Skip to main content

There were more than a few common refrains from the nihilist left during the Democratic primaries -- sayings, slogans, memes, or just meaningless buzzwords repeated at such regular intervals that in short order they became a punchline, the stuff of "bingo card" parodies and exasperated Twitter blocks. In addition to the usual frenzied cries of "Killary," "rigged system," and of course the ubiquitous "neoliberal shill," there was one particularly insidious pitch shouted from the rooftops by Bernie Sanders's and Jill Stein's fanatical hordes. It basically went like this: "Hillary Clinton is worse than Donald Trump, and besides, Trump in the White House will instantly kickstart the glorious leftist revolution we so badly need." It often felt, during the campaign, like every white, male college student in America would get a class credit if he wrote these words somewhere online, so frequently did it come from their keyboards (or, worth noting, Susan Sarandon's lips). 

But there was a corollary to this statement, one designed to rebut the obvious counter-argument, namely that we'd still have go through four years with a madman in office. "Well, we have checks and balances in our government to stop him," they'd say. "Besides, we survived eight years of George W. Bush, didn't we?"

There was always an obvious response to a statement this myopic, arrogant, and relentlessly dumb, and I availed myself of it several times publicly during the primaries. The simple, unarguable truth? No, we, didn't survive the Bush years -- not all of us anyway. The fact is that the Bush administration's incompetence, corruption, and negligence had an actual body count: 3,000-plus on 9/11; a little less than 2,000 in Louisiana and Mississippi in the wake of Katrina; reportedly as many as 10,000, suicides, in the wake of the Great Recession; and of course, nearly 5,000 U.S. military members and around 175,000 Iraqis in the Iraq War -- a war, remember, based on a lie the Bush administration sold America and one we chose to undertake. These people didn't "survive eight years of George W. Bush." Many, though certainly not all, of them are either directly or indirectly dead precisely because of it. 

And proving that history would in fact repeat itself, just nine days into the presidency of Donald Trump, we saw our first casualties of it. They came to us in a botched Navy SEAL raid that likely never should've been ordered by Trump but which led to the deaths of a member of the elite SEAL Team Six and an eight-year-old girl. More potential deaths are still being evaluated and tallied. This was a raid that President Obama had refused to authorize because he and his advisors felt the intelligence wasn't rock solid and the action represented too big a diplomatic risk. Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Steve Bannon, apparently had no such reservations. Over dinner, they, along with Trump's Muslim-paranoid National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn, listened to the details of the planned mission, including the risks -- minus counsel from the military and intelligence -- and Trump ultimately gave the go-ahead. 

So what happened during the January 29th raid in Yemen? "Almost everything went wrong," says a military source to NBC News. The SEALs were dropped into a heavily fortified base full of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters who were ready and waiting for them. A 50-minute firefight ensued. Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, the Navy SEAL, was killed, and three other U.S. servicemen were injured. A $75 million Osprey had to be destroyed so it wouldn't fall into the hands of the enemy. If you need a pop culture reference to help you, imagine Lone Survivor meets Black Hawk Down on a smaller, thankfully less punishingly tragic scale.

While all this was going on, incidentally, at the exact time that our SEALs were fighting for their lives in Yemen, Donald Trump wasn't in the Situation Room. He was in the White House residence -- trolling The New York Times on Twitter. Really. Imagine for a moment that it was a Democratic president who did something like that. Can you already picture the Articles of Impeachment in your mind?  

Under normal circumstances, there should be a silent agreement about the partisan politicization of military deaths, meaning that it isn't done. War is ugly and chaotic. Sometimes missions go bad. Sometimes intel is wrong. Sometimes people die. This can happen no matter who's sitting in the White House. But consider Benghazi for a moment, which was a word that became a kind of conservative synecdoche for not simply the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya but really for Obama incompetence and Clinton criminality. The truth was always that we engage in diplomacy in some dangerous places and therefore horrible things sometimes happen -- they happened over and over again during the Bush presidency -- but it was allowed to become a battle cry. The reason: because the Right believed blame could be placed on President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Well, if you believe that, how can you not think Trump should be held responsible for the very first raid on his watch, a raid that was passed over by his predecessor and which wound up being a disaster at every single turn? 

Where are the immediate calls for seven Republican investigations of the Yemen raid if these people care so much about military deaths and are so willing to hold the president accountable when something goes wrong?

Presidents matter. Their temperaments, personalities and decision-making abilities matter. People's lives depend on them. The thing about President Obama is that he was at times paralyzingly analytical. He was a man who rushed into nothing. He studied his options and weighed the possible outcomes; he was careful, thoughtful, and deliberate. In other words, he was the diametric opposite of Donald Trump. Trump is reckless, headstrong, moronically arrogant and self-assured. Reality is whatever he says it is at any moment and whatever he does, it will always be the right thing anyway because he's a winner, plain and simple. Trump is so impulsive, and so constitutionally unable to control his impulses, that he's practically pathological, and that makes him dangerous. He constantly needs to show everyone how tough he is and he now has access to the entire U.S. military to act as proxies for him. What's more, he campaigned on the promise of an unprecedented crackdown on Muslim countries and Muslims themselves and his closest advisor, Bannon, is a straight-up anti-Muslim white nationalist -- a man who's already warned of wars to come around the globe. 

All of this adds up to what will almost certainly be more incidents like the Yemen raid, misadventures undertaken by a trigger-happy president informed by a cadre of people telling him what he wants to hear (or in Bannon's case, what he himself wants to see happen as part of the push for an overall global goal). People in our military die, yes. They die bravely. They die as a sacrifice so that as a nation we can endure. It's when they die for nothing, because those who send them into battle are reckless or corrupt or incompetent that we can and should be able to ask tough questions and, if necessary, place blame. If nothing else, we should be able to point to those reckless, corrupt incompetents and say, "They died on your watch and you shouldn't be allowed to forget or escape that." 

And make no mistake: More people will die during Donald Trump's presidency and as a direct result of it. They'll be military members. They'll be civilians. They'll be innocents who die in mishaps, disasters and tragedies we can't imagine now but will, in hindsight, have been entirely predictable, given this president. Not all of us will be able to blithely say, years from now, that we survived this awful era.