he thought it would help him win re-election.

00:00/00:00

What he just did to our allies the Kurds and the way he described it at his rally is all the evidence we need that he not only has no regard for human life, but he has no idea whatsoever what the waging of war is, what it means, what it does and what it costs. Just as money accrues to measure wealth, to Donald Trump, war is just another way to keep score. 

Look at what he said this week when he belittled his former secretary of defense, James Mattis, during a meeting with congressional leaders. After criticizing him as “not tough enough,” Trump bragged, “I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in one month.”

Let’s take a moment and have a look at everything that’s not merely wrong, but hideously stupid, about that remark. There is Trump’s puerile obsession with “toughness,” of course, but beyond that, there is his use of the word “captured.” What does he think the war against ISIS has been? A game of Capture the Flag? The goal of the campaign we waged against ISIS with the Kurds was never to “capture” them. It was to end their effectiveness as a fighting force, to destroy their so-called Caliphate, and to prevent them from sending their fighters to this country to commit acts of terrorism. It didn’t happen in “a month,” and it didn’t start with Donald Trump. It took years of fighting to bring ISIS to its currently weakened state. Years and many, many dead bodies, most of them Kurdish, but some of them American.Advertisement:

These aren’t the words of a commander in chief. They aren’t even the words of a schoolyard bully. They’re the words of a deeply and completely stupid man. Trump doesn’t bother to dumb things down for an audience like the one in Texas. It’s what he actually thinks, an ongoing sum total of all that he doesn’t know and has no interest in learning. It’s evidence that he doesn’t care about the purpose and power of waging war. He doesn’t know or care that wars kill people, thousands of people, sometimes tens and hundreds of thousands, and in the not too distant past, even millions. Command over armies and navies and air forces in war should never have been granted to such a helplessly ignorant fool. 

Trump has no idea where American soldiers are in Syria, or what they’re doing. He has no idea if they are still in harm’s way. They are. He has no idea how many Kurds have been killed since Turkey invaded northern Syria, nor does he care. He has been dismissive of our Kurdish allies and what they have helped us accomplish, not only in the war against ISIS, but in bringing a relative peace back to northern Syria and areas of Iraq all the way east to Mosul. This week he dove even deeper into his well of lies when he declared that the Kurds are “no angels” and are “worse than ISIS.”Advertisement:

Even as Trump bragged about pulling 1,000 U.S. troops out of Syria, he sent 2,000 troops to Saudi Arabia on a mission that still hasn’t been defined, other than as an unfocused response to the recent Iranian drone attack on Saudi oil fields. He prepares to start new wars at the same time he lies about ending old ones.

All this is just more willful ignorance contained within his usual fog of lies. But it was his description of the grief of families meeting the bodies of their dead at Dover Air Force Base that was most illustrative of his abject disdain for human life. “They scream, like I’ve never seen anything before. They’ll break through military barriers. They’ll run to the coffin and jump on top of the coffin. Crying mothers and wives. Crying desperately.”

Let’s put aside the callousness of using the grief of fathers and mothers and husbands and wives. That’s a given. It’s the way he treats that grief as spectacle that illustrates Trump’s inhumanity. For him, the tableau of families witnessing the grim ritual of military bodies being returned on a cargo jet at night to American soil is just another scene in the reality television show that runs in his head 24 hours a day. Trump has no idea what a bullet or a piece of shrapnel does to a human body. He has no idea, in fact, what the death of a soldier is. His description of the scene at Dover is the worst kind of voyeurism, and yet another example of Trump’s inability to feel or express empathy. Advertisement:

The least you must do if you are a commander who sends soldiers into battle is to be able to understand what death is. Trump does not. It’s all just a big game for him. He likes Erdogan. He’s “tough,” he’s a “real leader.” He likes Putin. He’s “tough.” He’s a “real leader.” In the world of Donald Trump, they are in the Trump club of “real” men who understand what it takes to win and are willing to do it. He admires them because he sees himself in them.

Trump doesn’t have any more of a clue about the devastating destructive power of a nuclear weapon than he has of the effect of a single bullet on a body. That’s why he is so dangerous. He was willing to sacrifice our Kurdish allies, to kill hundreds if not thousands of them so he could go down to Texas and stand on a stage and appear tough and feed the insatiable need of his base to worship him and his falsehoods. All he cares about is how he looks — and whether he wins. 

