It was exactly one week ago that President Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airstrip last week and the punditocracy went wild, proclaiming in the never-to-be-forgotten words of CNN's Fareed Zakaria that "Donald Trump became president of the United States." You knew right then that the adulation-starved POTUS was already plotting a bolder second installment, his own "big bang theory."
So what do you get called now by the self-satisfied Beltway elites after dropping "MOAB" — the 11-ton "Mother of All Bombs," the most lethal non-nuclear weapon in America's awesome arsenal? Did he become Emperor of the Air today? King of All Weaponry? Did the Pretty Big One turn the 45th president into the Godfather of Hole? Or does lobbing the "mother" bomb into some Afghanistan caves finally make Trump the daddy, worthy of the respect that icy Fred Trump never paid his little boy?
(And in a loosely related matter, will MSNBC's Brian "It's All Too Beautiful" Williams turn to his guest tonight and say that "I am reminded of the Springsteen classic, 'Blinded by the light...'")
The funny thing — OK, actually not that funny at all — is that just moments before Trump's latest bomb, I'd been fretting about how our new president's gross inexperience, his penchant for blatant dishonesty, lack of coherent policy or moral convictions, horrible approval ratings, and the growing stench of corruption had already made his position in the White House untenable, on just his 84th day in office. And that the only thing that remains solid is Trump's ability to trigger World War III in a blood-red eye blink.
But the news that the Trump-commanded military had now escalated the conflict in Afghanistan — in a place called Nangarhar that no one can find on a map, in a war that's been going on for 16 years and will probably still be happening long after I'm dead and buried — felt like a crossing of the Rubicon. I know you're supposed to rally around the flag and our commander-in-chief when the bombs — even the old-fashioned normal-sized ones — start bursting in air. But Trump's lack of any moral or ethical compass, not to mention his inability to tell the truth, make it impossible to have faith in our military missions — or in him.
I know it's only been 12 weeks, but America has seen enough. It's already past time for sensible Republicans to join with Democrats to start the process of removing Trump from office and making Mike Pence the 46th president. The fate of the earth may hang in the balance.
A few days ago, Trump told reporters that the first 13 weeks of his presidency had gone incredibly well. Folks chortled because he'd only been POTUS for 11 weeks at the time. But maybe the short-fingered vulgarian knew something, because it turned out that Week 12 has been one to forget, maybe the worst of his presidency. Let that sink in.
The lack of any direction in Trumpland became blatantly clear. Almost everything that the president had said during that long 2015-16 campaign when the cable TV networks breathlessly carried his every word live, as if those words actually mattered, was shredded and tossed down the memory hole. NATO went from completely irrelevant to relevant. China, "the world's worst currency manipulator," isn't manipulating currency. Our policy toward Syria and Bashar al-Assad seems to have pulled a complete 180 — reportedly after Ivanka Trump saw the horrible images of the poison-gas attack in Idlib and begged the Father of All Policy Incoherency to do something. We went from too cozy with Vladimir Putin's Russia to something worse than the Cuban Missile Crisis — or so they want us to think. Trump says he just learned that North Korea — like health care — is actually "not so easy."
The problem for the most part isn't the new policies — most are arguably better than the old ones — but that the Trump White House is adrift and its compass has fallen somewhere into the deep blue ocean. Fall asleep with CNN or MSNBC on at midnight and when you wake up you can only guess which nations are now our friends and which are now our enemies. Our allies feel the same way. And in a world where way too many presidents and dictators have way too many nuclear warheads, that is beyond terrifying.
There were more shocking headlines about the Trump-Russia dalliance — that the FBI suspected a Trump foreign policy aide named Carter Page was a Russian spy, while Trump's one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort was pocketing millions from shady characters in that neck of the woods. But while Russiagate could be the unmaking of this president, the unethically blurred lines between the government of the United States and the Trump family business feels like more solid grounds for an eventual impeachment.
In an astounding report, the Washington Post said the president's children Don Jr., Eric and Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner are increasingly worried about their dad's imperiled presidency — not for the good of the country but because it's soiling their hotel and golf-course brand. The paper said the Fab Four's main issue is they want to "resuscitate the presidency and preserve the family’s name at a time when they are trying to expand the Trump Organization’s portfolio of hotels." It said that means prepping for a 2020 campaign that would avoid the toxic nationalism and xenophobia of 2016 or, as a GOP consultant told the Post, "they’d only be able to build in Oklahoma City or the Ozarks.”
This is what's so alarming — that Trump might blow Kim Jung-un and a few million North Koreans to smithereens just to boost his hotel occupancy rates in Vegas. Apparently, the push to save the Trump Organization for democracy is behind the recent changes at the White House; Steve Bannon and his comic-book white supremacists and pretend Nazis are on the outs, and the retired generals and the boys (and girls) from Goldman Sachs are taking charge. In other words, the "serious people" who gave us the Iraq War and the 2008 fiscal collapse. That's the upgrade. Heaven help us.
The truth is that Trump is so far over his head in the Oval Office that he cedes more power to both the retired generals in his administration and the active ones in the Pentagon every day — which is a stunning blow to notion of civilian control of the military that has kept the United States as a functioning democracy all these years. With little fanfare, Trump's 84-day nightmare has apparently included loosening restrictions aimed at preventing civilian casualties in America's bottomless shrimp bowl of wars. The tracking website Airwars.org is seeing incidents of civilian casualties from U.S. bombing in Syria and Iraq that far exceeds the Obama years. Trump said today after news of the Afghanistan bomb broke that "what I do is authorize my military," implying our civilian commander-in-chief has handed the keys to the men in uniform. That's not how it's supposed to work.
At the same time that Trump was dropping The Pretty Big One on Afghanistan, the New York Times was reporting that a U.S. air strike in Syria had unintentionally killed 16 of the rebel troops who are supposed to be on our side, in a policy located at the corner of Incoherence and Incompetence. Did I mention that Trump has "an armada" — his words — streaming toward North Korea as we speak?
The stakes for constitutional democracy in America and peace in the world are simply too damn high to do nothing. We've seen enough in 84 days to know it's past time to cancel this unreality show from a celebrity apprentice president. It's true that removing a president who hasn't even hit the much-ballyhooed 100-day mark would make us look like some kind of banana republic, and not the exceptional nation that we imagine ourselves to be. But when the banana fits, you ought to wear it.
Trump's gross conflicts of interest and his repeated violations of the Emoluments Clause barring foreign-government payments to our leaders has given Congress sufficient grounds for articles of impeachment, even if the worst fears about Trump's back-door Russian dealings aren't fully confirmed. And this week's stunning results in a Kansas special election — foreshadowing a major swing toward the Democrats in the 2018 mid-terms — ought to convince the more moderate Republicans, including several here in the Philadelphia suburbs, that their political survival hinges on dumping the Trump.
My sense is that Mike Pence — with views on important social issues ripped from a 19th Century time capsule — would be a pretty bad president. But I'd rather stand up and fight his regressive ideas than stick my head between my legs and wait under my desk for Trump's term to end in radioactive hellfire. The "Mother of All Bombs" was supposedly dropped on Afghanistan to destroy a network of caves. But if Trump or our increasingly anxious adversaries ever decide to escalate things to the ultimate "nuclear option," those caves are going to start looking pretty good.