Much of the post-debate analysis I’ve read from last night’s presidential debate has focused on Donald Trump’s crudeness, his threat to prosecute and jail his political opponent, the way in which he stalked her on the stage, looming in the background and crowding her, and finally his non-apology apology about “locker room banter.” Yes: Trump is most definitely lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable, but that’s hardly the worst of his qualities.
His worst quality? His sweeping ignorance to the point of recklessness when it comes to matters of national defense, and specifically America’s nuclear arsenal.
This is what Trump had to say last night about the U.S. nuclear deterrent:
But our nuclear program has fallen way behind, and they’ve gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good. Our government shouldn’t have allowed that to happen. Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We’re tired. We’re exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing.
This is utter nonsense. First off, nuclear weapons are not people. They don’t get “tired” or “exhausted” or “old.” Second, the U.S. nuclear program has not “fallen way behind” the programs of other nations, certainly not Russia’s. Third, even if portions of Russia’s nuclear program are “new” (whatever that means), that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the United States. “New” in this case may mean safer and more reliable systems that are less prone to catastrophic error.
Here’s an undeniable fact: The U.S. nuclear arsenal is by far the world’s most powerful and advanced. The key aspect to nuclear capability is survivability, and nothing is more survivable than America’s force of Trident nuclear submarines. Virtually impossible to detect, America’s Trident force is essentially capable of destroying the world. One submarine carries enough missiles and warheads to devastate every major city in Russia (or any other country, for that matter). What more is needed as a deterrent?
Specifically, an Ohio-class Trident submarine can carry up to 24 nuclear missiles, each with up to eight nuclear warheads, each warhead equivalent to roughly six Hiroshima bombs. That represents a potential for hitting 192 targets, each with six times the impact of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 (which killed up to 200,000 people). That’s 1152 Hiroshimas from one submarine — a rough calculus, I know, but accurate enough to show the awesome might represented by a small portion of America’s nuclear force.
The Trident missiles are also incredibly accurate, with a circular error probability of less than 150 meters. And the U.S. has 14 of these submarines. (Not all are on patrol at any one time.) These highly sophisticated and ultra-powerful submarines are further augmented by land-based ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) and bomber planes (the “air-breathing” element), forming the other two legs of the American nuclear triad. Again, when it comes to redundancy, accuracy, and survivability, no other country comes close to America’s nuclear capability.
This awesome nuclear force is not a sign the U.S. is “old” and “tired” and “exhausted.” It’s a sign that the U.S. is incredibly powerful, and, if you’re a foreign leader, incredibly dangerous, especially if America’s next commander-in-chief is undisciplined, thin-skinned, and in possession of a scattershot knowledge of military matters.
Back in March of this year, Trump boasted at a debate that the U.S. military would follow his orders irrespective of their legality. In this latest debate, he yet again revealed that he has no real knowledge of America’s nuclear capability and how modern and powerful (and scary) it truly is.
Sure, Trump is crude, lewd, and sexist, but those qualities won’t destroy the world as we know it. Ignorance about nuclear weapons, combined with impetuosity and an avowed affection for he-man wild-card generals like George S. Patton and Douglas MacArthur, is a recipe for utter disaster.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his most powerful speech as he left office in 1961. He warned the American people about an emerging military-industrial complex, a complex that was already beginning to erode democratic rule in America. Originally, Ike had Congress as a collaborator with and enabler of that Complex, but he deleted the reference in the final version, apparently deciding that by alienating Members of Congress, he’d only push them further into the Complex’s corner.
The military-industrial complex, the Complex for short, has only grown in power over the last half-century. Today, more than half of Federal discretionary funding goes to it. With the post-9/11 addition of Homeland Security and more and more intelligence agencies (seventeen of them at last count), the Complex continues to grow like Topsy. It consumes roughly $750 billion each and every year, a sum likely to grow whether Trump or Clinton wins the presidency. (Trump has promised to rebuild an allegedly shattered military; Clinton, meanwhile, is a steadfast supporter of the military as well as neo-con principles of aggressive foreign interventionism.)
In the U.S. today, the Complex is almost unchallengeable. This is not only because of its size and power. The Complex has worked to convince Americans that war is inevitable and therefore endless (it’s never the fault of the Complex, of course: it’s the terrorists, or the Russians, or the Chinese …), and also that military service (and spending) is virtuous and therefore a boon to democracy.
