We all have our fears about Trump. Are we on the road to fascism? Will he lead us into a new war (or two)? Will he crash the economy? Will he bankrupt us? Will the planet burn after we gorge ourselves on fossil fuels for four years?
In this respect, “we” are not limited to progressives. Plenty of conservatives are far from sanguine about the first week of Trump’s presidency. Will they regret the Faustian bargain they made when they voted for him? They’re not at all confident, but they’re putting on a brave front.
I wonder, though, if the most dangerous aspect of the Trump presidency is one rarely discussed, mostly because it connects to a hazard we fail to recognize.
America holds less than five percent of the world’s population, but about 25% of its wealth and income. That gigantic disparity in wealth and income breeds resentment. Whether the resentment is justified doesn’t matter. It’s there and it will be there as long as that disparity in wealth and income exists, no mater how “exceptional” Americans believe themselves to be.
Which means massive resources – military, diplomatic and economic – are required to maintain America’s wealth and income edge over the world at large. It’s not easy. If we allow the wrong tin horn dictator to fall, the Shah of Iran for example, the consequences can be devastating.
Put another way, America is an empire in the late stages of overreach. When empires overreach, and they all do, maintenance of empire becomes all consuming. Mistakes at this point matter. In the words of Donald Trump, they matter “bigly.”
That’s where Trump’s most dangerous aspect comes into play. It’s not that he’s more likely to make a crucial mistake than just about any of his predecessors. He undoubtedly is. Maureen Dowd nailed this in her Sunday column, Wild Child Takes Charge:
If the last president was too above the fray, this one is the fray. We’ve gone from no drama to all drama, a high ethical standard to no ethical standard.
Those who go into the Oval Office with chips on their shoulders and deep wells of insecurity, like Nixon, W. and Donald Trump, are not going to suddenly glow with self-assurance. The White House tends to bring out paranoia and insecurity.
Still, it was stunning how fast it got weird. To Trump biographer Tim O’Brien, the new president conjured the image of “a guy on a pogo stick in the Rose Garden bouncing around with a TV remote control in his hand trying to decide what to respond to in the next 30 seconds on Twitter.”
But it’s actually worse than Dowd puts it. Why? Because Dowd is not taking into account those who want to take America down. They’re out there and they’re not stupid. Yes, Trump is in and of himself dangerous. But more dangerous is the potential or, really, the likelihood, he will be goaded into a mistake by a clever adversary.
We already may have experienced this once in our recent history. Thom Hartmann often speaks on his show of how Osama Bin Laden’s purpose on 9/11 was to lure W. Bush into a war, knowing how it would weaken America in the long run. I wrote about this a decade ago under an alias at Daily Kos: Osama: Really Lucky or Really Smart? :
We never should underestimate the enemy. While it’s easy to write off 9/11 as a despicable terrorist act, it is more productive to acknowledge how savvy Bin Laden may have been and how, by electing Bush and Cheney in 2000, we may have given Bin Laden an opening he could drive a truck through.
We never recovered from Bush and Cheney’s mistakes. America is not the country it was 16 years ago, when W took office. We’re something less.
What I said about the election of Bush and Cheney applies one-hundred fold to the election of Trump. Plans are being made at this moment to goad an insecure, narcissistic President into devastating mistakes that will damage America irreparably.
The questions are less about whether those plans ultimately will succeed than they are about how.