After seventy days of blundering, Donald Trump just wrapped up his first successful week in the White House. He earned acclaim by doing two uncharacteristic things:
First, Trump kept a major campaign promise.
Second, he received bipartisan acclaim for bombing Syria.
Amid promiscuous betrayal, a promise kept
To appease the supposedly moral concerns of the religious right — his single most important constituency — our serial liar president appointed a plagiarist to the Supreme Court, to complement the perjurer he previously installed as Attorney General.
The Commander in Chief’s record to date underscores the magnitude of this achievement. As a candidate, Trump made at least 179 distinct vows to voters; he has already broken, badly compromised or utterly ignored roughly 83% of them. He has made no moves to lock up Hillary Clinton or renegotiate NAFTA. That expensive and unnecessary border wall? Mexico isn’t paying for it; we are. While running, Trump pledged to “fight for… the LGBT community”; nevertheless, he revoked federal protection for transgender students. Schools remain gun-free zones, and he has done nothing to strengthen screening for prospective gun buyers. On the campaign trail, he promised to quit Twitter if elected (“not presidential”), but he still tweets promiscuously. Despite his pledge to “stay in the White House and work my ass off,” he has logged more time on the links and on vacation than any previous president, and at greater taxpayer expense — all at Trump-branded properties, of course.
Late in March, the president botched one of his top priorities. Despite inheriting Republican majorities in Congress that had already voted to repeal Obamacare more than 50 times, the president failed to orchestrate approval for a GOP plan to strip health insurance from more than 20 million Americans.
But last week, by securing Senate confirmation for a conservative Supreme Court justice, Trump rewarded the religious right for endorsing the grossest moral reprobate ever to run for president as a major party nominee. So far, for their betrayal of civic virtue and Christianity, the religious right has gotten Neil Gorsuch.
Time will tell whether that consolation prize constitutes richer recompense than thirty pieces of silver. Gorsuch has compiled a consistently conservative track record to date, but judges sometimes surprise once on the Supreme Court. For example, Chief Justice John Roberts — a George W. Bush nominee — offended many Republicans by twice upholding the constitutionality of Obamacare.
Senate Democrats did their duty by filibustering the nomination, but the GOP made a long-term strategic error by exercising the nuclear option. When the permanent Democratic majority reasserts itself in 2018 and 2020, Republicans will quickly come to regret their rejection of Senate traditions encouraging consensus.
Trump, Trumpsters, the fake Syria Hoax — and the real one
Last week, when the world learned that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons to kill anti-ISIL rebels and civilians, fringe Trumpsters denounced this as “fake news.” The “Syria Hoax,” they claimed, was a “false flag” conducted by “deep state” actors to defame Trump, Assad, and Vladimir Putin — a trinity oddly adored by American white supremacists.
Of course, the “alt-right” is always wrong: Syria really launched the chemical attack, and Assad’s culpability remains indisputable.
Trump bears some responsibility, too. The week before Assad’s use of chemical weapons, the president’s most prominent foreign policy voices — UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — publicly renounced Obama’s policy supporting the removal of Syria’s brutal dictatorship. Those statements evidently emboldened Assad, who deployed chemical weapons just days later.
Humiliated, Trump moved decisively… to save face.
Determined to distinguish himself from Obama — who famously failed to follow through on his threat to attack Syria after a much more deadly chemical weapons attack in 2013 — Trump authorized a limited punitive bombing of a Syrian airfield.
But first, Tillerson warned the Kremlin so Putin and Assad could move his personnel and matériel out of harm’s way. Thus, the strike did little damage to the regime’s military capabilities.
Meanwhile, Haley and Tillerson have talked tough about regime change in Syria, though the Secretary of State bizarrely waffled by claiming that the administration’s policy toward Assad had really not changed.
Russia and Syria have played their roles well by hotly protesting the American air strikes.
Thus, the real Syria Hoax is the bogus notion that Trump would do anything substantial to cross Putin, his political sponsor and soul mate.
Many Republicans and some Democrats have fallen for Trump’s Syria Hoax. Swooning, they have praised the president for sticking it to Assad.
Others, however, remain realistic. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have correctly noted that Trump’s airstrikes against Syria may violate the Constitution. Obama declined to attack Syria in 2013 partly because he knew a hostile Congress would likely refuse to support the action. When enemies directly attack the US, presidents can retaliate pending support from the House and Senate, but in all other cases, the Commander in Chief needs advance approval to attack anyone, anywhere, anytime.
This applies to every president, but especially this one. As a candidate, Trump proclaimed himself “the most militaristic person” in the race, and effused, “I love war.”
Given his obvious authoritarian tendencies, we cannot afford to congratulate Trump for flouting the Constitution — especially when it comes to the use of military force.
Clearly, Assad deserves to be bombed. But that decision belongs to Congress, not Trump. Please contact your Representative and Senators, and urge them to assert their constitutional authority to guide the president’s use of our armed forces.