When Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama warned last year that Donald Trump was unfit to control the U.S. nuclear arsenal, it wasn’t partisan campaign trail hyperbole, but rather a point of nearly global consensus. Nuclear deterrence experts said that his presidency would slightly but meaningfully, and thus unacceptably, increase the risk of a miscue, and even Trump’s supporters seemed to understand as much. The psychotic but influential pro-Trump treatise “The Flight 93 Election” began with a stark admission.
“2016 is the Flight 93 election,” wrote Micheal Anton, who has gone on to serve in a senior national security role in the Trump administration. “(C)harge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You -- or the leader of your party -- may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.”
Trump may destroy the world, in other words, but that’s better than another few years of liberal rule. Nobody needs to love liberalism to grasp, a year later, that this cost-benefit analysis was demented and that the country made an error in embracing the logic, wittingly or otherwise. Now, as Trump makes unhinged threats to begin a nuclear war against North Korea, anyone who deluded themselves into taking a flier on the Trump presidency no longer has any excuse for not recognizing what’s been plain all along: It is not remotely safe for him to hold this office.
Politicians like to frame their agendas in terms of the ways policies will shape the world they will leave behind to future generations. Conservatives promote the retrenchment of the welfare state by describing it as the source of unsustainable debts our “children and grandchildren” will have to pay down. Nearly everyone else treats global warming in essentially the same way. The risks of climate inaction will mushroom in the future, making it immoral for the masters of today’s universe to be indifferent to greenhouse gas emissions.
The right’s embrace of Flight 93 thinking has accelerated this generational logic, but only as it applies to the policy end of removing Trump from office. It was overwhelmingly old people who handed Trump the power to end all life on the planet, against the overwhelming wishes of people who will inherit it from them. Young people don’t simply regard Trump as a less-than-ideal steward of their futures, but as a poison forced upon them by elders who have disclaimed any responsibility for bequeathing their offspring a bright and kind and healthy civic life. In exchange for this darkened future, Trump’s enablers were promised everything from lower taxes (financed by cutting health care for younger people) to culture war to a nonspecific assault on the political establishment.
In a best-case scenario, Trump supporters will pocket few of these spoils. On the other hand, we may end up in a massive war.
I’d hazard to guess that most of the experts who believed Trump’s presidency would increase the risk of a nuclear exchange don’t now think such an exchange is likely, let alone inevitable. But this reckless ratcheting up of the threat should be unacceptable to everyone, and is most proximately offensive to the generation of people who will be forced to answer for such a horrifying legacy.
A willing Congress could remove Trump, and swiftly if majorities were so determined. That there is no such willingness or determination, least of all from members of Trump’s own party, may prove to be a greater generational crime than any his narcissistic cohort has inflicted thus far. Republican leaders have proven they can’t be trusted to take anything other than narrow self-interest seriously. Our best hope is that they can now see that Trump no longer serves those interests either.
Just this week, Trump turned on one of them. For several days now, he and his state-media allies have engaged in a coordinated assault on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom they blame for the failure of Obamacare. McConnell, to be clear, couldn’t be worthier of this reckoning. The basic deception at the heart of the Obamacare repeal campaign was his creation, as, in meaningful ways, is Trump’s presidency itself. That the madman McConnell brought to power is now wise to, and unhappy with, McConnell’s cynicism is a Shakespearean subplot in our otherwise quotidian flirtation with Armageddon.
Republican elected officials aren’t happy about it. All who’ve had the temerity to speak up have risen to McConnell’s defense. But Trump’s disloyalty to his protectors in Congress isn’t specific to McConnell.
In a statement accompanying his signing of a bill weakening his discretion over Russian sanctions, Trump scolded the entire Republican Party for handing him “seriously flawed” legislation. Days later, when asked about new sanctions tha Russian President Vladimir Putin had imposed on the United States through the expulsion of scores of U.S. diplomats, Trump literally thanked him. He’s broken faith not just with his own party, but with the people sworn to serve our interests abroad, at real personal risk. It is White House policy that the sanctions we impose on an adversarial government betray America, but the sanctions that country imposes on America are a blessing in disguise.
Trump’s core supporters can’t see this disloyalty for what it is, because conservative agitprop media will reframe any developments like these as evidence of disloyalty to Trump -- or, where they can’t spin inconvenient facts away, they simply won’t report them at all. But the people who have the power to end Trump’s presidency -- to protect the public from someone who has no business holding high office -- can see it, because they are now the victims of it, too.
It has been widely noted that conservatives lack the empathy to consider the consequences of their decisions until those consequences hit home. Trump is threatening Republican lives and Republican priorities right now. If only on that selfish basis, please remove him from power.