Is the President like a Rebel Without A Cause?

By traditional standards, the pace at which the nation and the world are consumed by conflict is without precedent; neither baby boomers nor anyone else has seen anything like it before. As BoomerCafé co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs writes in this Boomer Opinion piece, President Trump is at the root of it and while some people like how he operates, he might be putting the rest of us, and them too, in peril.

In the classic game of Chicken, two drivers race their cars side by side toward a cliff. The first to hit the brakes is the chicken.

It’s the stuff of a good flick. ‘50s teen icon James Dean, who many baby boomers will remember, played it and pulled through without a scratch in Rebel Without A Cause.

Two legends of motion pictures — James Dean with Natalie Wood.

But it’s the stuff of bad leadership. Just last month alone, President Trump played chicken with our economic security, our national security, and our personal security. Yet we are powerless; he’s the only one who can slam on the brakes.

But he doesn’t. At least not until we are close to the cliff. Not until we’ve watched our fortunes threatened in trade feuds with other global powers. Not until we’ve trembled from fears of conflict with a nuclear-armed tyrant. Not until we’ve watched innocent children confined to cages within the borders of our own nation.

In the film, Rebel Without A Cause, actor James Dean escaped going over a cliff.

The President plays chicken, and we are the pawns. The overarching theme of his high-risk game is that the end justifies the means. But how can that be if the means make us less secure, not more? If the means alienate our allies, pull money from our wallets, or in the case of the children, simply make us ashamed but no safer? Say what you will about illegal immigration, in the case of those thousands of children pulled from their parents, the end did not justify the means. Not even close.

Economic security is the President’s rationale for the tariffs, the trade wars. His biggest target is China, although he also has gone to war with old friends and allies in Europe, and neighbors like Mexico and Canada (which is puzzling; as columnist Tom Friedman put it, “What country wouldn’t want Canada as its neighbor?”)

President Trump

Trump’s goals with China, arguably virtuous, are to stop its intellectual property thefts and balance our trade gap. But his crusade to accomplish those goals isn’t enriching us, at least not yet; it’s draining us. His defenders argue that it is a necessary evil. I argue otherwise: it is only evil. Evil to American companies that depend on China as a major market, evil to American manufacturers that depend on Chinese parts to produce their products, evil to Americans (and this is mostly baby boomers) who are watching their nest eggs in the uneasy stock market dwindle.

Yet when China announces tit-for-tat retaliation to Trump’s first shot in the war — $50-billion in tariffs — does he say, “Let’s sit down and talk?” Nope. He raises the stakes. To $200-billion. Maybe more. The President’s chief trade advisor Peter Navarro— the guy who angrily promised long loyal allies “a special place in hell” if they cross President Trump— insists that in the trade war, China has “much more to lose.” Point of clarification Mr. Navarro: maybe China has more to lose, but we lose too. This trade war may weaken China (and all the others), but it weakens us too. What’s more, if you know anything about China, its people have a history of hardship. They can endure it far better than us. As its foreign ministry said this week, China is “fully prepared” if a trade war comes.

Our balance of trade with China and our other new enemies wasn’t perfect, but think about this: we were still prosperous. The President’s playing chicken with our prosperity, and we can’t slam on the brakes.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a missile launch.

National security has been the President’s ongoing rationale for his tempestuous relationship with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. His rash rhetoric earlier this year about “Little Rocket Man” and “fire and fury” and his own “much bigger” nuclear button had us genuinely worried about war (remember Hawaii’s nuclear alert) before he brought us down (as if he deserves credit for defusing the fuses he lit). While we all hope the amity of the Singapore Summit will last, the nuclear threat has not melted away. Not until Kim’s nuclear weapons do.

And if they don’t, we’ll be right back where we were just months ago, playing chicken, wondering which strongman will choose to launch the first strike. If it does come to that, it’s a very safe bet that North Korea will be crushed and the United States will come out on top. But not without taking some bad blows ourselves. Maybe North Korea has more to lose, but we lose too. Not to mention the losses our allies will suffer.

Yes, North Korean nukes are uncomfortable, and maybe ultimately Trump’s tactics will succeed, but Kim wasn’t threatening to blow us to kingdom come until Trump threatened him. Is this worth playing chicken with our lives, and our allies’? Maybe not, but we can’t slam on the brakes.

Personal security? That’s what’s behind the ceaselessly controversial case of illegal immigrants, which led to children confined in cages, courtesy of the U.S. Government. President Trump said he doesn’t want illegals to “pour into and infest our country” (another commentator recently wondered, mindful of fascism in the 20th Century, will Trump use the word “vermin” next?). At least he’s consistent; the day he launched his presidential campaign, he said of illegal immigrants from Mexico, “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Greg Dobbs

The trouble is, Trump just makes things up. In May, four separate studies were released, the upshot of which was, illegal immigration does not increase violent crime. The libertarian Cato Institute even found that rates of sexual assault and murder are higher among native-born Americans than among illegal immigrants. (It’s a repeat of this lying president’s reckless rhetoric about German Chancellor Angela Merkel, asserting in a tweet that because of her liberal immigration policies, “Crime in Germany is up 10% plus,” which has been thoroughly discredited.)

But Trump has many Americans convinced. Fans of his “zero-tolerance” family separation policy argued that it was the parents’ fault because they had put their kids in this fix. But until he buckled to political pressure, it was the President who kept them there. Which makes me ask, if it was indeed the parents’ negligence, has this nation no conscience to mitigate it, rather than aggravate it?

Caught in their cages, caught in the middle of the President’s game of chicken, were the children themselves, who had nothing to do with any of this.

He even advocated abolishing due process. Several commentators observed that the Statue of Liberty was weeping. Yet she can’t slam on the brakes and neither can we.

Some people think that everything Donald Trump does is part of a strategy, a strategy of putting America First. I think they’re giving him too much credit. Credit for having a strategy at all. Credit for having a well-thought-out plan, whether it pertains to our economic security, our national security, or our personal security.

I think if we’ve learned nothing else about this creature in the White House, it is that he does not operate according to any well-thought-out plan. He operates according to only one principle: the impulses and ego of Donald J. Trump. Once he feels threatened, once he feels offended, everything becomes a tug-of-war. Almost every action is driven by vengeance toward anyone who has looked at him the wrong way, or affirmation of what he has insisted is true.

Chicken is a game. Our security is not. But President Trump doesn’t make the distinction. And we can’t slam on the brakes.

Greg’s book about the wacky ways of a foreign correspondent, Life in the Wrong Lane, is available from Amazon.