Mr. Blow asks “Are You Not Alarmed?” and says Donald Trump may push us into another war. Well, I guess he’s heard that we’ve always been at war with Eastasia… Mr. Kristof is “Missing Barack Obama Already,” and says for eight years, the president and his family have set an impeccable example, for which we’ll soon feel nostalgia. Here’s Mr. Blow:
I continue to be astonished that not enough Americans are sufficiently alarmed and abashed by the dangerous idiocies that continue to usher forth from the mouth of the man who will on Friday be inaugurated as president of the United States.
Toss ideology out of the window. This is about democracy and fascism, war and peace, life and death. I wish that I could write those words with the callous commercialism with which some will no doubt read them, as overheated rhetoric simply designed to stir agitation, provoke controversy and garner clicks. But alas, they are not. These words are the sincere dispatches of an observer, writer and citizen who continues to see worrisome signs of a slide toward the exceedingly unimaginable by a man who is utterly unprepared.
In a series of interviews and testimonies Donald Trump and his cronies have granted in the last several days, they have demonstrated repeatedly how destabilizing, unpredictable and indeed unhinged the incoming administration may be. Their comments underscore the degree to which this administration may not simply alter our democracy beyond recognition, but also potentially push us into armed conflict.
Last week, Trump’s secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, said during his confirmation hearing that the United States had to “send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”
The only way to do this is with some sort of naval blockade, which China would undoubtedly interpret as an act of war.
Indeed, as Business Insider reported, Chinese state-run media responded in an editorial, “Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish.”
Business Insider quoted Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia and the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who pointed out that Tillerson’s position could easily result in war.
If the United States put “a cordon of ships around one or all of the islands, and the Chinese flew in aircraft to one of their new islands, what are we going to do? Shoot it down?” Glaser asked. “We’d certainly end up in a shooting war with China.”
But even short of the conflict over the islands, The Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Browne suggested Tuesday, Trump’s talk on trade alone could escalate into an armed conflict with China. Trump has said he will make continued adherence to the “one China” policy — which recognizes Beijing as the sole government of China — conditional on negotiations over what he sees as currency manipulation and other unfair trade practices by China.
As Browne points out:
“The gambit has profound security and military implications. Taiwan is a regional flash point. Beijing regards the island as an inalienable part of Chinese territory; ‘One China’ expresses not just its political desire for unification but a core part of Chinese identity. Chinese leaders will fight for it. They can’t lose Taiwan.”
Make no mistake: As bad of an actor as China is, the United States actually depends on China. It is one of our biggest trade partners, but furthermore it is one of the last remaining checks on an erratic North Korea. China could simply stop using its influence to make North Korea behave.
And as you may recall, during the campaign Trump suggested that the way to contain North Korea was for nuclear proliferation in the region. In March, Trump said of nuclear weapons: “You have so many countries already — China, Pakistan, you have so many countries, Russia — you have so many countries right now that have them.” He continued: “Now, wouldn’t you rather, in a certain sense, have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons?”
Then there is the destabilizing and downright frightening random rhetoric. Trump has suggested that he equally trusts America’s friend-in-arms Angela Merkel and his friend-in-spirit Vladimir Putin.
Trump told The Washington Post this week that he may start having military parades in major American cities à la North Korea: “Being a great president has to do with a lot of things, but one of them is being a great cheerleader for the country.” He continued: “And we’re going to show the people as we build up our military, we’re going to display our military. That military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we’re going to be showing our military.”
And, Trump continues to trash NATO, calling it “obsolete.”
This is insanity. But too many Americans don’t want to see this threat for what it is. International affairs and the very real threat of escalating militarization and possibly even military conflict seems much harder to grasp than the latest inflammatory tweet.
Maybe people think this possibility is unthinkable. Maybe people are just hoping and praying that cooler heads will prevail. Maybe they think that Trump’s advisers will smarten him up and talk him down.
But where is your precedent for that? When has this man been cautious or considerate? This man with loose lips and tweeting thumbs may very well push us into another war, and not with a country like Afghanistan, but with a nuclear-armed country with something to prove.
Are you not alarmed?
