There were a lot of reasons why I strongly opposed Donald Trump as the GOP nominee and thought his potential election was a bad long-term deal for both the country and conservatism. Many of them were further exposed by a random tweet this morning, apparently provoked by something our president-elect randomly saw on cable television:
Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2016
We have all been desensitized to insanity by Trump’s ability to tweet complete nuttiness, even after being elected President of the United States, However, this should still make all of us, especially those “conservatives” who supported him, very nervous.
The idea of taking away someone’s citizenship rights because they engage in behavior which our courts have ruled is free speech protected by the First Amendment is not just absurd, it is anti-American and seemingly tyrannical. Some “conservatives” have lamely defended this scary concept by saying that Hillary Clinton once supported a bill with penalties for flag burning, but even her efforts did not go nearly as far to eviscerate free speech as Trump’s tweet did (not to mention, since when is Hillary now the standard for how a “Republican” president should be thinking/acting?!).
The other aspect of this tweet which is so troubling (other than, of course, we now all forced to be obsessed with the Twitter feed of our president-elect) is what apparently triggered it. Trump’s tweet came just minutes after a segment aired on Fox News Channel about students burning the American flag. While hardly definitive proof, based on what we know of Trump’s modus operandi, it seems a pretty good bet that this happened simply because he got irritated by something he saw while eating his breakfast.
Think about that for a moment. This is the type of whimsical pronouncement you would expect from a third-world dictator or a failing monarchy. It is also further proof that Trump, just as many of us tried to warn you, is uniquely unsuited for the job of president from both a temperamental and philosophical standpoint.
Assuming the “Fox News Channel theory” is correct, it also blows apart a very popular notion among some “conservatives” (especially in the realm of talk radio, where Rush Limbaugh has already assured his listeners that Trump shouldn’t be taken seriously on this whole flag thing) that Trump is really a political genius who is playing “eight-dimensional chess,” while the news media is underestimating him by thinking he is just making it all up as he goes along. It is very clear that the greatest divide in what is left of the conservative movement is whether you see Trump as crazy like a fox, or just plain crazy. Is he the “Wizard of Oz,” or just the confused man pulling the levers from behind the curtain?
This episode certainly strengthens my argument that he is obviously the latter, only with, at least so far, a lot more luck.
While there are obvious/chilling parallels to Trump’s emergence George Orwell’s “1984,” I see him more as more buffoon than tyrant. I don’t believe that he is Hitler, or Stalin, or Mussolini, or even Putin. In fact, I think the left is setting him up for at least temporary success by lowering the expectation bar so incredibly that it will be almost impossible for his presidency, at least in some ways, to not be seen as a pleasant surprise (especially when they realize that he’s actually quite liberal himself).
However, my greatest fear about Trump are the long-term ramifications of him effectively disarming our collective defenses against the forces of tyranny because we don’t take him very seriously (the media’s post-election narrative that Trump voters were somehow “wise” because they took him “seriously but not literally” is a pure navel-gazing rationalization). Even if we assume that Trump doesn’t try to become some sort of king (even though his entire business and television career has been based on creating a king-like figure with similar authority), he will undoubtedly make it FAR more difficult to stop a potentially REAL dictator should they come around within the next generation.
After all, if in the near future there is a charismatic populist who is saying that we need to suspend civil liberties in the name of “law and order” and “making America great again,” there is a very good chance that warnings against them will be discarded as lacking credibility. The thinking will go, “You told us Trump was going to be a dictator and he wasn’t, so why should we worry about this guy?!”
For a country as strong as America once was to implode from within requires far more than one or two major blows to its fortification. It takes time for the foundation to erode to the point where it is vulnerable to ultimate destruction. Trump’s election shows that this process is very much underway. It will also likely be a force of further corrosion and potentially create an opening for a far greater evil to take hold (this is part of why, in the long run, I’m honestly not sure if it is better for the country for Trump to be considered a “success” or a “failure”).
In the short run, this episode once again reveals the fallacy of conservatives giving up so much in order to support Trump because they, understandably, want to protect Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat. As I have argued several times before, why in the world would we expect Trump to stand and fight for a “constitutional conservative” replacement, even after the Democrats inevitably filibuster that person, when he clearly neither understands nor even vaguely supports the basic tenets of the Constitution? This hope is especially naïve when one considers Trump’s tendency to negotiate, cut, and run from such battles, like he did with the Trump University settlement.
Like many other others, I was wrong about the chances of Donald Trump winning the presidency. I still doubt that I will ever be shown to be wrong about who he really is, and why he is a long-term threat to the essence of who we are (or were) as a nation.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.