Much of the production of H.P. Lovecraft, American writer of horror and science fiction works that worked during the first decades of the twentieth century, is characterized by unexpected encounters with the incomprehensible, with shows, sounds and ideas that undermine and disturb reality as understood by his characters. When faced with things too monstrous to be real but that nonetheless exist, the Lovecraftian protagonists either reject their senses or fall into madness because they cannot live with what they have known.
As for Donald Trump. Sometimes it seems that our political class is that lovecraftian protagonist, while striving to understand an incomprehensibly abnormal president. The reality of Donald Trump – an amoral narcissist without any capacity for reflection or personal growth – has been evident since the decades he has been in public life. But instead of confronting it, too many people reject the reality before them and opt for an illusion instead of the disturbing truth.
Last week was an excellent example of this phenomenon. On Thursday night, the United States killed General Qasem Soleimani of Iran, leader of the Quds Force and one of the most powerful military leaders in the region. The attack was sudden and unexpected. The White House notified Congress only after what happened, with a brief and confidential document.
Soleimani's assassination was equivalent to a declaration of war and has intensified tensions between the United States and Iran. Tehran has already promised a "hard revenge" against the United States, while Trump said Iran would be "VERY FAST AND VERY HARD ATTACKED" if he fulfilled his threat and promised to bomb "52 Iranian sites," including "important places for Iran & Iranian culture. "
This confrontation, whose last manifestation was the launch of Iranian missiles against bases in western Iraq on Tuesday night, is so momentous that it is difficult not to attribute some logic to the president's actions, even though many observers recognize lies and dysfunction surrounding the attack. It's natural. As human beings, we want to impose order on what we see. As Americans, we want to believe that our leaders understand the seriousness of the war. Traditional news media published detailed descriptions of the president's decision-making process. Observers who support what has been done, such as Matthew Continetti of The Washington Free Beacon, hailed the attack for considering it an "impressive blow to international terrorism and a reaffirmation of US power." News cable channel analysts spoke as if this were part of a calculated plan to challenge the Iranian government.
But since then we have realized that the attack on Soleimani was almost certainly another impulsive act of an impatient president. Pentagon officials have said the decision stunned them. As published in the Times, Trump was given the option of launching an attack with the expectation that he would reject it for being too extreme.
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insist on an attack on Iran for some time, but the confusion of recent days – ambivalent messages and changing explanations – is proof that this attack was carried out without think too much about the consequences and justified it after it was done claiming that there was an imminent danger.
This is reckless but not shocking. Trump is not someone who has self-control. He has never had it. Three years in his position have not modified his character or improved his ability. He is as ignorant and selfless as president as he was as a candidate (and as an aspiring tycoon before that). Its main objective is self-preservation, and it will sacrifice anything to achieve it.
His current attack on congressional authority – his refusal to have the White House or members of his government hand over documents or respect citations – is an attempt to escape responsibility for his own unethical (and potentially illegal) actions. It is self-centered, immoral and unstable: dangerous combination in the commander in chief of the most powerful military forces in the world, under the pressure of an impeachment and a campaign for re-election.
I think most observers know that. But the implications are scary. They indicate that we will have a much more dangerous world than the one in which we already believe we live, where, in an attack of rage, a single act performed by a single man could have catastrophic consequences for millions of people.
This observation is not new. When he was still his rival – and not one of Trump's most reliable allies – Senator Marco Rubio of Florida warned Republicans that they should not give "the nuclear codes of the United States" to an "erratic individual." Hillary Clinton said Trump was "temperamentally unfit for a position that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility" and that "a man who can be made to bite the hook with a tweet is not a man we can entrust nuclear weapons "
The fear of what Trump would do with the power of the presidency was so acute that his advocates in fact urged his critics to ignore his words and pay attention to the symbolic meaning, to take it "seriously" but not "literally." You can even understand the constant urge to normalize Trump as an attempt to turn his back on the reality of what it is for fear of what it means.
Somehow, we keep doing it. Everything we know about Trump tells us he doesn't make thoughtful decisions. Pence and Pompeo may have campaigned for an attack on Iran, but there is no evidence that Trump – the president-in-office – has made plans to face the consequences or has reasons to launch the attack outside his usual style of bellicose nationalism . When Iran counterattacked on Tuesday night, the president did not speak, although of course he tweeted. No one knows what the government will do next.
With his negligent attack, the president could have started a war without a plan to end it and without consideration for the lives that will be lost. The situation is precarious. It's scary to think about her. But we can't look the other way.
Jamelle Bouie. The New York Times
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