Trump: A Worrisome Commander-in-Chief

Trump holds a rally with supporters at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Michigan, U.S.
He doesn’t speak softly, even as he now inherits a very big U.S. military stick. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

W.J. Astore

I’d never watched a U.S. presidential candidate who scared me – truly scared me – until the Republican debate on March 3, 2016.  This candidate literally gave me the creeps.  As a historian and as a retired U.S. military officer, his answer to a question on torture and the potential illegality of his orders if he became the military’s civilian commander-in-chief horrified me.  The next day, I wrote a short blog post in which I argued that this candidate had disqualified himself as a candidate for the presidency.  That candidate’s name was Donald Trump.

What did candidate Trump say that so horrified me?  He said this: They [U.S. military leaders] won’t refuse [my illegal orders]. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.  After again calling for waterboarding and more extreme forms of (illegal) torture, as well as not denying he’d target terrorists’ families in murderous reprisal raids, candidate Trump then said this: I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.

As I wrote at the time, “Our military does not follow blindly orders issued by ‘The Leader.’ Our military swears an oath to the Constitution.  We swear to uphold the law of the land. We don’t swear allegiance to a single man (or woman) as president.”

“Trump’s performance … reminded me of Richard Nixon’s infamous answer to David Frost about Watergate: ‘When the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.’ No, no, a thousand times no.  The president has to obey the law of the land, just as everyone else has to.  No person is above the law, an American ideal that Trump seems neither to understand nor to embrace.”

“And that disqualifies him to be president and commander-in-chief.”

Yes, I wrote those words just before the Ides of March.  And yet here we are, with Trump as our president-elect and, come January 2017 the U.S. military’s next commander-in-chief.  What the hell?

Confronted with criticism of his remarks that the U.S. military would follow his orders irrespective of their legality, Donald Trump soon walked them back.  But for me his dictatorial instincts, his imperiousness, and, worst of all, his ignorance of or indifference to the U.S. Constitution, stood revealed in horrifyingly stark relief.  Little that Trump said or did after this major, to my mind disqualifying, gaffe convinced me that he was fit to serve as commander-in-chief.

Here’s what I wrote back in March about the prospect of Trump serving as commander-in-chief:

Donald Trump: Lacks an understanding of the U.S. Constitution and his role and responsibilities as commander-in-chief.  Though he has shown a willingness to depart from orthodoxies, e.g. by criticizing the Iraq War and the idea of nation-building, Trump’s temperament is highly suspect.  His bombast amplified by his ignorance could make for a deadly combination.  Hysterical calls for medieval-like torture practices are especially disturbing.

Another disturbing tack he took was to suggest that he’d clean house among the military’s senior ranks — apparently, America today doesn’t have enough men like George Patton and Douglas MacArthur, Trump’s all-time favorite generals.  Patton was a notorious hothead, and MacArthur was vainglorious, egotistical, and insubordinate.  Leaving that aside, Trump doesn’t seem to understand that the president is not a dictator who can purge the military officer corps. Officers are appointed by Congress, not by the president, and they serve at the will of the American people, not at the whim of the president.

Combine Trump’s ignorance of the U.S. Constitution with his cavalier attitude toward nuclear weapons and you truly have a combustible formula.  Clearly, Trump had no idea what America’s nuclear triad was during the Republican primary debates, but few people in the media seemed to care.  (Gary Johnson, meanwhile, was pilloried by the press for not knowing about Aleppo.)  Trump gave statements that seemed to favor nuclear proliferation, and seemed to suggest he saw nuclear weapons as little different from conventional ones.  He also repeated that hoary chestnut, vintage 1960, that some sort of “missile gap” existed between the U.S. and Russia: the lie that Russia was modernizing its nuclear forces and the USA was falling hopelessly behind.  Again, there was little push back from the press on Trump’s ignorance and lies: they were enjoying the spectacle and profits too much.

When it comes to nuclear war, ignorance and lies are not bliss.  Can Trump grow up?  Can he become an adequate commander-in-chief? America’s future, indeed the world’s, may hinge on this question.

5 thoughts on “Trump: A Worrisome Commander-in-Chief

  1. I believe the media must shoulder an enormous chunk of the blame as to why we are now stuck with Trump as our leader. They took way too long to decide it was time to show his faults, issues, sexual assaults, etc. For months on end they followed him like excited puppies, even though he bashed them repeatedly, they always followed. When they finally got together collectively to show what an asshole he really is, it was too late. Newspaper journalists and the cable news reporters are 2 totally different entities however they all behaved irresponsibly for far too long. Cable news was the absolute worst because they followed this jackass around incessantly all day, everyday. They created this monster. As much as he decries the media, he’s full of shit because his ego needs the coverage. I always said how come he complains about the unflattering coverage but at the same time complains if they’re not covering him. You can’t have it both ways damn it. Needless to say I didn’t vote for him. I have no respect for him. He’s going to destroy what was a great country up until November 8, 2016. Just as he denied the legitimacy of Obama for 8 years, I like many others, will deny his legitimacy. I can’t wait to see the horrified look on his voters faces when he begins to strip their rights away 1 by 1 and NONE of his promises come to light. I can’t wait to say too damn bad, you got what you wished for. It’ll be much more vulgar but that’s not necessary here. Needless to say I’m extremely worried for our future and I’m hoping, maybe a little too much, that something happens and we’re spared 4 years of this lunatic!!


