Losing “Wartime” President Trump Wants Absolute Authority with No Responsibility

This photo never gets old

W.J. Astore

Donald Trump, the self-anointed “wartime” president, the one who believes he deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor, is losing his version of the Vietnam War.  No, not to STDs (sexually translated diseases), which Trump once said was his version of that war.  Trump’s Vietnam is his woefully mismanaged efforts against the coronavirus; even his efforts at propaganda are transparently missing the mark, much like the Five O’Clock Follies (the official government briefings) did during the Vietnam War.

Indeed, Trump even echoes the language of that war, speaking of seeing “lights” at the end of “tunnels” in the “war” on the coronavirus, as Tom Engelhardt notes in his latest article at TomDispatch.com.  Here is how Tom put it:

And yet few who lived through the Vietnam War would be likely to forget that phrase. It was first used, as far as we know, in 1967 when the war’s military commander, General William Westmoreland, returned to Washington to declare that the conflict the U.S. was fighting in a wildly destructive manner was successfully coming to an end, the proof being that “light” he spotted “at the end of the tunnel.” (He later denied using the phrase.) That memorably ill-chosen metaphor would become a grim punch line for the growing antiwar movement of the era.

So let’s say that there’s a certain grisly charm in hearing it from the president who skipped that war, thanks to fake bone spurs, and has talked about his own “Vietnam” as having been his skill in avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, in various home-front sleep-arounds. He once even claimed to radio personality Howard Stern that he should have gotten “the Congressional Medal of Honor” for doing so. (“It’s Vietnam. It is very dangerous. So I’m very, very careful,” he told Stern, speaking of those STDs.)

In any case, to have picked up that metaphorical definition of failure from the Vietnam era seems strangely appropriate for a president who first claimed the coronavirus was nothing, then a “new hoax” of the Democrats, then easy to handle, before declaring himself a “wartime president” (without the necessary tests, masks, or ventilators on hand). In some sense, President Trump has been exhibiting the sort of detachment from reality that American presidents and other officials did less openly in the Vietnam years.  And for this president, Covid-19 could indeed prove to be the disease version of a Vietnam War…

Give Donald Trump credit. He seems to be leading the richest, most powerful country on the planet in an ill-equipped, ill-organized, ill-planned battle (though not in any normal sense a war) against the pandemic from hell. Whether or not it ends in a Vietnam-style helicopter evacuation from that hell (or even from the White House) remains to be seen, but at least the imagery chosen so far has been unnervingly apt, though next to no one in our increasingly bunkable world even noticed.

By any metric, but especially by the daily body count for COVID-19, Trump is overseeing a defeat of monumental proportions, a flailing response and a failing “war” that may end up killing as many Americans as the Korean and Vietnam wars combined.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.  But Trump seems more concerned about getting his name added to COVID-19 stimulus checks than he is about saving lives.  What next?  Coinage that reads, “In Trump We Trust”?

Here’s the thing about Trump: He claims he’s got “absolute” and “total” authority over America, as if he’s a king, yet he takes no responsibility for his actions (or inactions).  All military members know that authority and responsibility are inseparable.  You can’t — or, you shouldn’t — have authority if you’re unwilling to take responsibility.  Authority without responsibility is the very mark of a tyrant or a sociopath.  Yet Trump is already on the record for wanting total control even as he utterly denies any responsibility in his self-declared “war” on the coronavirus.

But this deadly virus doesn’t care about Trump’s vast ego, his empty posturing, and his endless lying.  Sorry, Mister President, you’ve already lost your self-declared “war.”

Update: Three years ago, I compared Trump to the child/petty tyrant in the original “Twilight Zone” episode, “It’s a good life.”  I said “Trump is sending us all to the cornfield.”  Nothing has changed, except now we face a pandemic that can kill in days or weeks rather than the slower calamity of climate change.  Here’s the link: https://bracingviews.com/2017/06/02/trump-is-sending-us-all-to-the-cornfield/

14 thoughts on “Losing “Wartime” President Trump Wants Absolute Authority with No Responsibility

  1. Everything about Trump — his behavior, his speeches, his tweets — screams Narcissistic Personality Disorder! Probably a few other social disorders as well. Then there’s the obvious signs of cognitive decline — the slurred speech, the inability to enunciate random words, repeating the same word 3 or 4 times in one paragraph (indicating aa shrinking vocabulary, and sudden loss of his focus in the middle of a sentence. Unfortunately, Joe Biden shows all the same symptoms, although he doesn’t seem to be quite as severe of a sociopath as Trump — but still a sociopath. Is this the best we can do?

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    1. I find if frightening that so many people are backing Biden solely because they say he’s better than Trump. Ye gods! Pretty much anybody off the street would be better than Trump, but that doesn’t mean I want that person in the White House.

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      1. Right. But because the Established Order forbids us from having a viable political party that’s different from the Dems/GOP dichotomy that’s not much of a dichotomy, how can we expect people to think? “You wanna be rid of Trump, you gotta vote for the other guy!” We’ve been stuck here for damn near forever–Eugene Debs, Henry Wallace, George Wallace (!), H. Ross Perot, Dick Gregory, Jesse Jackson, Jill Stein, numerous Libertarian candidates–none ever had a realistic hope of being elected. I think the USA will be flushed down the crapper before that could change.