No, Mr. Blow I’m not alarmed. I think gibbering terror would describe it better. Now here’s Mr. Kristof:
Barack Obama’s legacy is being systematically unraveled even before he leaves office, with The Wall Street Journal scoffing that he “has been a historic president but perhaps not a consequential one.”
Historians will also note that the Democratic Party is in far worse shape today than when Obama took office: It has lost its House and Senate majorities, as well as 13 governorships and more than 900 state legislative seats.
More broadly, the sunny Obama optimism of “Yes, we can” has faded into a rancorous miasma of distrust and dysfunction. One example of that rancor is unfolding at the Woodmont Country Club outside Washington, where hawkish pro-Israeli members are campaigning to deny Obama membership — even though there’s no official indication he will even apply.
Yet here’s my prediction: America and the world will soon be craving that Obama Cool again.
Voters are fickle and promiscuous, suffering an eight-year itch for a fling with someone who is the opposite of their last infatuation. Sick of Bill Clinton, we turned to a Texas governor who was utterly different. Eight years later, weary of George W. Bush, we elected his polar opposite, a liberal black law professor. And now we’ve elected Obama’s antipode.
Polls suggest that voters are already souring on Donald Trump, in ways that may soon create nostalgia for Obama. Newly elected presidents usually enjoy a honeymoon, but Gallup says Trump’s approval is at the lowest level the pollster has recorded in a presidential transition.
Mostly, I think we journalists overdo the personal and pay insufficient attention to policies — such as those that led Obama’s presidency to enjoy the longest streak of consecutive private-sector job creation in the 78 years the statistic has been recorded. But while Obama’s policy legacy is being whittled away, he also has an important personal legacy that Trump inadvertently burnishes.
A president inevitably is not just commander in chief, but also a role model, a symbol of American values around the world. We won the Cold War not only with American missiles, but also with American “soft power,” and one element of our soft power arsenal is a president who commands respect and admiration at home and abroad. We want our children and the world’s to admire our president — and that is where Obama is strongest and Trump weakest.
Trump spews emotional tweets impetuously and vindictively, lacing his venom with misspellings or grammatical mistakes. We’ll be craving Obama’s prudence, intellect and reserve.
The personal differences between them aren’t just that Obama was an African-American son of a single mom, while Trump was the scion of a real estate tycoon. It’s more the behaviors they model. Trump has had five children by three wives, has boasted of his infidelities, has shrugged at conflicts of interest and is a walking scandal.
“He will never, ever, let you down. … Donald is intensely loyal,” we were told at the Republican convention — by his third wife. In contrast, Obama has the most boring personal life imaginable, and is the rare president who got through a second term without significant scandals.
That seems to be because of extreme caution. When Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, he solicited a 13-page memo from Justice Department lawyers verifying that there was absolutely no conflict in accepting it. And then he donated the money to charities.
Whatever our views of Obama’s politics, we should be able to agree that he is a superlative family man. For eight years, this family has made us proud. The graciousness that the Obamas displayed toward the Trumps, even as in private they must have been beating their heads against the wall, exemplified class.
When Obama gave his farewell address in Chicago this month, he was accompanied by Michelle and his older daughter, Malia, but 15-year-old Sasha was missing. Twitter was abuzz, and #WheresSasha was soon trending. It turned out that she wasn’t in a drunken stupor, or staying away in an angry teenage sulk. Rather, it seemed that the Obamas had Sasha stay home to study for an exam the next morning.
If I were Sasha, I’d be annoyed: “C’mon, Dad! You coulda written me a note!” But I’m proud of a first family that so values education, and is so averse to asserting privilege.
We can argue about Obama’s policies. For my part, I deplored his passivity on Syria. But even on issues that I disagreed with him on, I never doubted his integrity or intelligence, his decency or honor.
Trump may dismantle Obamacare and pull out of the Paris climate accord. But he cannot undo Obama’s legacy of dignity and old-fashioned virtue, and the impression he made on all of us.
And if, as I fear, we see the White House transformed into a bog of scandals flowing from an unprincipled narcissist, we as a nation will be more appreciative of a first family that set an impeccable example for all the world.