The country got a very good idea of how Donald Trump would conduct himself if elected President of the United States during this exchange with Bret Baier during Fox News GOP debate in Detroit last week:
BAIER: Mr. Trump, just yesterday, almost 100 foreign policy experts signed on to an open letter refusing to support you, saying your embracing expansive use of torture is inexcusable. General Michael Hayden, former CIA director, NSA director, and other experts have said that when you asked the U.S. military to carry out some of your campaign promises, specifically targeting terrorists’ families, and also the use of interrogation methods more extreme than waterboarding, the military will refuse because they’ve been trained to turn down and refuse illegal orders.
So what would you do, as commander-in-chief, if the U.S. military refused to carry out those orders?
TRUMP: They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.
BAIER: But they’re illegal.
When Baier pressed Trump about the targeting of terrorists’ families, Trump reiterated, “I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.”
Later in the evening, Trump reiterated his position during an exchange with Marco Rubio stating, “And, frankly, when I say they’ll do as I tell them, they’ll do as I tell them.”
So let’s review.
“They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me.”
“If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.”
“And, frankly, when I say they’ll do as I tell them, they’ll do as I tell them.”
These are the words of a man who is unaccustomed to hearing the word no.
These are the words of a man who is unaccustomed to being told, “No sir, you can’t do that.”
These are the words of a man who is unaccustomed to having either his views or his ways challenged.
When I heard Trump’s words I thought of Richard Nixon’s infamous comment to David Frost immediately came to mind. “Well, when the President does it, that means that it’s not illegal.”
Trump supporters will invariably point out that he did an about-face the day after the debate when he told the Wall Street Journal, “I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that as president I will be bound by laws just like all Americans and I will meet those responsibilities.”
But we must remember this is the same man who during the debate he was “changing” with regard to H1B Visas only to change back to his original position scarcely an hour later. It wasn’t flip-flop; it was a flip-flop-flip.
By Saturday night, following caucus and primary wins in Kentucky and Louisiana, Trump had done a flip-flop-flip on torture. Trump told John Dickerson on CBS’s Face the Nation in an interview that aired Sunday morning that he would “broaden” the rules on torture, stating, “We have to play the game the way they’re playing the game. You’re not going to win if we’re soft and they’re, they have no rules.”
Most politicians flip-flop out of convenience, expedience or after they put their finger in the air to test the winds of public opinion. When tyrants flip-flop they do so not in response to public opinion. Tyrants do not heed public opinion. Rather they flip-flop for the most arbitrary of reasons — they found themselves on the short end of an argument with their wives, their cereal was too soggy, or it was raining outside. The turn of a thumb upwards or downwards can make all the difference in the world between life and death. In Trump’s case, it would be the extension of a stubby, middle finger.
I actually believe Trump when he says he’s never had any problem leading people because with him it’s “my way or the highway.” The “terrific people” he speaks of surrounding himself with are more apprentice than adviser. It is their job to tell him how wonderful his business ideas are. Candor is not part of the job description. Tell the emperor that his apparel is falling and you can expect to be told the magic words: “You’re fired.” Now Trump can run his company as he sees fit (unless, of course, he’s breaking the law by running a scam à la Trump University). But the President of the United States cannot run the country as he sees fit. At least not without Congress and (if necessary) the Courts having their say too.
Yes, it’s true President Obama ran roughshod over Congress and the Courts. But that cannot excuse the conduct of a potential successor. Saying “Well, President Obama did it” just doesn’t cut it. Either we are a nation of laws or we are not. Either we are a republic or we are a dictatorship. Our system isn’t always fair and it isn’t always right, but it is a system that works better than anything else the world has to offer. While it’s true that Obama unilaterally changed Obamacare from the podium of the White House press room and got the Supreme Court to back him on Obamacare twice, he has been held in check where it concerned recess appointments and executive orders issuing work permits to illegal immigrants and, most recently, concerning his climate change initiative against coal-fired power plants.
As contemptuous as Obama is towards Congress and the Courts, Trump shows every indication he will treat these institutions with even less respect. How would Trump react if Congress were to override a veto? How would Trump react if the Supreme Court overturned one of his executive orders? Can anyone discount the possibility he would be prepared to make them “pay a big price,” as he recently threatened to do with House Speaker Paul Ryan if he failed to get along with him? If Trump is prepared to compel the military to commit illegal acts on the battlefield, who is to say he wouldn’t be prepared to compel the military to abolish Congress and the Courts to consolidate his power? Trump may have been joking he could shoot people on Fifth Avenue and his polls would go up. But can we discount the possibility that Trump wouldn’t order the military to shoot American citizens who dare to disagree with him and his policies?
At the very minimum, we ought to be suspicious of a man who has more affinity for Mussolini than he does for Madison. After all, it was Trump who recently retweeted a quote from Il Duce, “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” When Chuck Todd questioned Trump about it on NBC’s Meet the Press, the GOP front-runner was his usual shameless self. “I know who said it,” Trump said defiantly. “But what difference does it make whether it’s Mussolini or somebody else? It’s certainly a very interesting quote.”
I think James Madison offers a far more interesting quote. “Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions.” Somehow I don’t think Donald Trump will be retweeting this quote to his followers anytime soon.