A Critic's Hopeful -- But Wary -- Eye on Trump

A Critic's Hopeful -- But Wary -- Eye on Trump
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British voters rewarded Winston Churchill’s inspired wartime leadership by promptly voting him out of office at the war’s end. His wife, Clementine, tried to console the exhausted 70-year-old prime minister by suggesting the defeat was a “blessing in disguise,” to which Churchill replied, “At the moment it seems quite effectively disguised.”

I know the feeling.

A serious humiliation is valuable in anyone’s life if it helps make you wiser. I reminded myself of that yesterday, as I started coming to terms with my obdurate refusal to believe Americans could elect someone to the presidency who is so unprepared for the office. I maintained that position as I reassured family, friends and acquaintances through all the ups and downs of the campaign that Hillary Clinton would be the 45th U.S. president. I routinely dismissed the slightest doubt raised by Trump fans and a few Trump critics. I trolled alt-right tweeters, while regularly pouring derision on the candidate and his supporters.

Should any of them take pleasure in my unexpected disappointment, congratulations, I’m very nearly inconsolable, and I had it coming.

Now, for my penance, I should at least follow Hillary Clinton’s example and keep an open mind about President-elect Trump, right? Maybe the awesome responsibilities of the office he is about to enter, which should start to become clear to him as he receives the most sensitive intelligence briefings, will sober and humble him and steel him for the challenges ahead.

I want to believe that. But I’m finding it hard to do so. It requires Trump to be a better person than he has ever been in his life, and I doubt he has it in him. The best I’m able to hope for is that he will be mostly interested in the glamour of the office and appoint sound people to his Cabinet and senior White House staff to do the hard work of making and implementing policy.

That hope, too, is fragile as media reports surface about rumored appointments to his cabinet, names that will exacerbate rather than calm fears about the policies and character of a Trump administration.

Rudy Giuliani seems to harbor a white-hot hatred of the Clintons, and his erratic behavior during the campaign has many wondering about his state of mind. Would he use the power of the office of Attorney General to prosecute Mr. Trump’s defeated opponent? He seems eager to, which would break our politics perhaps irreparably. 

Another moth buzzing around the Trump lamplight is Newt Gingrich, who had this to say last summer about the predicament Estonia, a NATO ally, might be facing during a Trump presidency. "Estonia is in the suburbs of St. Petersburg. “I'm not sure I would risk a nuclear war over some place which is the suburbs of St. Petersburg.”

Given Trump’s curious affinity for Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin and Putin’s obvious desire to roll back the frontiers of NATO and dominate the politics of former Soviet republics, if I were living in Estonia, I’d consider moving to Stockholm.

As early as next spring, Putin is likely to test NATO’s resolve to defend Estonia’s sovereignty. If President Trump and Secretary of State Gingrich refuse to honor our obligations under Article Five of the Atlantic Charter, then NATO, the most successful political-military alliance in modern history, will come apart, probably forever.

We hear reports, too, that the Trump administration will prioritize restoring the use of waterboarding in the interrogation of prisoners of war. They would have to convince Congress to go along, which it won’t. Congress banned the practice, and restricted interrogation techniques to only those specified in the Army Field Manuel, which, thank God, don’t include waterboarding. If the new administration, represented by Attorney General Giuliani, declares it is within the president’s powers to ignore Congress and unilaterally bring back waterboarding, we would have the beginning of a constitutional crisis.

These are only a few immediate concerns about our new president and his team. I have left out such moral dangers as “white nationalist” Steve Bannon and hotheaded Corey Lewandowski on the White House staff.

Maybe Trump will surprise on the upside. Maybe he’ll realize who among his campaign advisers isn’t suited for governing, and rely on prudent counsel from experienced statesmen. Maybe he’ll speak clearly and quickly to his commitment to our NATO obligations. Maybe he’ll dismiss the incendiary promises he made as a candidate, wish Mrs. Clinton well and state he has no intention of using the Department of Justice to settle political scores. Maybe he’ll recognize he leads only one branch of government, and respects the authority of the other two. Maybe he knows he must be a better president than he was a candidate.

If he does, he will have made a fool of me again, and I’ll welcome it.

And if he insists on damaging our institutions, our constitutional order and our security, there’s not much I can do about it. I’m a semi-retired nobody with a Twitter account.  But I have unsolicited advice for Democrats in Congress and their Republican colleagues who share their concerns about the new administration. Do all you can to limit the damage he can do. Welcome his family to Washington. Listen politely to his inaugural address.

And then fight him.

Mark Salter is the former chief of staff to Sen. John McCain and was a senior adviser to the McCain for President campaign.

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