Right before settling in to read a princess bedtime story to my daughter, Anastasia, I saw the news that Donald Trump had ordered a strike on Syria using around 60 Tomahawk missiles. I went to bed wondering how hot and bothered this would make cable news; they do love themselves a war. And with today's technology, they'd be able to transmit it in HD, a surefire ratings winner.
Sure enough, in the morning, one of my Facebook friends told me about how CNN's Fareed Zakaria was practically panting over how "presidential" blowing up a Syrian airbase was:
CNN’s Fareed Zakaria was perhaps the most fawning on-air pundit. He declared that “Donald Trump became the President of the United States,” calling it a “big moment.” He lavished Trump with praise for recognizing the importance of international norms and embracing a “broader moral and political purpose.” Zakaria also suggested that Trump had grown in his role, and that his rhetoric about the attack was “the kind of rhetoric that we’ve come to expect from American presidents.”
And Zakeria was far from the only one on TV to get wood last night and that's a problem. Since the election, cable news, more than any other kind of news media, have been desperate to normalize Trump. Add to that the specter of a pretty war to broadcast and, look at that, "Donald Trump became the President of the United States." It's a sad statement of where we are as a country that we equate violence with being presidential and as soon as I read Zakaria's gushing praise, I immediately thought of a scene from The American President. After Michael Douglas' President Shepard orders an airstrike in Libya, one of his aides tells him to use it in his campaign:
President Andrew Shepherd: What I did tonight was not about political gain.
Leon Kodak: Yes sir. But it can be, sir. What you did tonight was very Presidential.
President Andrew Shepherd: Leon, somewhere in Libya right now, a janitor's working the night shift at Libyan Intelligence Headquarters. He's going about doing his job... because he has no idea, in about an hour he's going to die in a massive explosion. He's just going about his job, because he has no idea that about an hour ago I gave an order to have him killed. You've just seen me do the least Presidential thing I do.
Bombing Syria is not presidential. Launching an unnecessary ground war (which is the next step Trump is already gearing up for) is not presidential. Taking responsibility is presidential and Trump does not do that. Ever. Taking in refugee children from this very war is presidential. Yet Trump once bragged that he would look the "beautiful babies" he is now lamenting in the face and say, "You can’t come here." Nothing about what happened last night was presidential. Nothing about what's going to happen next will be presidential.
Presidential is having a plan to deal with the consequences of our actions. Republican presidents generally lack this ability and Trump's war in Syria will be the pinnacle of this deficiency.
Will we be cleaning up the mess we'll be making if we depose Assad? Is there anyone there to take leadership of the country and keep it from falling into anarchy? How will we prevent the birth of new terrorist organizations from the chaos? How will we prevent ISIS from recruiting tens of thousands of new fighters? I don't know and I promise you that Trump knows even less than I do. That is the exact opposite of being presidential.
One point I would like to clarify about what happened last night: It's unclear how many people, if any, were killed by the airstrike. It's being reported that witnesses saw the Syrians moving equipment off the base and evacuating it before the strike. This is because we warned the Russians to get off the base and the Russians naturally warned their allies. This is being taken as evidence of Trump being too cozy with Putin and while that is still almost certainly true, even if Trump hated Russia, he still would have warned them about the strike. Blowing up Russian troops is a good way to kick off World War III and in the unlikely event Trump had refused to warn the Russians, someone less insane in his administration or the military would have done it anyway.
For its part, Russia has already promised to strengthen Syria's air defenses so we'll have to wait and see if things continue to escalate and how Trump reacts. But whatever he ends up doing, we shouldn't confuse warmongering with being presidential the way cable news is rushing to do. At the smallest hint that blowing up more stuff real good with HARD POWER will get the press off his back, Trump will rain down "freedom" all over the world without the slightest provocation.
The only thing that would be worse than failing to sway public opinion with the death of thousands would be succeeding.
There are 577 days left to the 2018 elections.
- This article kills fascists
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