Mark my words: Donald Trump will take us to war, even nuclear war, if he thinks that is what it will take to win this election. You read it here first. Advertisement:

LUCIAN K. TRUSCOTT IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives on the East End of Long Island and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. He can be followed on Facebook at The Rabbit Hole and on Twitter @LucianKTruscott.MORE FROM LUCIAN K. TRUSCOTT IV Ads by Revcontent

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What Elijah Cummings Meant to Baltimore

Daily Comment

What Elijah Cummings Meant to Baltimore

Representative Elijah Cummings, of Maryland, was identifiably and devoutly a product of the communities he represented.Photograph by Justin T. Gellerson / NYT / Redux

By the time Representative Elijah Cummings left the pulpit during the funeral services for Freddie Gray, on April 27, 2015, he had delivered a word, as the church elders are prone to call it. “I’ve often said our children are the living messages we send to a future that we will never see,” the congressman told the congregation of New Shiloh Baptist Church, in Baltimore. “But now our children are sending us to a future that they will never see. There’s something wrong with this picture.” Gray, who died on April 21st, a week after sustaining injuries while in police custody, at the age of twenty-five, had become a symbol for the relationship between black people and the police in Baltimore, and beyond. (Charges against officers who were involved were later dropped.) When I visited the city, two days before his funeral, it seemed to be edging toward detonation. Not long after I arrived, a protest march wound through downtown, then past the courthouse and the inner harbor, before concluding in sporadic rioting just outside Camden Yards, where the Orioles play. I watched from an overpass, as groups of young men smashed the windows of police cars, and officers in riot gear marched toward the demonstrators. The violence there resulted in two people being injured and a dozen arrested.

At Gray’s funeral, Cummings reminded the audience that he knew intimately the loss they were experiencing. “Family, there are those who will tell you ‘Don’t cry.’ I’m not gonna say that. I put my nephew in a grave four years ago,” he told them. “Blasted away—still don’t know who did it. I mourn every day.” Cummings’s ability to speak to that moment and its indelible hurt underscores the reason that Baltimore itself began grieving on Thursday morning, as its residents awoke to the news that the congressman, aged sixty-eight, had died, a few hours after midnight.

Pay attention to the responses to outrages involving police and African-Americans and you begin to see patterns, especially among elected leaders. Some seize on the national spotlight, making scripted displays of unity. Others tend toward bureaucratic responses and a reflexive defense of flawed institutions. A small number possess both the honesty and the insight to speak truthfully. Cummings belonged to that number. He was seemingly everywhere in the chaotic aftermath of Gray’s death: on the streets, cautioning people to protest peacefully; in the pulpit, offering a balm to the people Gray left behind; and chastising those who set fires in protest of the state of affairs that allowed situations like those surrounding Gray’s death to arise in the first place. Mostly, though, he was present, a powerful politician who still spoke like a concerned neighbor, a man who was so identifiably and devoutly a product of the communities he represented that at times he seemed to be the only person capable of credibly speaking to the hostilities that Gray’s death had brought to the surface.

The obituaries made note of his achievements on the national stage: that he was a twelve-term representative of Maryland’s Seventh District and that he chaired the crucial House Oversight and Reform Committee, one of the committees directed to conduct an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. Cummings grew up in Baltimore, graduated from Howard University, with honors, before earning a law degree at the University of Maryland, and then served for fourteen years in the state legislature, before running to replace Representative Kweisi Mfume, when he left Congress to head the N.A.A.C.P., in 1996. What most struck me about Cummings, however, was the role that he played in shepherding Baltimore through the aftermath of Gray’s death. In the past decade, the city’s population has shrunk by eighteen and a half thousand people; more than sixteen thousand houses stand empty. The poverty rate is nearly twenty-four per cent. The city was immortalized in “The Wire,” which was the most nuanced and profound meditation on the decline of American cities and a catalogue of the reasons people were fleeing cities like Baltimore. In short, it is a place that, like the rest of America these days, is badly in need of visionaries.

In July, when Trump assailed Baltimore, in typically crude and hyperbolic fashion, as a “rodent-infested mess” where no human would want to live, he was providing an object lesson in the very stereotypes that Cummings had devoted himself to fighting. He invited Trump to visit his district and offered to spend an entire day chaperoning him around Baltimore and its suburbs to clarify the President’s vision of what the place was all about. (Trump did not take him up on the offer.)

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One other thing: democracy. Cummings, in his speeches, particularly those he gave in the past few years, insistently invoked it, and not in the inert way that elected officials tend to. He spoke of democracy as something vital and fragile and valuable, an inheritance that had to be safeguarded for future generations. When he spoke of HR-1, the exhaustive election-protection bill that the Democrats introduced in January, as their first piece of legislation of this Congress, he mentioned his ninety-two-year-old mother, who had died a year earlier. She was a former sharecropper, who implored him, “Do not let them take our votes away from us.” He viewed his chairmanship of the House Oversight and Reform Committee as part of the battle to protect voting rights. His death unleashes a flurry of speculation about whom the Democrats will choose to next lead the committee—Representative Carolyn Maloney, of New York, will serve as the acting chair—and how that person will oversee its portion of the impeachment inquiry. Those matters will be resolved at a future date. What remains clear is the void that Cummings’s absence leaves in his district and his country. This would have been the case at nearly any point in his quarter century in Congress. But it’s even more acute in this one. In a fiery bit of oratory delivered at the introduction of HR-1, he pledged to “fight to the death” in defense of voting and, thereby, democracy. It was a promise that he made good on.

