Donald Trump wants to “hit” his political opponents.
“Someday!” “Someday!” Someday, he might be President of the United States of America. Someday, he might not be seeking approval, but be in a position where there is literally no one above him to answer to. Someday, he might have his real little pointer finger on the metaphorical red button that could launch all-too-devastatingly literal nuclear weapons. Someday, Trump might have at his disposal an unimaginably powerful surveillance tool, capable of reaching into every dark and hidden corner of our lives.
I’ve been thinking about Edward Snowden a lot lately (I started following him and WikiLeaks on twitter) and what he said his motivations were for going public with his revelations about the NSA’s powers:
“And the months ahead, the years ahead it’s only going to get worse until eventually there will be a time where policies will change because the only thing that restricts the activities of the surveillance state are policy. Even our agreements with other sovereign governments, we consider that to be a stipulation of policy rather then a stipulation of law. And because of that a new leader will be elected, they’ll find the switch, say that ‘Because of the crisis, because of the dangers we face in the world, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power.’ And there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. And it will be turnkey tyranny.”
“Turnkey tyranny.” It’s worth remembering that, as we process Donald Trump’s cascading rhetoric of threats and bullying. There are no legislative restrictions on the surveillance state. There are no checks and balances. If done in the name of national security — and almost anything can be framed in the context of national security if you are willing to skew and squint hard enough¹ — there are no limits. “Even our agreements with other sovereign governments, we consider that to be a stipulation of policy rather than a stipulation of law.” This, in a month where Trump has both (1) explicitly stated that he will not hold our country to our commitments to NATO; and (2) has explicitly asked another foreign government to interfere with our nation’s political (and national security!) process. Would Trump exercise caution and restraint when handed such a powerful weapon, especially when the next attack on Americans occurs, as it most assuredly will?
It’s also worth remembering that surveillance is a powerful tool. It can ruin people, expose our vulnerabilities, dissuade and discourage and destroy dissent. It may be the second most powerful tool a government wields, behind outright violence. If turned against our government’s own citizens, we no longer have the freedom of thought and expression we so dearly associate with being American. We might be there already, but the full capabilities of our surveillance abilities would assuredly wipe those freedoms away entirely.
This article has been making the rounds on Twitter this week. Go read it. Seriously, right now, before you read anything else I write. To give you context, it’s by Eireann Dolan, the wife of an MLB player, about the bullying her autistic brother experienced growing up, and a tragic and very extreme recurrence of it as an adult. She’s a fantastic writer, and it’s a powerful reminder of the effect even hateful words can have on us. The main point, at least my takeaway: you can talk about not punching down all you want, about not sinking to a bully’s level, but until we push back against bullying — not punch, not fight, but push, deliberately and constantly and firmly — bullying will be allowed to fester into something even more dangerous.
In the first article quoted above, Trump talks about how he wanted to “hit” some of the people speaking at the DNC this week “so hard, their heads would spin.” Let’s set aside for a minute the hilarious notion of the pain Trump would feel as the palm of his hand² actually hit something harder than a pillow for the first time in his life (although, I really love the thought of it). He continues to allude to the notion that he would have done it — wait, we need to talk about what ‘it’ is for a second. Trump almost certainly meant he would “hit” back verbally, attack these people in the press and on twitter. It says a lot about a guy who constantly equates physical violence with verbal abuse.
Anyways, he says he would have done “it,” but for a friend of his (a “very great governor”³) who urged him to “[d]on’t hit there. Don’t hit down.” Read that, and try to convince yourself of anything else than the fact that Trump is a natural, practiced, reflexive bully. His natural instinct is to punch down. That’s the definition of a bully.
If and when Trump is elected, he will be the leader of the most powerful country in world history, with more ability to take on debt, with more firepower than any person in history at his disposal, with the literally unchecked ability to peer into every single person’s private lives with the wave of a hand.
Because Mrs. Dolan says it better than I ever could:
“If you witness bullying, in any form, intervene. Respectfully ask that person what they are hoping to accomplish by their behavior. Let them know that that sort of behavior and language has no place in society. We are better than that and that’s not how we treat people.
The burden of defeating bullies is not just on the bullied. It is on the witnesses too.”
If and when Donald Trump is elected president, there will be nowhere to punch but down.
¹ Anecdotal Example: There was an armored car in New Hampshire whose duties included patrolling the annual pumpkin festival. Nonanecdotal Example: “. . . because so much money unrelated to homeland security activities is spent inside DHS, the risk of funding increasing for these activities under the assumption that it serves some homeland security purpose may also be high.”
² I initially wrote this as “knuckles” thinking about the almost certain fact that Trump has never actually scraped his knuckles bloody doing a real day of work in his life, but after thinking about it for more than 30 seconds, you and I both know, 100%, Trump’s a slapper.
³ I’m going to have to write one of these on Trump’s incessant insistence that everything he does, everything he’s associated with, is the greatest, the best. I’m a serial exaggerator. When I turn that critical eye inward from time to time, I know that it comes from my own insecurity. I wonder why, possibly, a guy born on third base with a blind ump at the plate could harbor insecurity.