  2. Now, the Democrat Party, including President Obama and Hillary Clinton, and its supporters are fanning the flames of intolerance by not condemning violence in the streets by people protesting the outcome of a legitimate election. Also it shows the insincerity of President’s statement on unity after the election by not condemning intolerance. Protesting the result immediately after an election shows disrespect for democratic process and criminality when people and property are harmed for voting differently. I believe in legitimate protest but this has all the hallmarks of a dictatorial mindset embedded in intolerance. The fact that many college students are engaging in this conduct indicates that portions of the academic community are not fully educated on the democratic process by highlighting a one-sided view reflecting intolerance to others. The vast unethical defects and potential criminality of Hillary Clinton are shielded or ignored by a corrupt and biased mainstream media harming democracy. The Democratic Party condones political violence which the press ignores or marginalizes.

    We have a Congress with the power of checks and balances to thwart a rogue president, not a mob in the streets despising the results of an election which has occurred in some cities.


  3. I have grown utterly sick and tired of this incessant “Commander-in-Brief” business, as if the United States cannot possibly get along in the world by focusing on its own manifest problems while granting to other nations the freedom and dignity of taking care of their own concerns, as they see fit, without careerist American military meddling that only makes matters worse for everyone concerned. If President-elect Donald Trump can actually commit our country to a course of internal economic repair while disassociating us from ruinous Warfare Welfare and Makework Militarism — and I remain skeptical that he can — then he might possibly do our country and the world some good. But at the very least we should return our Presidency to its principal role as civilian manager of our own society and its economic health. Fifty state militias and a Coast Guard ought to suffice for defending America from renegade Afghan poppy farmers and pajama-clad Asian peasants paddling their canoes madly across vast oceans hallucinating about invading and occupying a few hundred yards of American beachfront property. What a chicken-shit country the United States has become: terrified of its own shadow.

    At any rate, my favorite observations concerning the Karmic fate of You-Know-Her, the Queen of Regime-Change Chaos [Honduras, Ukraine, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, etc.], come from from Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert of The Keiser Report — Episode 992, hosted by

    Max Keiser: “The most spectacular political flameout in American history. She came to rejoice. She left in a body bag. Hillary Clinton. Probably never to be heard from again. What was supposed to be a celebration turned into a funeral. Oh, my God. What a catastrophe.”

    Stacy Herbert: “The voters came. They saw what Hillary Clinton stood for. And she died a political death. A quite gruesome one, almost as gruesome as the one she inflicted upon [Moammar] Gadaffi of Libya. … the fact that she had said ‘We came. We saw. He died,’ about Gadaffi, and then ‘Ha Ha Ha,’ she cackled … that should have disqualified her from the very beginning.”

    I recommend the entire program, especially some words with economist Michael Hudson toward the end regarding U.S. policy towards China [a country which makes nearly everything Americans buy at Wall Mart while loaning Americans the money to buy it], but here I only wish to agree with the view of You-Know-Her as a soulless, empty-shell psychopath whose political passing neither the United States nor the civilized world need rue in the slightest. But I put all of this in verse a year ago and it pleases me no end to see that I need not change a word of my poem today. So let us hear it once again for the former president of the Young Republicans at Wellesley College, otherwise known as the Madame Chiang-Kai-Shek finishing school for upwardly nubile young debutantes:

    A Glib Giddy Ghoul / Goldwater’s Girl
    (Venimus. Vidimus. Et Mortuus Est)

    “We came. We saw. He died,” she cackled,
    This chicken hen hawking her bile,
    Amused at the bleeding and shackled
    Gaddafi upon whom would pile
    Jihadists with red hatred spackled,
    And all so Dame Clinton could smile.

    Or, alternatively:

    On hearing of Gaddafi’s savage murder
    She smiled and joked: “We came. We saw. He died.”
    Apparently, she thought that those who heard her
    Would share her chickenhenish war-slut pride.

    She campaigned in her youth for Bomber Barry
    Goldwater, who from Arizona came;
    Who made his money ripping off the natives
    On reservations where he staked his claim.

    Our You-Know-Her worked hard for Bomber Barry
    Who swore that if elected he would kill
    Vietnamese who found us less than scary
    In numbers that would break their iron will.

    A pantsuit with no principles or vision
    Just raw ambition: naked, stark, and vain.
    If peace might happen, war is her decision.
    Goldwater’s Girl is just a John McCain.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2015


    1. Good stuff. I voted third party — I could stomach neither Hillary nor The Donald. Both were dubious choices for commander-in-chief, but to my mind Trump is worse, simply because he’s proud of his own ignorance, and appears to think the greatest generals are Patton and MacArthur, one a decent if hotheaded tank commander, the other an insubordinate megalomaniac. Not good news, fellow crimestoppers.


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