Archive for January, 2020

President Bundy?

January 10th, 2020

I have been arguing for a long time that Donald Trump is a psychopath, a creature of stunted humanity, incapable of empathetic understanding of other human beings, whom he regards as mere objects to be exploited and manipulated in the service of his dominant drive for self-aggrandizement.  He was damaged additionally by a traumatic childhood at the hands of emotionally distant and abusive parents.  Over the past few months, Trump’s behavior has raised chilling new questions about the extent of his pathology.

At the end of October 2018, Trump ordered a raid by United States forces in Syria, which resulted in the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the erstwhile Islamic State. Trump watched a live video feed of the raid as it was occurring.  There was no audio, and the video did not show what was happening underground, in the tunnel where dogs cornered al-Baghdadi and three children he had dragged in with him, and where al-Baghdadi blew up himself and the children rather than be shot or captured.  The video showed only blobs of light moving around aboveground, tagged “friend” or “enemy”.  Nevertheless, almost as soon as the raid was over, before he had received any reports from the troops on the ground, Trump exultantly announced the death, reporting as fact his fantasies about the raid, including that al-Baghdadi died a “whimpering and crying” coward.  From his tweets and dramatic embellishment, one thing was clear: Trump enjoyed the experience.  It seems to have made him feel powerful and contemptuous towards his targeted victim. I may be wrong, but I do not recall Trump saying anything in particular about the dead children.  Whatever al-Baghdadi’s demeanor may have been during those final moments, it is fair to infer that his companions were whimpering and crying.  In a blog I posted a few days later, I wrote, “In his announcement of al-Baghdadi’s death, Trump showed us a psychopath enjoying his first violent gratification.  Let’s hope he doesn’t develop a taste for it.”

Fast forward two and a half months.  Trump enjoys another remote-control killing, this time of Iranian General Qassim Soleimani, accomplished by drone rather than by Special Forces.  Soleimani had been gadding about the Middle East for decades, traveling quite openly, organizing various murderous activities and organizations and, incidentally, recently helping the U.S.-led coalition to fight ISIS. He is generally considered to have instigated, caused, or inspired many American deaths.  Since the United States is not at war with Iran, however, none of this made him a legal target of military retribution, an important point reflected in the fact that both President Obama and President Bush, presented with the option to kill Soleimani, declined to do so, as it would have been an extreme provocation and arguably an act of war they were not authorized to commit.

Since Soleimani’s assassination, much lazy commentary has been devoted to making the obvious point that the POTUS, as commander-in-chief, has the constitutional authority to respond militarily to attacks and threats to national security, without prior congressional authorization.  What these bloviators neglect to say is that this does not allow the President to kill at his whim.  In order to distinguish a legitimate, legally justified act of self defense from bald-faced murder, the killing must be necessary to avoid an imminent threat to national security.  Although the White House has invoked the phrase “imminent threat” to justify the attack on Soleimani, it has thus far failed to present any evidence that his activities presented such a threat, or that killing him was necessary to avoid it. The failure to make this case is so glaring that Republican Senator Mike Lee, having attended a confidential briefing on the subject, called it the worst briefing he had attended on a military matter in his nine years as a senator.

Some time in advance of the assassination – we do not know yet whether it was hours, days, or weeks; POLITICO has reported that it was within the past two months, maybe while Trump was still on his al-Baghdadi high – Trump gave the thumbs up to kill Soleimani. Again, although Trump and his defenders claim that this was driven by intelligence indicating an imminent threat, no such intelligence has surfaced.  According to reports, striking Soleimani was included on a list the Pentagon presented Trump of options for responding to heightened Iranian aggressiveness.  They included it as an extreme, intended to drive discussion to the more reasonable measures on the list, and were reportedly “flabbergasted” when Trump went for it.

There being no obvious legal justification for the assassination, widespread suspicion has focused on the likelihood that Trump chose to do it now in order to divert attention from his impeachment.  I find this highly plausible.  It certainly is in line with everything we know about how Trump conducts himself, sacrificing every consideration – legality, truth, national interest, oath of office, loyalty – to whatever he thinks might advantage him in the moment. On the other hand, it seems a bit odd even for Trump that he would take such an extreme action, courting war in a manner that even Dubya had considered too risky.  Maybe there is another motivation, not instead of but in addition to electoral advantage, not a matter of rational deliberation but rather of emotional compulsion, driving Trump further than he otherwise might have gone.

Before going any further, I want to emphasize that what I am about to say does not represent any kind of a firm conclusion, which anyway I am not qualified to make.  This whole post is the product of a dark suspicion, which I cannot shake, and which I think might be worth sharing as part of our collective effort to understand the pickle we are in.  If you want to dismiss what I have to say as rampant crackpottery, be my guest.

Caveat issued, it is significant to me that serial killers tend to be psychopaths who suffered trauma in childhood.  What if Trump’s experience with al-Baghdadi awakened something within him even darker and more awful than his cruel narcissism?  Serial killers tend to observe a certain amount of periodicity in their crimes, depending on circumstances, opportunity, and the amount of time the itch takes to build into something that needs to be scratched.  It took about two and a half months to get from al-Baghdadi to Soleimani.   I wonder what may happen in March or April, and to whom, and with what consequences for the rest of us.