America’s founders like James Madison thought differently, knowing from bitter experience and deep learning that incessant wars and standing militaries are an insidious threat to democracy. Nowadays, however, Americans say they trust their military more than any other societal institution, and mainstream society universally celebrates “our” troops as selfless heroes, the very best of America. This moral, indeed metaphysical, elevation of the U.S. military serves to silence legitimate criticism of its failings as well as its corrosive effect on democratic principles and values.
All of these topics I’ve written about before, but I wish to cite them again by way of introducing an article by Maximilian C. Forte, an anthropologist who writes at Zero Anthropology (I first saw his work at Fabius Maximus). The article Forte wrote is on Bernie Sanders and his limitations, but what struck me most was his reference to C. Wright Mills and his analysis of the nexus of interests and power between U.S. capitalism and militarism.
The following extended excerpt from Forte’s article shines much light into the darker corners of America’s corridors of power:
For C. Wright Mills, the problem was not just “Wall St.,” nor the “Pentagon” alone — focusing on one over the other produces a half-headed understanding, with all of the political demerits that result. As he argued in his 1958 article, “the high military, the corporation executives, the political directorate have tended to come together to form the power elite of America” (pp. 32-33). The power elite is what he described as a “triangle of power,” linking corporations, executive government, and the military: “There is a political economy numerously linked with military order and decision. This triangle of power is now a structural fact, and it is the key to any understanding of the higher circles in America today” (Mills, 1958, p. 32).
Contrary to Bernie Sanders, Mills emphasizes the decisive influence of the military in the corporate oligarchic state (as Kapferer later called it):
“The military order, once a slim establishment in a context of civilian distrust, has become the largest and most expensive feature of government; behind smiling public relations, it has all the grim and clumsy efficiency of a great and sprawling bureaucracy. The high military have gained decisive political and economic relevance. The seemingly permanent military threat places a premium upon them and virtually all political and economic actions are now judged in terms of military definitions of reality: the higher military have ascended to a firm position within the power elite of our time”. (Mills, 1958, p. 33)
US politics are dominated, Mills argued, “by a few hundred corporations, administratively and politically interrelated, which together hold the keys to economic decision,” and the economy that results is “at once a permanent-war economy and a private-corporation economy”:
“The most important relations of the corporation to the state now rest on the coincidence between military and corporate interests, as defined by the military and the corporate rich, and accepted by politicians and public”. (Mills, 1958, p. 33)
Mills also pays attention to the history of this type of corporate-military state. The influence of private lobbies dates back deep into US political history, when the influence of railway tycoons, banana magnates, and tobacco barons was considerable at different times. From this Mills discerned the rise of what he called the “invisible government,” which existed starting from at least 50 years prior to his 1958 article…
“Fifty years ago many observers thought of the American state as a mask behind which an invisible government operated. But nowadays, much of what was called the old lobby, visible or invisible, is part of the quite visible government. The ‘governmentalization of the lobby’ has proceeded in both the legislative and the executive domain, as well as between them. The executive bureaucracy becomes not only the centre of decision but also the arena within which major conflicts of power are resolved or denied resolution. ‘Administration’ replaces electoral politics; the maneuvering of cliques (which include leading Senators as well as civil servants) replaces the open clash of parties”. (Mills, 1958, p. 38)
The corporate-military government is tied to US global dominance, and its power increased dramatically from 1939 onwards. As Mills noted, “the attention of the elite has shifted from domestic problems — centered in the ’thirties around slump — to international problems centered in the ’forties and ’fifties around war” (1958, p. 33). (As I argued elsewhere, this shift also registers in US anthropology, which moved from research at home, on domestic social problems, to fieldwork abroad as the dominant norm.)
Rather than challenge the arms industry, whose growing size and power stunned Eisenhower, Sanders would simply tax them more. It is open to debate whether Sanders is offering even half of a solution, and whether he sees even half of the bigger picture. Usually Sanders has voted in favour of military appropriations, supported the financing of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has backed a range of regime change and “humanitarian interventionist” efforts, from NATO’s war in Kosovo, to support for the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act and for regime change in Libya (contrary to his false representations on the latter point). He is also an aggressive supporter of NATO and its anti-Russian posture. While he is not even half of anti-imperialist, some might argue that it is also too generous to see him as half of a socialist–either way, we need to do better than beat each other up with half-answers.
Forte’s criticism of Sanders is spot on. My guess is that Sanders refused to take on the Complex precisely because of its financial, its political, and finally its cultural and societal clout. There are only so many windmills you can tilt at, Sanders may have decided. Yet, notwithstanding his willingness to appease the Complex, Sanders has been relegated to the sidelines by a corrupt Democratic establishment that did everything it could to ensure that one of its own, Complex-abettor Hillary Clinton, won the party nomination.
The fundamental problem for the U.S. today is as obvious as it appears insoluble. The Complex has co-opted both political parties, Republican and Democratic. It has at the same time redefined patriotism in militaristic terms, and loyalty in terms of unquestioning support of, even reverence for, American military adventurism and interventionism. Candidates who have rival ideas, such as Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein, are simply not allowed on the stage. Their voices of dissent are suppressed. They are never heard within the mainstream.
Johnson, for example, has suggested cuts to the Complex approaching 20%; Jill Stein has suggested cuts as deep as 50%. Such suggestions, of course, are never seriously discussed in mainstream America. Indeed, when they’re mentioned at all, they’re instantly dismissed by the “power elite” as the ravings of weak-kneed appeasers or unserious ignoramuses. (Johnson, for example, is now depicted as an ignoramus by the mainstream media because he couldn’t place Aleppo or instantly name a foreign leader he adored.)
We have a new reality in U.S. government and society today: the Complex essentially rules unchallenged. Back in the 1950s, Ike had the military and political authority to constrain it. Today, well, no. There are no restraints. Just look at Hillary and Trump, both boasting of how many generals and admirals support them, as if they couldn’t run for office unless they’d been anointed by men in military uniforms wearing stars.
And America calls this democracy?
Democracy in America is dying. It’s dying because it’s being strangled by winner-take-all capitalism and corrosive militarism. Greed-war is consuming America’s resources. Not just material, not just political, but mental and emotional resources as well. The greed-war nexus as represented and nurtured by the Complex and its power elite is both narrowing and coloring the horizons of America. Tortured by mindless fear and overwrought concerns about weakness and decline, Americans embrace the Complex ever tighter.
The result: America builds (and sells) more weapons, supports higher military spending, and wages more war. Trump or Clinton, the war song remains the same. It’s a narrowing of national horizons, a betrayal of American promise, that we will overcome only when we reject greed-war.
Afterword: The sad part is that Martin Luther King said it far better than I can fifty years ago in this speech on Vietnam. Ike in 1961, MLK in 1967, both prophetic, both largely ignored today for their insights into the “spiritual death” represented by greed-war. Even earlier, General Smedley Butler, twice awarded the Medal of Honor, argued in the 1930s that war is a racket and that it would end only when the profit motive was eliminated from it.
So, if I had one question for Hillary and Trump, this would be it: When it comes to your decision to enlarge the military-industrial complex, to feed it ever more money and resources, what makes your decision right and the warnings of Ike, MLK, and General Butler wrong?
Are there too many articles about Donald Trump? You might say yes, until, that is, you realize the man has a fair shot at being America’s next president. With that disaster in the making, one must speak up, which is what Tom Engelhardt has done at TomDispatch.com. Engelhardt shows us what Trump is all about – and what that reveals about the present American moment.
He’s made veiled assassination threats; lauded the desire to punch someone in the face; talked about shooting “somebody” in “the middle of Fifth Avenue”; defended the size of his hands and his you-know-what; retweeted neo-Nazis and a quote from Mussolini; denounced the outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs and products while outsourcing his own jobs and products; excoriated immigrants and foreign labor while hiring the same; advertised the Trump brand in every way imaginable; had a bromance with Vladimir Putin; threatened to let nuclear weapons proliferate; complained bitterly about a rigged election, rigged debates, a rigged moderator, and a rigged microphone; swore that he and he alone was capable of again making America, and so the world, a place of the sort of greatness only he himself could match, and that’s just to begin a list on the subject of The Donald.
Engelhardt highlights an aspect of Trump that more Americans need to see: Trump the Sore Loser. Consider his first debate with Hillary Clinton. Instead of taking personal responsibility (“I had a bad night, but I’ll win the next one”), Trump blamed everyone else and anything else. The election’s rigged. The media’s against me. My mic was bad. And so on. Everyone’s accountable except himself.
In his sore losership, Trump is much like America. One example: It took (some of) us nearly fifty years to get over defeat in the Vietnam War. In fact, many U.S. “experts” still aren’t over it, arguing that America really won that war (like Trump argued he’d won the debate with Hillary at subsequent rallies), or alternatively that the war was “rigged,” i.e. that American troops were winning until they were stabbed in the back, betrayed by a hostile and biased media and pusillanimous and disloyal civilian leaders. Really?
