Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and Two NY City Mayors Play GOLF
The political and media establishments in the U.S. — which have jointly wrought so much destruction, decay, and decadence — recently decided to unite against Donald Trump. Their central claim is that the real estate mogul and longtime NBC reality TV star advocates morally reprehensible positions that are far outside the bounds of decency; relatedly, they argue, he is so personally repellent that his empowerment would degrade both the country and the presidency.
In some instances, their claim is plausible: There is at least genuine embarrassment if not revulsion even among America’s political class over Trump’s proposed mass deportation of 11 million human beings, banning of all Muslims from entering the country, and new laws to enable him to more easily sue (and thus destroy) media outlets that “falsely” criticize him. And his signature personality brew of deep-seated insecurities, vindictive narcissism, channeling of the darkest impulses, and gaudy, petty boasting is indeed uniquely grotesque.
But in many cases, probably most, the flamboyant denunciations of Trump by establishment figures make no sense except as self-aggrandizing pretense, because those condemning him have long tolerated if not outright advocated very similar ideas, albeit with less rhetorical candor. Trump is self-evidently a toxic authoritarian demagogue advocating morally monstrous positions, but in most cases where elite outrage is being vented, he is merely a natural extension of the mainstream rhetorical and policy framework that has been laid, not some radical departure from it. He’s their id. What establishment mavens most resent is not what Trump is, does, or says, but what he reflects: the unmistakable, undeniable signs of late-stage imperial collapse, along with the resentments and hatreds they have long deliberately and self-servingly stoked but which are now raging out of their control.
Two of the most recent, widely discussed anti-Trump outrage rituals — one from Wednesday and the other from last night’s Fox News debate — demonstrate the sham at the heart of the establishment display of horror. This week, American political and media figures from across the spectrum stood and applauded a tawdry cast of neocons and other assorted warmongers who are responsible for grave war crimes, torture, kidnappings, due process-free indefinite imprisonment, and the worst political crime of this generation: the attack on and destruction of Iraq.
These five dozen or so extremists (calling themselves “members of the Republican national security community”) were the toast of the town because they published an “open letter” denouncing Trump on the ground that his “own statements lead us to conclude that as president, he would use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe, and which would diminish our standing in the world.” This was one of their examples:
His embrace of the expansive use of torture is inexcusable.
Most decent human beings, by definition, would express this sentiment without including the qualifying word “expansive.” Even Ronald Reagan, whom virtually all the signatories claim to idolize, advocated for and signed a treaty in 1988 that stated that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever … may be invoked as a justification of torture” and that “each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offenses under its criminal law.” The taboo is on “all acts of torture,” not its “expansive use” — whatever that means.
But the group signing this anti-Trump letter can’t pretend to find an embrace of torture itself to be “inexcusable” because most of them implemented torture policies while in government or vocally advocated for them. So instead, they invoke the Goldilocks Theory of Torture: We believe in torture up to exactly the right point, while Trump is disgraceful because he wants to go beyond that; he believes in “the expansive use of torture.” The same dynamic drove yesterday’s widely cheered speech by Mitt Romney, where the two-time failed GOP candidate denounced Trump for advocating torture while literally ignoring his own clear pro-torture viewpoints.
Here we see the elite class agreeing to pretend that Trump is advocating views that are inherently disqualifying when — thanks to those doing the denouncing — those views are actually quite mainstream, even popular, among both the American political class and its population. Torture was the official American policy for years. It went way beyond waterboarding. One Republican president ordered it and his Democratic successor immunized it from all forms of accountability, ensuring that not a single official would be prosecuted for authorizing even the most extreme techniques, ones that killed people — or even allowed to be sued by their victims.
Many of the high officials most responsible for that torture regime and who defended it — from Condoleezza Rice and John Brennan — remain not just acceptable in mainstream circles but hold high office and are virtually revered. And, just by the way, both of Trump’s main rivals — Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — refuse to rule out classic torture techniques as part of their campaign. In light of all that, who takes seriously the notion that Trump’s advocacy of torture — including techniques beyond waterboarding — places him beyond the American pale? To the contrary, it places him within its establishment mainstream.
Then there’s the outrage du jour from last night. A couple of weeks ago, George W. Bush’s NSA and CIA chief, Gen. Michael Hayden, claimed that members of the military would never follow Trump’s orders if it meant committing war crimes such as torturing detainees or killing a terrorist’s family members (perish the thought). When asked about this last night, Trump insisted that the U.S. military would do so: “They’re not going to refuse. Believe me,” he said. “If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is about.” Of all the statements Trump made last night, this was the one most often cited by pundits as being the most outrageous, shocking, disgusting, etc. Even bona fide war criminals such as the Bush White House’s pro-invasion and torture propagandist got in on the moral outrage act:
By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept