Once, we had a choice.
We could imagine Donald Trump in the White House when the news comes of a Chelsea-like explosion, one that has all the hallmarks of terrorism but with not yet enough information to say for sure.
Or we could tell ourselves that the idea of Donald Trump in the White House is beyond imagining – and leave it that.
But now that we’re seven weeks out from Election Day, there is no longer any Option 2. If you doubt it, just check in, as I do far too often, with the Nate Silver prediction model, which today gives Trump a 41 percent chance of becoming president. That’s four chances in 10. For the math-impaired, that’s dangerously close to 50-50, a coin flip.
So we have no choice but to consider what a Trump presidency might look like. And for this exercise, all we can do is extrapolate from candidate Trump, who on the night of the Chelsea explosion, tells a Colorado Springs rally that a bomb went off in Manhattan and that we have to toughen up if we’re going to save ourselves. “Nobody knows exactly what’s going on. But boy, we are living in a time — we better get very tough, folks. We better get very, very tough,” Trump said, before moving on to brag on his latest poll numbers in Colorado.
And then when it turns out that the explosion was a bomb – as anyone could have guessed, but as anyone in a position of responsibility would not have, because, you know, it would be irresponsible – Trump went on Fox & Friends the next morning to congratulate himself for being “right,” when, of course, by even the lowest of presidential standards, he was absolutely wrong.
Trump bragged that he “called” it “before the news” when he actually “called” it – as if that’s what a prospective president should be doing – before the police.
In other words, he guessed. If he were president, presumably he could have at least made an educated guess, having access to briefers and also to the FBI director’s cell phone number. But why would he be guessing? Why not wait the few extra hours until he actually knew something? Because to not guess is to give in to political correctness? Because following 200 years of guidelines is boring? Because stirring up panic is the best way to ensure that your audience will embrace a strong man?
We’re going to take this slowly because it matters. Forget the name calling between Trump and Clinton. That’s just politics. Each is trying to find the advantage in an act of terror – Trump by blaming Clinton for ISIS and Clinton by saying that Trump is a “recruiting sergeant” for ISIS. Whatever your thoughts are on Clinton, we pretty much know how she’d react in this situation as president. But we have to remind ourselves on Trump because there has never been anyone like him anywhere near the White House. And we have to wonder when he gives us some insight on his secret plan to deal with ISIS. On Monday, he said we need to “knock the hell” out of them.
You may remember when Trump was slammed for congratulating himself immediately after the Orlando shooting. What he was “right” about then, apparently, was in saying after San Bernardino that there would be another terrorist attack sometime, somewhere, and that we had to toughen up immigration standards – that was in the days of the religious test, I believe – to prevent yet another attack. Of course, it turned out that the Orlando killer was born in America, meaning, for Trump’s plan to have worked, we would have had to have done a better job vetting his parents not just as potential U.S. citizens, but also as potential parents.
But, because he’s Trump, he chose to double down after Chelsea. He said the problem was – I knew you guessed this one – “political correctness” because the FBI was afraid of being sued if they had put bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami on a watch list. It’s absurd, of course, and demeaning to law enforcement who had quickly found Rahami, thankfully a pretty hapless bomber, sleeping in a doorway.
Or did he triple down? He wildly overstated the number of Syrian refugees that Barack Obama has admitted to the country and then wildly overstated the number that Hillary Clinton wanted to admit. He does this time and again. The fact-checkers say his nose his growing or his pants are on fire. (And Don Jr., of course, has now added to the conversation his infamous Skittles tweet on Syrian refugees, which I won’t spoil for you. Just Google it.)
Meanwhile, Trump Sr. said again that the problem here was a lack of extreme vetting. Of course, Rahimi came to the country from Afghanistan when he was 7, So, what “extreme vetting” must mean, in Trump-speak, is No Muslims Allowed Ever. Add No Muslims Allowed Ever to “knock the hell” out of them, and you pretty much have your President Trump.
Yes, President Trump. Imagine it because we must. Imagine it when Trump says the “bad” thing about getting Rahimi is that he’ll now get “amazing” health care and an “outstanding” lawyer, as if it would be better for an American citizen, even if he’s a suspected terrorist, to just bleed to death on the street.
Meanwhile, Trump is asked whether there’s a foreign connection in the Rahimi bombing, and he says there probably is. The thing is, he has no idea. He has no more idea than you or I do. If Rahimi did have a foreign connection, it must not have been a good one. As terrorist plots go, this one was clearly amateurish. But it was successful enough for Trump to fear-monger. It’s what he does. It’s what he would do as president. You don’t have to imagine it at all.
Flickr photo by Davide D’Amico