Shakespeare’s Richard, Duke of Gloucester, opened a play lamenting “the winter of our discontent … made glorious summer by this son of York.” For most Americans, this is the summer of our discontent, replete with disease, depression and disturbance. Yet, we hope that we will have a glorious fall made bright by a son of Delaware. Perhaps.
After the presidential elections of 2000 and 2016, in which the candidate chosen by the plurality of Americans did not win, I take nothing for granted. July opinion polls giving Joe Biden a double-digit lead nationwide and, importantly, in key battleground states, may give grounds for greater comfort with the outcome. Neither Al Gore nor Hillary Clinton had margins as great. But neither were running against an incumbent, let alone one as sociopathic as this one.
In seven calls this year with Vladimir Putin, Trump has apparently not bothered to mention the reports that the GRU, Russia’s intelligence service, is paying Afghans to kill American soldiers, but we actually know little or nothing of what this phone friendship involves. Transcripts, if they exist, are not made public. Even translators’ notes from Trump’s in-person discussions with Putin have been seized and destroyed.
It is not impossible, however, that they have discussed Trump’s plummeting poll numbers. Perhaps Tsar Vladimir has ideas about what Trump might do to reverse his fortunes. A desperate Trump, of course, might do almost anything, perhaps even what Putin might suggest.
“What would Putin do?” Actually, we know. Putin was also significantly behind in the polls prior to a presidential election. It was 1999. Then apartment buildings began to explode, killing and injuring residents. Putin blamed secessionists from the Chechnya region. Putin arranged to be placed in charge of a violent crackdown there, killing even more Russian citizens. Putin became a national hero for killing those rebels who would stoop so low as to blow up apartment buildings. Putin was successfully elected president of the Russian Federation. Only later did evidence emerge that “Putin’s People” (the name of a well researched new book by Catherine Belton) may have been behind the terrorist attacks.
If you think that level of sociopathy and depravity could not have happened, that this assertion is some wild conspiracy theory from dank corners of the internet, think again. U.S. and allied intelligence agencies believe that is what happened. Belton presents the details in convincing fashion. Given the parade of poisonings, defenestrations and shootings of Putin’s leading opponents, why would we think that he would have balked at blowing up a few apartment blocks to become president?
As made clear in Mary Trump’s recent psychological presidential profile of her uncle, our incumbent chief executive also appears to be a sociopath, one who is incapable of feeling empathy or guilt. What would such a man do to compensate for double-digit deficits in polls? What would he do to avoid the public ridicule of defeat, especially since he apparently cannot deal with embarrassment?
Do not think narrowly when answering that question.
A president can easily initiate a war and blame another country for having done so. Iran and North Korea come to mind. An incident at sea or in international airspace might well lead to quick escalation. Thinking he could become a hero president, Trump might think he could declare victory after a round of bombing. In the real world, war with either country would at best deliver a Pyrrhic victory.
Domestically, the president might order his federal police forces to respond vigorously to some heinous act, which calamity he would blame on the almost nonexistent antifa “terrorist group.” The predicates for such actions have been on display in Portland, Oregon.
When the new crisis occurs, when the shocking event happens, be prepared. The Donald will attempt to save us, perhaps from a problem he and his friends created. We do not yet have a vaccine against COVID-19, but we need now to inoculate the media and the electorate for what may be about to happen. Trump down by double digits makes this a dangerous time.
Richard A. Clarke is a former counterterrorism official for Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.