National security adviser H.R. McMaster is in the news — and apparently in the presidential doghouse — for stating the obvious: that evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election is “now really incontrovertible.” So it is appropriate to take, as this column’s theme, the title of McMaster’s book on the Vietnam war, “Dereliction of Duty.”
McMaster was writing about military leaders’ failure to stand up to presidents who insisted on pursuing an unwinnable war. Now, in the White House in which McMaster serves, the dereliction of duty starts at the top. And, as the past several days have shown, President Trump’s failure is dereliction on a grand, unprecedented scale: We find ourselves at war without a commander in chief; in national mourning without a consoler in chief; and in political gridlock without a negotiator in chief.
The first is the most appalling and most terrifying. “Incontrovertible,” McMaster said, and so it is for anyone who bothers to read the indictment of 13 Russians for running a massive operation not only to disrupt the election but to do so to Trump’s benefit. But of course Trump never has and apparently never will be able to accept this. Is it his fragile ego that cannot tolerate the implicit challenge to his legitimacy? Is it something more sinister?
This much is clear: For whatever reason, Trump is unwilling to accept the reality of what happened in 2016 and, more alarming, unwilling to do his duty to seek to prevent it from happening again. We are at war with an enemy plotting to undermine our democracy, and our supposed leader, far from working to halt this, seems determined to ignore it. Where is Trump’s outrage now that the evidence against Russia is public, not that he needed to wait for that? It is invisible.
Instead, Trump’s anger is directed against McMaster, for omitting the untrue party line: “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!”
Trump’s anger is directed against the democratic institutions that have rallied to discover what happened and seek to prevent its recurrence: “If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S. then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!”
Laughing their asses off in Moscow, indeed. There has been not one word, not one syllable of presidential anger directed toward the people who did this.
But there is no depth to which Trump will not sink in defense of the only thing he holds dear: himself. And so, the nation witnessed a tweet in which the president, a leader to whom the country once looked for healing in times of national tragedy, instead used innocent victims, high school children mowed down in their own school, to make his bogus, self-interested point: “Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign - there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!”
Did he? Did he really use dead children to attack an investigation into his campaign and his conduct in office? Yes, he did. This is a person devoid of empathy. He can experience the world only through the prism of his own ego. He can read the requisite words from a teleprompter — “To every parent, teacher, and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you — whatever you need, whatever we can do, to ease your pain” — but he is incapable of feeling them. No one who imagines the shattered heart of a grieving parent could have written that despicable tweet.
Finally, a word about the “dreamers,” and the impending, unnecessary tragedy of Trump’s own making. He wanted a “bill of love” to protect the dreamers, Trump told us. “I will be signing it,” he said of any congressional deal to allow these promising innocents to remain. Trump broke the inadequate status quo for dreamers when he rescinded President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order allowing them to stay. Then he failed to fix it. Then, with an unnecessarily belligerent and premature veto threat, Trump got in the way of lawmakers of good faith attempting a solution.
“Dereliction of duty” is not a strong enough term to describe this man’s abysmal performance.
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