Normal politicians build their base. Trump is methodically building his own personal army.
There is a great scene in the 1995 Oliver Stone film Nixon where Tricky Dick (played by Anthony Hopkins) is confronted by Al Haig (played by Powers Booth), who tells his boss that the best option is to resign, or else face civil war. This leads to some of the best dialogue in the movie after almost three hours of following a bitter, power-hungry man who never missed an opportunity compare himself to other world leaders (that description sounds too familiar two decades later).
Nixon: What if I stay?
Haig: You have the army.
Nixon: The army?
Haig: Lincoln used it.
If Donald Trump were to see the film today – or just that one segment – he would probably think, “The army... You know, that’s not a bad idea.”
Trump recently declared his July 4th rally as a success, adding “[W]e’ve made the decision - to do it again next year, and, maybe we can say, for the foreseeable future.” I am sure it will happen again. Just don’t be surprised if he starts doing it between holidays.
Donald Trump, 8 July 2019. / CSPAN
Trump loves the military for the same reasons he insults peaceful allies while always extending an olive branch to unstable leaders like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un. He is a bully who likes to put as much muscle behind him as possible. Not surprisingly, his foreign policy is reflective of his actions at home.
For a while, writers have speculated whether Trump is going to leave the White House willingly. Others are already attempting to assess the potential damage. What shouldn’t be ignored is that Trump has been gathering his own personal army almost since the day he took office, surrounding himself with the love of convicts and scoundrels (outside of his normal cabinet).
Say what you will about Barack Obama’s motives, but no one can say he pardoned Chelsea Manning expecting she was going to be his loyal sycophant. On the other hand, Trump’s list of those he has pardoned seems less like benevolent acts and more like goals of a recruitment drive.
Pardoning Joe Arpaio gave Trump a loyal, if ultimately unsuccessful, political ally. He pardoned the ridiculous filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, and now Trump has a one-man ministry of propaganda. Has any U.S. president aided and built up their supporters so shamelessly?
More importantly, don’t you think that his pardoning of two white cattle ranchers who were originally prosecuted under anti-terrorism statutes might have sent a message to some of the alt-right who might also be very willing to hash it out with other Americans?
And what message is there for pardoning Michael Behenna, who killed a naked and unarmed Iraqi prisoner and was already out on parole at the time of Trump’s gift? A Washington Examiner article notes that Behenna can now vote and own guns again. Of course, he can.
Does James A. Fields, Jr. have to be pardoned next for people to understand what is going on?
At this point, it seems like Trump is immune to anything, but what if things get worse for him, and he is forced to leave? Or what if he feels like he should run extra laps at the end of his four, or eight-year run?
What if Trump suddenly announces there are no longer good people on both sides?
Even if Trump doesn’t woo the military to his ways, how many of Trump’s growing list of pardoned “good people” will know exactly what to do when Congress or the American people have finally had enough?🔷
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