At some point during Tuesday night, MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews, strangely enough, was a momentary voice of reason and calm when he sarcastically pointed out that Gitmo remains open in spite of President Obama’s campaign promise to shut it down. That it an easy way of pointing out that presidential candidates say a lot, and they don’t necessarily do it once they’re elected. That’s either preparation for disappointment or relief when it comes to President Trump, and probably a mixture of both.
We know Hillary Clinton as a political figure already. What we know is that apart from her stances on abortion and gun control, she has proven herself a relatively safe, centrist authoritarian. She doesn’t appear to have opposed an intervention since the Vietnam war, but she happily brags about gaining former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s approval. And though she hastily refashioned herself as a fan of criminal justice reform for the 2016 race, many on the far left and the libertarian side never forgave or forgot her enthusiastic support of her husband’s drug war, and his crime bill. It’s good that Clinton lost. It’s a shame that Trump won.
What we don’t know is Donald Trump the politician. We know him as a businessman with some unsavory aspects to this personal life (certainly nothing the Moral Majority should support), who has been accused of groping and touching several women without their consent. We also know that he was previously fairly Democratic-sounding, and doesn’t appear to care deeply about once divisive social issues, meaning he may be willing to live and let live along with the changing times when it comes to the rights of gay people or other minorities
Trump on foreign policy is a great mystery. There were encouraging scraps he threw the anti-interventionist crowd during the election. But it did sound as if every time he needled someone over the Iraq war, he followed that up with an urge to kill terrorists’ family members and stop "fighting a politically correct war" or to bring back waterboarding. His sensible suggestions about picking who you are fighting against in a war are drowned out by his desire to keep bombing ISIS to hell. At some point, he suggested that sending 30,000 troops to fight them would be fine. He constantly stresses that the US should steal oil from various countries, or at least burn oil fields, never mind the environmental cost. Word is, Trump wants to modernize the military, exempt it from federal cuts, and to spruce up our nukes. Defense contractors are excited.
Trump repeatedly stresses that the US deal with Iran is a nightmare, and he wants to get rid of it. The last thing America needs to rattle more sabers with that country, or to conveniently forget the many historically-sound reasons Iran has to distrust the US. Fundamentally, Trump appears to have a few positive impulses on foreign policy, more horrific ones, and is easily swayed in one direction or another.
However you feel about immigration (I’m for free movement), it’s a bit rich when the US breaks countries, then refuses to let in the resulting refugees. Banning Muslim immigrants is a militaristic policy suggestion, and should be opposed.
So, indeed, is Trump’s grand border wall idea and his initial plan to deport some 12 million immigrants. The border is already patrolled by thousands of federal agents, and multiple drones. Thanks to the Supreme Court, the Border Patrol technically has additional power over the people who live within 100 miles of any border. That’s about two thirds of the nation
How can President Trump build a wall, man it with feds, and round up millions of people without making the United States More militaristic? He can’t. His presidency was endorsed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the national arm of the Fraternal Order of Police. That’s another thing. Over and over again in his speeches, Trump suggested that police are the most oppressed people in the nation. The militarized law enforcement who have the tech, and the legal and social leeway to kill when they feel threatened — they are the true victims. On transparency and spying, Trump also has displayed disturbing tendencies. He seems unable to scorn the press without hinting that they should be more controlled. And he, like every politician, doesn’t understand encryption, and therefore has a knee-jerk support for the NSA and the rest of the surveillance state.
New legal recreational and medical marijuana victories kept rolling in on Election Day. Unfortunately, Trump appears to be ready to pick someone who would primed to fight those reforms for high law enforcement offices. He’s looking towards former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for the Attorney General spot, both of whom would be a complete nightmare on ending the drug war. Giuliani is also being discussed for head of Homeland Security, which would be dreadfully fitting. Another option is Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who thinks Black Lives Matter is ISIS
Trump’s alleged list of potential "people" is full of names, some of whom are unfamiliar. The names that I do know are heavily on the horrifying side, and include arch-hawk John Bolton for Secretary of State. The former ambassador to the UN famously wants to execute Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden for their "crimes." For an unspecified spot Sen. Tom Cotton has been mentioned with approval by Trump. Cotton is one of the nastiest warmongers elected to the Senate in recent memory. Maricopa County mini-tyrant Joe Arpaio lost his seventh reelection bid on November 8, but he and Trump are big fans of each other. If Arpaio escapes retirement and prison, he might find a place in Trump’s inner circle.
It’s not an encouraging list. It’s also an exceedingly speculative one. However, Trump has the Oval Office, and Republicans control Congress. The idea that the latter will do much about obstructing him seems unlikely.
Trump has a big ego, but he’s just won the most intimidating job in the world. It’s hard to picture him nuking something in a fit of pique. He’s sort of an empty suit, albeit a blathering confident one. If the right people found his ear (or the less awful ones), this could be less of a nightmare than many people are assuming. But he has some very bad instincts, and he has shown that often during his bizarre journey to the Oval Office
The one thing to remember is that the milquetoast left might be back and ready to cry "not my president." As infuriating as it is that so many of them forgot the horrors of the Bush years the moment their team won in November, 2008, they should be welcomed back all the same. They are necessary
There are wars to end, others not to begin. There are troops to bring home. There is a massive surveillance apparatus to dismantle. There are minorities to protect from the militarized state at home and abroad. There are prisoners to free, the nonviolent drug offenders, and the heroic whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning. Edward Snowden should be welcomed home. Drone warfare must end, especially sans due process or even transparency
Lame duck Obama has been a great improvement over fresh, enthusiastic Obama. But he put drones in half a dozen countries, and ordered up a legal defense of his right to kill American citizens without trial. He is no friend to transparency, or whistleblowing. He broke Libya, and he has made sure the US stays on a low, perma-warfare simmer
Obama is not going to fix any of the things that need fixing before he goes. Trump will enter office with freshly paved precedents that he can easily walk down. And when it’s time to go beyond Bush and Obama, what will Trump swear that he, as the president, has the right to do?
We need to hammer whomever is in power, no matter partisan squabbles, or team spirit. We need to remember that "our guy" might win this time, but the powers he or she collects will be used by the other team sooner than we realize. Washington DC does need to be drained, but there’s little reason to think Trump will be the one to do it. That’s all the more reason to start fighting him, and every enemy of peace, freedom, and privacy now. The man or woman in power changes, but power never does.
Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com and a columnist for VICE.com. She previously worked as an Associate Editor for Reason magazine. She is most angry about police, prisons, and wars. Steigerwald blogs at www.thestagblog.com.