The past week has made it clear that American government is in crisis, and its cause rests at the very top.
President Trump’s Aug. 15 speech undid the goodwill of his belated condemnation of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis, whose rally in Charlottesville, Va. last weekend left searing images of mayhem usually associated with Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
The vicious, hated-filled violence resulted in three deaths and many injuries. The outrage was bipartisan. Democrats were universally horrified. Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich said “Pathetic, just pathetic… What are we doing to our children to not condemn these people?” Even Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said on TV: “The blame lays squarely on the KKK and the white supremacists.”
Our own Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — whose Asian-American wife Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao stood beside the president when he made his intemperate remarks — finally made a minimum statement that the president should not have equated the white supremacists and their opponents — two days late and way short of appropriate.
I cannot believe the rest of our Republican congressmen and Sen. Rand Paul have not at least met this minimum standard of comment.
Nor can I believe that the party of Abraham Lincoln is not willing to call Trump on inciting and inflaming violence and prejudice.
The August 18 firing of Steve Bannon has been some mitigation but months overdue.
Let’s be blunt: This is way worse than Watergate. Our national soul is at stake. I was moved to tears by the CBS and MSNBC rendering of comments from aging veterans who fought the Nazis in World War II and were stunned and embarrassed, some using language that I heartily agree with but cannot use here. My Kentucky father-in Law, Ed Hodgetts, who died a few years ago, would have been enraged. Trump’s words were not misspoken but deliberate attempts to equate the reaction to the provocation in moral terms. How dare him. This “president” has shown time and again that morality and patriotism are not important to him.
Trump is not fit to command the armed forces of the United States. I personally felt tremendously sorry for Gen. John F. Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, shown hanging his head while Trump was equating white supremacists and neo-Nazis with the Charlottesville counter-protesters. I would like to be a fly on the wall at the Trump family gatherings when his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner and his wife and Jewish grandchildren are present. Bottom Line: Does he not value his family and his country over his violent base?
Let’s not kid ourselves: Lexington may be next. I have seen at least two news sources, one quoting the KKK’s David Duke, that he is thinking of coming to Kentucky to contest movement of our statues away from the old courthouse. Commendably, Mayor Jim Gray and the council have moved decisively to make that happen. They certainly belong in a museum, not in our town square.
In national affairs, the State Department remains a disaster area. The decision to cut personnel and leave key positions vacant remains in place. The Washington Post has reported that Steve Bannon pledged to destroy the American “administrative state.” Vladimir Putin wants to end America’s global leadership. Their unexpected allies are Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Key middle management has been let go at the State Department and Tillerson’s solutions have been described as “bizarre” by a whole string of experts and commentators.
The military’s early warning system remains intact, and the CIA is apparently functioning normally. But the State Department has curtailed vital assignments, failed to staff important ambassadorships and blocked key internal links between the State Department, CIA, White House and Defense. Several officials I know personally have used the term “criminal negligence” to describe the impact of this process.
The key link in all of this is the president. Trump has led, or acquiesced in all of these. He is not paying attention to his job. He is putting us all in danger, and unnecessarily angering very many of us as well as many of our allies.
His party enables this behavior. We do not know how much he is in hock to the Russians but it is clear the debt is huge (no wonder they love him). Special counsel Robert Mueller may produce incontrovertible proof of some or many impeachable offenses. Many already think he has committed impeachable offenses and the Republican Party should have the guts to say so and get on with it. To do otherwise is a betrayal of this country.
In the past few days some key Republican lawmakers have spoken out along these lines: Impeach Trump. More need to do so if they want to save their country and their political standing, and their own souls. And the path for Trump should be clear: Resign or see yourself destroyed.
John D. Stempel is a U.S. Navy veteran, a Foreign Service Officer for 26 years and former director and professor at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce until his retirement in December 2013.