Editorial: Trump and his lemmings

Trump supporters take note: If he tells you to jump off a cliff, don’t do it.
That unsolicited advice comes on the heels of a week in which Trump stepped deep into it three times:
• First, he praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for dismissing 755 of America’s diplomatic staff in Russia with a flippant (and ignorant) comment about thanking him for reducing U.S. payroll and diplomatic expenses.
• Next, he stupidly lashed out at North Korea, threatening President Kim Jong-un with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if he continued to threatened the U.S., and then doubled down when he upset the world with escalating the potential of war (causing his military commanders, secretary of state, national security team, our allies, and half the world to worry about Trump’s fitness as president, as his aides rushed to explain that Trump didn’t really mean it.) But Kim Jong-un seized the opportunity, promptly called Trump’s bluff and threatened to bomb the U.S. territory of Guam. Having no words to top his “fire and fury” fiasco, Trump folded, and moved on to sound tough on something else.
• That something else happened Saturday when an unruly mob of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia waged a “Unite the Right” rally and were met with counter-protesters. Fights broke out, and an alt-right 20-year-old drove his car into the crowd of counter-protesters killing one 32-year-old white woman and injuring 19 others, then slammed the car into reverse and spread away. He was caught and faces manslaughter and other charges. Trump, after an unusually long lull between the time of the incident and his response, finally provided a weak response that laid the blame on both sides, saying such an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” had no place in America. It wasn’t until Sunday, after much national criticism, that the White House sent out a statement condemning the alt-right for inciting violence and hatred, but without attributing it to Trump.
Shockingly, many Republicans were initially supportive of Trump’s comments toward Putin and his tough talk to North Korea for all the reasons they voted for Trump in the first place — on a gut level, they like it when Trump goes against conventional wisdom and gives an off-the-cuff, unexpected answer.
But let’s quickly review the settings:
• Putin’s outrageous call to dismiss 755 diplomats was in response to President Obama’s earlier decision last November to dismiss 35 Russia diplomats and confiscate two Russian properties in the D.C. area. The reason Obama took that action was because of Russia’s admitted attempt to swing the election in Trump’s favor. The two properties confiscated were suspected bases for those cyber operations and others. So, Russia was penalized for meddling in our election with the dismissal of 35 diplomatic staff.
Russia’s response has been to not deny they tried to swing the election, but so what, and by the way, dismiss 755 of your diplomatic core from Russia. Trump’s response should have been one of outrage. He should have threatened to expose Russia’s interference in our election and warned the rest of the world of similar tactics; he could have threated to dismiss an equivalent number of Russian diplomats if Russia didn’t reconsider; he could have, at the very least, stood up for those Americans who have served their lives in the diplomatic corps for the honor of our country, expressed empathy for their plight and praised their service. Instead he dismissed their service, as if it were meaningless, and gave no value to the enormous soft power the United States has built up and maintained for the past 75-plus years. Trump appears ignorant of the value of the diplomatic corps, no doubt like many of his followers. (The stupid part of Trump’s comments is that American diplomats aren’t fired when dismissed by a hostile country. They are reassigned to other posts; so Trump’s supposed savings won’t happen as he and his supporters naively imagined.)
But even if Trump’s supporters don’t understand the importance of our diplomatic missions, surely they can grasp the inequity of Putin’s demand, and the embarrassingly impotent response by Trump. To Russia and the world, he rolled over on his back, tummy upward, like a cowardly dog. Surely those Americans who championed Trump because of his contrived motto, Make America Great Again, have to be disappointed.
• His response to North Korea was exactly what Kin Jong-un wanted. By being threatening, Trump provides the North Korean president with the cover he needs to encourage North Korean residents to sacrifice their lives to make their military stronger. And by making threats that Trump should not (and probably will not) carry out (lest he starts a nuclear war, causing millions of casualties on the Korean peninsula, in Japan and elsewhere), he weakens America’s integrity and honor.
• As for failing to condemn the alt-right, white supremacist rally, it seems obvious his first instinct was to support that group of his followers (he courted them during his campaign) by trying to spread the blame of the violence that ensued, and only reluctantly had his White House issue the condemnation the next day. Meanwhile, in Virginia, the governor and lieutenant governor responded immediately, condemning the violence and bigotry and appearing in black churches the next morning with words of healing and actions seeking to bring communities together — not inciting them to further hatred as did Trump’s silence. Surely, Trump supporters don’t think such hatred of other Americans makes our country great?
How, then, can Trump — this simplistic and bombastic president, ignorant of policy and diplomacy, and whose tendency is to praise those who incite violence and hatred — continue to have the support of his true believers, unless, as Trump said during the campaign, his followers are so blind that “I could shoot someone in the middle of the street and they’d still support me.” While Trump’s poll numbers are at historic lows, that 33 percent still think he is doing a good job is staggering, and once again brings up the cautionary tale of lemmings following the pied piper over the cliff.
Only in that tale, the pied piper was doing the community a favor. Not so, today.
Angelo Lynn

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