BHARAT KARNAD | 15 JUNE, 2020
The Donald Is a Lame Duck
Set to lose the elections
Sometimes you know when a political leader’s career has ended. Losing an election, of course; in Donald Trump’s case, however, when General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the former US defence secretary, published a damning essay yesterday in the Atlantic magazine. The presidential election will just be a formality, clearing the White House of Trump. The Donald is a lame duck.
In the critical part of his article, Mattis says of Trump that he has “made a mockery of the Constitution” and “is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.” This is a straightforward plea to Americans to vote out Trump.
From the time of a rising Athens, the military has always been held in the highest regard in democracies because it represents in the most basic sense the people’s voluntary participation in their own defence and as the means to realize their ambitions for the nation.
This slight digression about Athens is because US Marine General Mattis, known in the American military as the “warrior monk” and with a personal library of some 7,000 books, always carried into battle copies of Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War and Herodotus’ The Persian Wars.
Any military man so aware of Athenian history would be only too conscious of how great a liability a half-literate demagogue and, by definition, incompetent leader is for a democratic country. The prompt for Mattis’ sounding the tocsin was Trump’s calling out US military units to deal with citizens taking to the streets in most large American cities to protest the public murder of an unarmed, unresisting, black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis.
Mattis’ slamming Trump has particular significance because the President had wrapped himself round the General when he inducted him in his cabinet in the first year of his term. His charge of the president undermining the Constitution arises from the 1st Amendment right freely to peacably protest.
As many American stalwarts expect, Mattis’ coming out openly against Trump will motivate more senior military officers to do the same and undercut the incumbent president’s nationalist credentials. Moreover, so many and so highly regarded retired military leaders emerging in opposition will have a multiplier effect of influencing millions of military veterans — a large domestic constituency, to mobilize against Trump.
He has specialized in fakefully building up a reputation as a successful businessman, but it is unravelling. His flagship Trump Hotel in Washington, DC, for instance, is up for sale, he paid millions to the gullible who sought real estate business wisdom from his scam Trump University and paid very high fees, and threatened to take Trump to court, etc. Politically, other than his base — less than 30% of the white, evangelical, less educated crowd, he is becoming anathema to everybody else.
And things are not smooth sailing on the other fronts that matter either. There is Trump’s usual bluster but neither he nor his Republican Party have any solution for the corona pandemic, a slumping economy, trade war with China, 30 million unemployed, internal unrest owing to the racially-motivated police and vigilante killings, and alienated allies in Europe and Asia. In the event, the US presidency will be handed to Joe Biden of the Democratic Party on a platter along with control of the US Senate.
To paraphrase John Milton’s line, all Biden has to do to gain is stand and wait!
Bharat Karnad is a Research Professor in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi and a national security expert.
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