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The Time-Bomb Tension and Thrilling Surreality of HBO’s “Watchmen”

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The Time-Bomb Tension and Thrilling Surreality of HBO’s “Watchmen”

In “Watchmen,” Regina King gives a performance so subtle and muscular as to exhaust all superlatives.Photograph by Mark Hill / HBO

Idig the distinct Ralph Ellison vibes emanated by “Watchmen” (HBO), Damon Lindelof’s adaptation of the great comic series written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons. Settling new territory in the source material’s alternative-history vision of our fallen world, the show is largely set in a warped version of contemporary Tulsa, Oklahoma. Regina King stars as Angela Abar, also known as Sister Knight, a black lady cop with a big job to do dressing up and fighting bad guys. Foremost, she has to shepherd the series’ reckoning with America’s history of slaughter and pillage.

“Watchmen”—and King’s performance—brings Ellison to mind not just because he was a native Oklahoman and an excellent illuminator of unsettling quests for power on this continent but also because of the density and intensity of his vision. The show’s lucid action scenes and perpetual time-bomb tension share a thrilling surreality—a hyperreal vision of how race plays across structures and lives—with Ellison’s “Cadillac Flambé” and his big, posthumous thing “Three Days Before the Shooting . . .” (forbiddingly baggy at more than a thousand pages). They all share a way of facing history with a broken mirror. This might sound a bit far-fetched, but the show, among its disorienting provocations, definitely places itself in conversation with the American canon and issues of black heritage. The sheriff in this town (Don Johnson) is first seen in the audience and an all-black staging of “Oklahoma!,” in an episode titled, after Richard Rodgers, “It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice.” This alternate universe—a place where Richard Nixon won great glory and many multiple terms, and the republic is now led by Robert Redford—imagines, at one point, that Henry Louis Gates is the Secretary of the Treasury and available to help with a DNA test at a video kiosk. Gates plays himself. “If you like, you can call me Skip,” he says.

This is absurd, and that’s half the point. Thematically, Abar’s missions include avenging, in some cosmological sense, the Tulsa race riots of 1921—the Black Wall Street massacre, in which white mobs stormed and shot up and firebombed a bastion of black wealth. The historical scene engages the show’s themes: power and justice, aggressive oppression and superheroic resistance. Credit for this, and many other crackerjack sequences that follow, goes to the cinematographer Chris Seager, who translates the panel-by-panel perspective of Gibbons’s work onto the screen with a clarity that rebukes the hectic mayhem of so many big-screen superhero flicks. The images the series offers, the tableaux, are ideas in themselves. Get a load of how masks reframe identities and personae, as when one of the good guys, Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson), sheaths his noggin in a kind of eyeless Mylar alien skin while interrogating a suspected white supremacist. The interrogator’s head reflects evocative pop images of love and hate that flash across the walls of the room, like some kind of Ludovico-technique video installation.

This is the place in a review where I am supposed to give a linear synopsis of the series, but I’m not sure how much good that would do you, given the show’s commitment to the alinear, the elliptical, and the askew. Six episodes into a series of nine, I’m not even sure what would count as a spoiler, because I don’t know where things are going, or what kind of necklace you get by stringing together the beads of these ace performances and provocative concepts. There are moments in which “Watchmen” recalls Lindelof’s “The Leftovers,” in its moving evocation of catastrophic mood, as well as in its attention to the dynamics of the nuclear family and the dysfunctions of the society for which that family is the basis. (Also, there are moments when it recalls Lindelof’s “Lost,” when I did not care to understand what was going on.)

Striding through Tulsa in her superhero costume, the hem of her cape swishing in her wake, King gives a performance so subtle and muscular as to exhaust all superlatives. Elsewhere, Jeremy Irons opulently dwells, clad in the robes of as Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt, attended by two body servants who share a palpable excitement for his spectral creepiness. It would be unthinkable not to hang around long enough to see if there’s a showdown between King and Irons on an anti-escapist thriller about the colossal wreck that been made of Indian territory. “Watchmen” is to the superhero genre what a revisionist Western is to a basic cowboy myth, with John Wayne in the saddle of the national identity. It’s good enough to warrant repeat viewing. Is it coherent enough to withstand it?

  • Troy Patterson is a staff writer at The New Yorker.Read more »

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