How would you describe President Donald J. Trump: Autocrat? Demagogue? Plutocrat? Tyrant? Populist? Despot? Authoritarian? Kleptocrat? Fascist? Racist? Misogynist? White supremacist?
Over the last nearly four years Trump has intermittingly modeled each of those far-right ideologies. But, to suggest that he has any deep-seeded political philosophy gives Trump too much credit. The president’s only governing principle is Trump, his only consistent allegiance is to himself. Trumpism alone is his ideology. He will adopt any persona in any particular moment if he senses it will increase his media visibility and enhance his deep sense of selflove.
In tweets, rallies, executive orders, meetings and speeches all that matters to him is the image he projects—the image of him standing tall with devout worshipers groveling at his feet. The diatribe at Mt. Rushmore is a classic example. Trump placed himself so that photographs captured him in the company of the 60-foot high rock sculptures of four great past presidents.
Dog Whistle Language
While speaking in classic dog-whistle language, he turned his gaze and leaned his body as he shifted from one teleprompter screen to another. He spoke in a condescending monotone with a smirky smile on his face. He used language that was sure to be reported by every media outlet: Trump warned that a mob of “far-left fascists” was seeking to erase America’s greatness. He continued, “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children…We will expose this dangerous movement, protect our nation’s children, end this radical assault, and preserve our beloved American way of life.”
Trump lusts for absolute power, not so he can accomplish an agenda for America, but to enhance his self-image. He is a wannabe strongman who gravitates to brutal dictators around the globe while ignoring (and often ridiculing) the leaders of our allies. But actually, he is a weakling who studied under Roy Cohn, the master of deceit.
Cohn served as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s chief council during the senator’s anti-communist charade. Using a one-sided public forum, they built McCarthy’s power by using lies, baseless accusations and innuendos to end the careers and destroy the lives of anyone who stood in the senator’s way.
Senate colleagues who dared to challenge him usually saw the tables turned. For instance, Senator Millard Tydings, a four-term incumbent known for his integrity and courage, chaired a committee charged with investigating McCarthy’s claims of communist infiltration of the United States government and military.
The hearings were testy, with Tydings interrupting McCarthy 85 times asking for clarification and proof. In revenge, Cohn and McCarthy designed and funded a smear campaign of lies and innuendos against Tydings in the 1950 election, and Tydings was defeated. Other senators took that as a lesson: Don’t mess with McCarthy if you want to stay in office.
Cohn taught that lesson to Trump, and the president uses it often and effectively. He has completely cowed the Senate and House Republicans as they quake in fear that the president will focus his twitter wrath on them. Like the 1950 senators who were afraid to incur McCarthy’s wrath, the Republicans of 2020 remain quiet while the president spews out hatred, falsehoods, and conspiracy theories.
Cohn’s three-prong strategy is familiar to anyone who has watched Trump over the last four years: Never settle, and never surrender; when attacked or sued, counter attack or counter sue immediately and ruthlessly; regardless of an eventual outcome, regardless of how dark things look, never admit defeat and always claim victory.
The president’s latest victim is Senator Tammy Duckworth, a candidate to be Joe Biden’s running mate. Duckworth, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot, lost both legs when she was shot down in Iraq. In comments to USA Today about the Russia-Taliban bounty allegations, Duckworth called Trump “incompetent…a liar…a grave threat to the nation’s security.”
The Trump nation turned on her with vengeance. Absent any facts to counter her allegations, the president and his FOX News toadies responded with baseless attacks, questioning this purple heart winner’s patriotism and calling her a coward and a fraud.
This incident is instructive. Duckworth criticized the president with her perception of factual incidents: Based on his Covid 19 response, his inability to hire and keep good people on his staff, his denial of science, his ignoring vital national security information—it is reasonable to believe he is incompetent.
The Washington Post “Truth Tracker” credits Trump with more than 18,000 false or misleading claims in 1,170 days—it is reasonable to believe he is a liar.
The president has distanced America from our allies; repudiated treaties; threatened to veto military funding because of an amendment renaming bases; regularly ignores national security advice; interferes with personnel decisions made by his military leaders; and makes national security decisions from his gut rather than carefully-vetted intelligence information—it is reasonable to believe he is a grave threat to the nation’s security.
This hollow, strong-man wannabe is a fraud with no sense of integrity. He does not have the intellect to think through complicated multi-faceted issues that don’t come with unassailable right or wrong answers. The only thing he knows how to do is destroy anything and anyone in his way. I pray that the nation survives his onslaught for six more months.
Bill Jamieson’s career has included leadership positions in business, government, and education. He was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and his ministry centered around advocacy for low-income families and children.