Serial liar Trump doesn't get the benefit of the doubt on leading us into war
It finally arrived. Not the New Year, rather the moment we have all been bracing for when Donald Trump would take unilateral and irrevocable military action that likely puts America on the path to another intractable war.
It's a horrific redux of the haunting preemptive strike doctrine we have been paying for in blood and treasure ever since the last Republican president led us into a conflict that continues to this day. One way or the other, more lives will be lost because of Trump's actions—fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, and sons and daughters will never see their families again. Kids will grow up without the parent who once adored them. The scars will be deep, lifelong, and indelible.
And yet as Trump administration officials pushed us onto a path toward an almost certain fate, they never bothered to prepare the national psyche for impact. They have yet to provide any real rationale for assassinating a top Iranian commander other than flimsy claims of an "imminent" attack on U.S. diplomats and soldiers in the works. No one briefed Congress in advance, no administration spokespeople were deployed to walk Americans through the venture. When Trump finally addressed the nation on Friday at 3:15 p.m. ET about the offensive the night before, it was nothing more than afterthought thrown together to blunt criticism. He took all of several minutes to read a teleprompter statement, then walked away without taking any questions.
"We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war," Trump said, repeating claims of “imminent and sinister attacks" without providing any evidence. No administration official has even come close to explaining the "Why now?" of assassinating Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. He's been on America’s radar for two decades and yet two presidents, Bush and Obama, opted not to kill him for the very reason that doing so might spiral into an endless conflict with Iran.
If it all weren't so terrifying and consequential, it would be amusing. Apparently, every single person in Trump’s orbit is suffering from some kind of crippling brain disorder. Trump is precisely the least credible person on earth to make the case for escalating tensions with Iran because, just trust him, bad things were about to happen. Did the White House crackerjacks forget that six of Trump's top deputies have been convicted of federal crimes, including his top campaign official, first national security adviser, close friend and confidant, and longtime personal lawyer and fixer? Did they forget his current personal lawyer is under federal investigation? Did they forget Trump just became the third U.S. president in history to be impeached and by the biggest vote margin ever—that's how devastating the evidence was? Did they forget that lies spout from Trump's lips like a city fire hydrant loosed in the blistering summer heat? In fact, when times are tough and the politics are dicey, you can absolutely count on Trump to lie (see: health care policy, personal taxes, hush money payments, Russian collusion, Russian interference, Putin convos, firing Mueller, North Korea denuclearization, Mexico border wall funding, Hurricane paths, tariffs/trade wars, Puerto Rico relief, the Bidens, and Ukraine, just to name a few). If Trump says it, it's inherently suspicious, and that includes his repeated claims that he would put America first and get out of "endless war."
Trump quite simply hasn't earned the trust necessary to get the benefit of the doubt on anything of import. Instead of building trust with American voters, he has spent his entire tenure destroying it. As former Florida Congressman David Jolly noted on MSNBC Friday, Trump not only lies, he's not temperamentally fit enough to be trustworthy in a moment of true national crisis.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill are reportedly "relishing the optics" of Democrats' push for a fair trial of Trump, whom Republicans have now elevated to wartime president status in their own minds. "In an interview Friday, top Trump ally Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) argued that Democrats were 'playing politics' with impeachment while Trump was 'taking out a general who has American bloodstains on his hands,'" writes the Washington Post. But as New York Times foreign correspondent Rukmini Callimachi notes in a must-read thread, it's "hard to decouple [Soleimani's] killing from the impeachment saga" while pondering the question, Why now?
Americans do usually rally around a wartime president, and Trump may manage to eke out a small bump in approval ratings from his military intervention. But Trump isn't just any president—he is an eminently untrustworthy human being. More than likely, the political trajectory of the military conflict Trump just invited upon the country will be about as atypical as everything else in his presidency. Not only have roughly half of voters repeatedly pledged to pollsters to vote against Trump in 2020, a recent Civiqs poll found that nearly a third of Trump voters said their support for Trump could change later. Wars are game changers. Perhaps some of Trump’s support will harden. But just as likely, at least some of those tepid Trump supporters who have held their nose for the orange menace because they like the economy or the look of their 401(k)s will start reconsidering whether there’s more downsides than upsides to allowing an impulsive megalomaniac free reign over the most powerful military in the world.
You can't lie your ass off, rage against everything and everyone, toy with starting a war for reasons no one can explain, and not suffer a point or two at the ballot box—points Trump simply cannot afford to lose. That’s especially true when your incompetence leads to the betrayal of one of your biggest campaign promises—ending endless wars. Voters went to the polls in record numbers in 2018 to put a check on Trump, electing an historic number of Democrats to the House. Trump is once again reminding those voters just how imperative it will be to boot him from office once and for all in November.