  2. Yes, as far as the Establishment goes, Biden vs. Trump is the “best” we can be offered. Even politicians espousing modest reforms–Kucinich, Sanders, I’ll even throw in Marianne Williamson (remember her? some interesting views), etc.–are too “extreme” to be tolerated! That revolting statement speaks volumes, at high volume, about the state of “The Greatest Nation in the History of the World.” I will say it again: Trump is literally mentally DERANGED, not merely displaying multiple sociopathic disorder syndromes. His latest song and dance is that China dragged its heels in revealing its initial virus outbreak–and there may be some legitimacy in that one–and the World Health Organization shall receive no more US funds because…?? Because they too, somehow, tried to make Emperor Trump look bad! Conspiracies galore!

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  3. From NY Times, early evening 15 April: “[main head:]Trump Wanted a Radio Show, but He Didn’t Want to Compete With Limbaugh [subhead:]
    President Trump said he envisioned a show running two hours a day, according to White House officials, and would do it were it not for the risk of encroaching on Rush Limbaugh, the conservative host.”

    What can one say?? We already have TrumpTV, a.k.a. Fox “News.” Apparently that operation now officially participates in the daily virus “briefing.” (Or so I’ve read online. I no longer access broadcast TV myself.) Do we really need him on radio, as well?


    1. Shouldn’t he be doing something — like being president and running the country? Too much work for him, I suppose. How about golf?

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      1. We should bear in mind that, in his demented mind, Trump is “an entertainer”! “Celebrity Apprentice” (I never watched it, I’m happy to say), appearances on “professional wrestling” TV shows, and his whole never-ending campaigning keep him in the spotlight. Seems he’ll say or do anything required to stay in the lead on newscasts. Speaking of “wrestling” (WWE: World Wrestling Entertainment), it seems they sought designation as an “essential business” so they could continue operations (in venues empty of live spectators, one presumes). But the latest news is WWE (their corporate HQ is in Stamford, CT, a hotspot for Covid-19 because many folks commuted between there and NYC) is laying off employees and shrinking their activities. Shed a tear, Donald, for your buddy Vince McMahon! Vince’s wife, Linda, some might recall, made an unsuccessful run for US Senate from Connecticut. I seem to recall she was either appointed to run, or seriously was a candidate to run, the Small Business Administration. The nepotism and business cronyism in this administration is for the record book!


      1. Two British films from 1936, both written by H.G. Wells, spring to my mind. In “Things to Come” decades of warfare and a spreading pestilence (called popularly “the wandering sickness”) have reduced humanity to barbarism, with local warlords battling for regional supremacy (to rule over a ruined civilization!). Salvation lies in the alliance of technicians and aviators calling itself Wings Over the World. A new civilization rises from the ashes, but directed by what’s pretty well a dictatorship (the leader of WOW happens to be named ‘Cabal’), albeit a fairly benign one. Opposition arises, with Sir Cedric Hardwicke playing leader of the reactionaries. But I really want to talk about “The Man Who Could Work Miracles”! [Warning: spoilers follow] “The gods,” one of them played by George Sanders, look down upon the pathetic little animal called Man and wonder at his benighted condition. They decide to conduct a sociological experiment, picking an ordinary little schlub played by Roland Young, and imbuing him with unlimited powers. How will he use them? The little bloke starts getting crazy, rather socialistic, ideas for improving mankind. A colonel played by Ralph Richardson–who specialized in playing reactionaries–tries to talk some “sense” into our hero. The newly empowered fellow decides to teach the old fossilized-minded chap a lesson. He summons all the bigshots in the world–national leaders, the military chiefs, the biggest bankers and businessmen–to the palace he has magically produced for his seat of power and informs them their reign is over. He, George Fotheringay, is running the show now, and he lays down the rules by which society will conduct itself. When the Establishment vehemently objects and challenges him on his powers, he gives the ultimate demonstration of his power by commanding the Earth to cease rotating on its axis. The results are predictably disastrous and “The gods” have to rescind the little guy’s powers and restore things to how they were before the experiment. Perhaps some day, in the far future, humanity may actually produce an improved version of itself, they speculate with cautious optimism.

        And so here we are, saddled with a POTUS who believes HE has absolute power over our lives. Let us hope “The gods” don’t decide to grant him in real life the powers he imagines he already possesses.


  4. Add to that the fact that the US is engaged in huge military operations off the shores of Venezuela, spending millions on stand-off war, and maybe another Panama, instead of stealing PPE’s from states by FEMA. Instead of spending money and effort against COVID-19.
    I did a set of quotes from an October 2019 New York Times article earlier about comparison with Hitlerian thinking and Trump “thinking.”
    Here is another, short quote from the article which seems to fit: “The form of his propaganda was inextricable from its content: the fictionalization of a globalized world into simple slogans, to be repeated until an enemy thus defined was exterminated.”
    Fictional priorities for a fictional world.

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