Here’s another telling excerpt from Engelhardt on Trump:
In relation to his Republican rivals, and now Hillary Clinton, he stands alone in accepting and highlighting what increasing numbers of Americans, especially white Americans, have evidently come to feel: that this country is in decline, its greatness a thing of the past, or as pollsters like to put it, that America is no longer “heading in the right direction” but is now “on the wrong track.” In this way, he has mainlined into a deep, economically induced mindset, especially among white working class men facing a situation in which so many good jobs have headed elsewhere, that the world has turned sour.
Or think of it another way (and it may be the newest way of all): a significant part of the white working class, at least, feels as if, whether economically or psychologically, its back is up against the wall and there’s nowhere left to go. Under such circumstances, many of these voters have evidently decided that they’re ready to send a literal loose cannon into the White House; they’re willing, that is, to take a chance on the roof collapsing, even if it collapses on them.
That is the new and unrecognizable role that Donald Trump has filled. It’s hard to conjure up another example of it in our recent past. The Donald represents, as a friend of mine likes to say, the suicide bomber in us all. And voting for him, among other things, will be an act of nihilism, a mood that fits well with imperial decline.
Trump, in other words, embodies the resentment of Americans who are used to seeing themselves (and their country) as winners, but who now recognize, at least on some level, they are no longer winners – that they may be, horror of horrors, losers. And, much like Trump, they are sore about this – but not sore (or honest) enough to look in the mirror. No – far better to cast about for scapegoats, to shift the blame, to avoid taking any personal responsibility.
Trump is the Sore Loser of sore losers. His (possibly winning?) appeal is to tell certain Americans exactly what they want to hear: That it’s not your fault that you’re losing. No – it’s the fault of others. Mexicans. Muslims. China. Pushy women. The liberal media. You name it.
Trump, as Engelhardt notes, is a declinist candidate, a rare thing indeed. But he’s declinist with a twist. He’s not trying to motivate Americans to be better. There’s no idealism to his pitch. No appeal to the better angels of our nature. No – Trump is all about finding (marginal and vulnerable) people to blame and punishing them.
Again, he’s the sorest of losers. Come this November, Americans need to make sure he remains a loser.
Should the United States reject the “first use” of nuclear weapons? That question was put to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during their first debate. Colonel (retired) Andrew Bacevich asks us to take their answers seriously in his latest insightful essay at TomDispatch.com, which I urge you to read here in full.
Trump was asked to respond first, and his rambling answer, I thought, showed the evidence of someone who had crammed for a test. He was desperate to show he knew something – anything – about America’s nuclear forces (here some may recall how Trump obviously knew little about America’s nuclear triad during the Republican primary debates). So Trump rambled on about obsolete B-52s flown by the sons and grandsons of previous pilots, a non sequitur since the B-52 has been continuously upgraded with new engines, advanced avionics, the latest in high-tech weaponry, and despite their age they’re still more than capable of doing the job. But somebody must have told Trump to use the B-52’s age as a talking point, and he was determined to get it in.
As confused and incoherent as Trump’s reply was (read more about this at TomDispatch.com), at least he tried to grapple with the issue. Trump did reject First Strike. He did refer to the terror of nuclear war, even as he got lost in other talking points about North Korea, Iran, and allegations about how weak on national security Obama is.
By comparison, Clinton’s response was classic Hillary. Avoid and evade. Try to be all things to all voters. Bloviate, in other words, as Warren G. Harding did in 1920. In essence, Hillary ducked the question. She refused to address the issue of first use of nuclear weapons; indeed, she didn’t address nuclear strategy and policy at all. Instead, she drew a contrast between her experience and predictability versus Trump’s inexperience and unpredictability. Her message was clear: I’m not talking about nuclear weapons or policy, except to say you shouldn’t trust Trump with the nuclear launch codes.
Who won on this question? Bacevich is right to say neither candidate won, but it’s clear who lost: the American people. And the world.
It’s shameful that this country hasn’t rejected the first use of nuclear weapons. It’s also shameful that instead of working to eliminate nuclear weapons, the U.S. is actually planning to spend nearly a trillion dollars over the next 30 years to upgrade that arsenal. For what possible strategic purpose, one must ask? America’s current nuclear deterrent is the most powerful and survivable in the world. No other country comes close. There’s no rational reason to invest more money in nuclear weapons, unless you count the jobs and money related to building new nuclear submarines, weaponry, bombs, and all the other infrastructure related to America’s nuclear triad of Trident submarines, land-based bombers, and fixed missile silos.
