Something big is going to have to happen in this country if we stand any chance at all of dealing with the enormous, even planet-threatening challenges that face us. I thought of this over the weekend as news emerged from the limping-along CPAC convention in National Harbor that Trump had gone beyond his usual them-and-us rhetoric spewed at his campaign rallies and most recently in his announcement that he’s running for president.
Speaking to a room filled with MAGA-hat-wearing fans and booths at the edges selling all things Trump right down to and including a gold-plated bracelet comprised of the letters of his name, the former president used war-like rhetoric to make his appeal.
“I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed: I am your retribution,” he told the crowd to riotous applause.
There’s no need to analyze the statement’s setup and payoff. It deconstructs itself. Trump called his campaign “the final battle” against not only the dastardly Democrats but against a Republican establishment “we’re never going back to.” It has been accurately pointed out by others again and again that Trump has never really had an ideology beyond the getting and keeping of power. But this statement, which we can conclude is as close as we’ll get to a theme of his campaign, is what passes for his platform.
The question Trump is answering for his base is, what’s the good of gaining power unless we can use it? He’s finished talking about the struggle over the soul of America. He’s going to war against everyone who stands in his way. His pledge that he is “your justice” is truly frightening. Jim Jordan’s “weaponization of government” committee is going to look like a piece of playground equipment if Trump ever sees the inside of the Oval Office again. He will turn the levers of government into weapons in his war against his enemies.
Political strategists are calling Trump’s CPAC speech his announcement that his campaign will be a “revenge tour.” But it’s far more than that. He’s dividing the country into warring camps. Anyone who is not on our side, he suggested to his MAGA base at the convention, is the enemy. And this in the year when one of our allies in Europe is at war with Russia, a real enemy not only of the U.S. and NATO but the entire civilized world.
Trump pledged, “Before I arrive in the Oval Office, I will have the disastrous war between Russia and Ukraine ended,” without saying how he will make that happen. But it is clear from his previous friendliness with all things Putin, and with the gradual erosion of the Republican Party’s support for Ukraine, how he’ll accomplish that. If elected, he will make good on his promise of “America First” by ending our economic and military support of Ukraine and doing what he threatened to do in his first term: pull the U.S. out of NATO, which he will begin calling yet another of our enemies. A world in which nations become enemies of one another, on a scale that appears to be happening in Europe right now, cannot stand, either.
Trump is turning American citizens against one another, not in a political rivalry, which after all is what the Constitution was written to manage, but as enemies in a “final” struggle for control over the future of the country. Presidential campaigns are no longer a struggle over the political future of the United States. They are perhaps the most decisive factors in the way the world will be, if not governed, at least managed in the coming decades.
Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accords, in which nations pledged to control pollution and greenhouse gases in order to fight climate change. Even though President Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office re-admitting us to the Accords, at least some damage was done, not only when Trump weakened fuel economy standards for automobiles and trucks, for example, but in the example he set by quitting and limiting and disparaging the most significant attempt yet to deal with climate change. We are the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China. How are we supposed to help convince that still-emerging nation to join with the rest of the world in eliminating greenhouse gasses if we won’t do it ourselves?
Trump as a candidate is right about at least this much. We are not only dealing with the presidential campaign of 2024, we are looking at a political decision we will make as a country that will affect the next 50 years of life on this planet. If Trump is elected, he will be long gone and in the ground by the time the real damage caused by his presidency is felt. If this campaign is indeed a war for our future, we’ll be voting not only for president for the next four years, but for the future of our children and grandchildren.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.
Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.