When he announced his intention to withdraw US troops from Syria — exposing the Kurds to the wrath of both their traditional oppressors, the Turks and what remains of the Islamic State group — US President Donald Trump didn’t expect a revolt from his own political base. Yet that’s what he got as Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell and even televangelist Pat Robertson expressed not just their criticism, but also their ire at his decision. They all protested that the US was abandoning its allies — Syrian Kurds — and delivering them to the mercy of their enemies.
To correct what he considered a misinterpretation of his position, Trump tweeted a gentle reminder that he has the power to destroy Turkey’s economy if he chooses to do so, implying that that’s what he would do if Turkey and its military chose to do anything untoward in Syria. The president claimed that he alone will be the judge of Turkey’s behavior thanks to his own “great and unmatched wisdom.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
In modern US culture with its stress on competition and separating winners from losers, any attribute of the winner of any competition
Trump’s full quote turns out to be even more delirious than the phrase mocked by late-night comedians and large swaths of the public as well: “As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).”
Trump is claiming that he alone has inherited or been endowed with some form of magical wisdom that allows him to make decisions without consulting those who have been closest to the context of the decision. In this case that includes the Pentagon, the Kurds, his own Republican Party, Fox News and Pat Robertson, to say nothing of the “ deep state” (the intelligence communities), with which he has been constantly at war. The gist of his message may appear radical but, as is often the case with Trump, it tells a truth all other politicians carefully hide: US foreign policy has always been premised on its capacity to obliterate other economies and cultures.
While most of his critics listed above speak the language of secular and military power, Robertson’s comments on Trump touch on the metaphysical foundations of Trump’s narcissism: “The president, who allowed [Washington Post journalist Jamal] Khashoggi to be cut in pieces without any repercussions whatsoever, is now allowing the Christians and the Kurds to be massacred by the Turks. The President of the United States is in danger of losing the mandate of heaven if he permits this to happen.”
Robertson’s comments tell us more about the underpinnings of this controversy than any of the media commentators and politicians who have accused Trump of betraying America’s allies in the Middle East. The televangelist cites a “mandate of heaven” that, though it obviously corresponds to nothing in the US Constitution — which in its First Amendment called for the separation of church and state — is drilled into the minds of the American public from a very young age in the pledge of allegiance affirming that the US is “one nation under God.” And don’t forget the final words of practically every political speech: “God bless America.”
In Robertson’s Christian theology and the rest of the political class’s secular theology, heaven as a decision-making body clearly outranks even the United Nations Security Council. If you believe that the actions the US undertakes abroad, including war, have the approval of the divinity, then the interests of other nations and peoples need not be considered. Whereas in the past, the divinity commanded unseen and generally unarmed hosts of angels to do good in the world, for many Americans heaven now counts on the very visible troops of the US military. It offers mandates to the US president and the Pentagon — routinely identified as “a force for good” — to establish order in various places around the globe.
As a respected preacher, Robertson acts as a kind of interpreter of divine mandates. He believes that the matchless Trump doesn’t quite match up with Robertson’s own political god, a divine being who occasionally (but only occasionally) gets upset about which people may be dying as a consequence of US foreign policy. Killing Vietnamese, Afghans, Iraqis or Yemeni has never seriously disturbed Robertson. And whereas one year ago he saw no reason to punish the Saudis for the Khashoggi murder — “For those who are screaming blood for the Saudis — look, these people are key allies” — Robertson now holds that assassination of the Saudi journalist against Trump.
Donald Trump’s hyperreality show continues to produce breathtaking, suspenseful drama, “full of sound and fury” and capable of deforming history into something that signifies nothing other than the show itself. It’s a show that attracts eyeballs and the media delight in, but what it displays is precisely the absence of meaning in the policies, both present and past, pronounced by presidents named Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
All of them in their various ways have appeared as “poor players” content to “strut and fret” upon the stage, implementing policies that ended up “signifying nothing.” Some of them have reached the tragic height, if not of Macbeth, then of Richard III. The latest one offers us something more akin to Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, a king who loved nothing more than obliteration.
But Trump’s predecessors were game for the show, just with a little less bluster. Whether it was wars in the Middle East, deregulating Wall Street and the banks, privatizing the penal system to racist ends, standardizing testing in the interest of producing robotic learners or developing — in the name of security — a surveillance state designed to undermine personal freedoms. These were the very freedoms that Americans believed to be their particular contribution to history, while at the same time proclaiming their dedication to liberty and human values. This strutting and fretting has come to assume a predominant place in the theater of politics and replaced the rational, enlightened decision-making traditionally attributed to the nation’s 18th-century founders.
Trump is far from being the first incoherent and disingenuous president. There is even a logic or at least consistency in his ranting tweets. He has been saying since the launch of his presidential campaign in 2015 that he wanted to bring US troops home and let the other players in the Middle East work things out for themselves. That would allow him to concentrate on “making America great” at home. As for his self-celebration, he has been claiming since early 2017 to be “a very stable genius” and is now employing his matchless wisdom not just to bring the troops home, but to put on a bigger show thanks to his power to obliterate other economies. That is what he meant by “America First.”
The matchless thinker is nevertheless training for his match of the century in 2020 — a 15-round or rather 15-month championship bout, which will be billed as the first opportunity to reelect a mindless, politically ignorant clown, at least since 1984, when Reagan ran for reelection (and won). Mindless works in US politics, as both Reagan and George W. Bush have proved, both of whom were easily reelected even after proving the depths of their incompetence.
And in P.T. Barnum’s hyperreal world of entertainment that nearly two centuries ago provided the model for contemporary politics, clowns have always been deeply appreciated.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.