Neither Trump nor Hillary addressed this issue. Trump was simply ignorant. Hillary was simply disingenuous. Which candidate was worse? When you’re talking about nuclear genocidal death, it surely does matter. Ignorance is not bliss, nor is a lack of forthrightness and honesty.
Next time, Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton, let’s have some rigor, some honesty, and some wisdom on the issue of nuclear weapons. Not only America deserves it – the world does.
It’s a serious question, and I’m not the first to ask it. Michael Moore wrote an intriguing article that suggested Trump was deliberately trying to sabotage his own campaign.
Trump is seemingly doing his best to alienate everyone but white males driven by testosterone. Today, he suggested that military veterans who suffer from PTSD do so because of their own failings, i.e. that they simply can’t handle what stronger veterans can handle. Add this (careless? ignorant?) statement to attacks on a Gold Star mother, the denigration of John McCain’s military service and time as a POW, and all the other attacks on Mexicans, Muslims, even an entire gender (his high school locker room mentality when he talks about women), and you have to wonder how such behavior could possibly be part of a winning strategy.
Why would Trump want to be president? To him, the salary is vanishingly low, and the workload incredibly high. Sure, being president would feed his ego, but Trump is mainly driven by capitalist greed and the celebration of his own magnificence. Being president is burdensome. It can be tedious, even boring. It requires discipline. Self-control. These are realities that don’t play to Trump’s strengths.
Trump is a showman. A braggart. A strutter. He’s thinks of himself as the biggest fish in the smallest pond. He seems to delight in thrashing around and upsetting all the little fish. But he’ll have precious little chance of doing this if he’s shackled to the Oval Office and all the responsibilities that office entails.
One thing is certain: Trump is rewriting all the rules of U.S. presidential politics. It’s hard to keep track of the constituencies he’s offended, the bridges he’s burned, the leaders he’s estranged. That he can still win it all is incredible: indeed, it may be incredible even to Trump.
Trump, I believe, would personally profit far more from losing the “rigged” election than winning it. If he loses, he becomes a martyr, at least in the minds of his followers. He can build a Trump Network/conglomerate that taps all the voters he’s rallied — and riled. He can milk them for all the money they’re worth, and bask in their adulation while being unencumbered by the real responsibilities of holding public office.
By losing, in other words, he’ll really be winning. Between now and the election, look for more outrageous statements by and from Trump. He already knows he can say or do almost anything without losing his core supporters. (As he himself boasted, he could shoot someone in cold blood in New York City and his loyal followers wouldn’t blink.)
Look for him to lose in November as well. And then look for him to clean up — big-time.
What kind of a presidential candidate tweets in the middle of the night about alleged sex tapes involving a former Miss Universe winner? Indeed, what kind of a man does this?
Donald Trump is a chump. I’d call him a chimp, except it would be an insult to chimpanzees everywhere. The man has no discipline, no sense of decorum, and no compassion for others (let’s not forget his signature line, “You’re fired”). Indeed, he seems to revel in humiliating others. This was mildly amusing when he was taking on equals on the stage during the Republican primaries, but it’s disturbing in the extreme to see him bullying the little guys and gals for whom he’s supposedly a champion.
So many sane people and major newspapers have gone on record as being against Trump that there’s little I can add. Sadly, Trump’s followers seem unperturbed and undisturbed no matter his insults and tyrannical behavior.
All I can say is this: Trump is not the kind of man my father taught me to be. My dad, who fought forest fires in Oregon in the CCC, a veteran of an armored division in World War II, a city firefighter for more than 30 years until his retirement, treated people fairly and squarely. He was humble about himself and considerate to others. I can’t recall him insulting others, certainly not in the intentional and hurtful way that Trump directs at others. Trump is especially fond of attacking women or minorities or anyone he sees as vulnerable, the very opposite of my dad’s code of behavior.
Don’t get me wrong: my dad wasn’t perfect. He had his faults. But his faults were not directed at others; he didn’t try to demean or diminish other people, as Trump so obviously enjoys doing. Unlike Trump, my dad wasn’t boastful; indeed, three favorite sayings of his were: “Still waters run deep,” “Don’t toot your own horn,” and “The empty barrel makes the most noise.”
You were right, Dad. The rushing nonsense from Trump exhibits his shallowness; the man is constantly tweeting his own horn; and, like the empty vessel that he is, he makes an awful amount of noise.
Trump: Not the kind of man my father would respect; not the kind of man our country needs. Dump chump Trump.