Fresh off a Republican convention managed by a team bent on persuading us that our country has never been weaker -- I've been thinking a bit about political rhetoric in general and what truly terrifies me about a Trump election scenario.
It's no secret that I'm absolutely not going to vote for Donald Trump this Fall -- even though I'm not a straight democratic ticket voter -- I just can't consider voting for him.
There have been no shortage of pieces on why Trump is a danger -- hell there have been no shortage of pieces that used the phrase 'no shortage of pieces.' So offering up my reasoning is absolutely not breaking any new ground here.
But as I've been thinking about Trump's candidacy - there are a number of elements that I don't like. I don't like his 'policies' such as they are, and I use that term loosely. I don't like that he doesn't really have policies. I don't think his business record is compelling. I don't think the fact that his major leadership team is comprised of his kids is indicative that he can find the right talent and match them to the right jobs. I don't really love his hair.
All of that ground is well-trod territory, and so is the case that Trump doesn't have the right temperament to be President. I think that's what bothers me most, but it's a specific aspect of the temperament that has me most concerned.
Trump seems to relish being a bully, from all the behavior we've seen. That would be bad enough -- but my biggest concern is that I've never, ever, seen him de-escalate a situation.
Trump, to me, is someone who has to constantly project the image that he's winning. I don't think he knows how to lose (despite having lost all the time in his business career), and I don't think he knows how to take a tense situation and settle it down. Witness his recent spat with Ted Cruz, who went out on the convention stage and did not endorse Trump as a candidate. Did Trump let it go? No, he came right back at Cruz again in a press conference this morning -- when he should be focusing attention on why people should vote for him.
Trump's record is full of instances like this. He's got a tremendous track record of never forgetting to pay back a slight or an offense.
If you asked Trump what the term de-escalation even meant, he'd probably say it's when you convert your casino tower over to stairs.
In the business world, that means you end up in court a lot (story checks out)
In geopolitics, that means you can get a lot of other people hurt.
I can't picture Trump ever taking a measured approach to anything -- anything that would happen under his administration would engender a disproportionate response -- because Trump cannot allow himself to be seen as anything but a clear winner.
And a mental framework like that would create ratchet-like effects for fighting complicated issues, most notably global extremism/terrorism.
Imagine if there's a terror attack on American soil under a Trump administration -- well, clearly Trump would do something extreme in response. Maybe bomb somebody, maybe halt all immigration, who knows...but the response would be disproportionate -- he's said as much when he declares all immigration from terror-impacted countries should be halted.
Fine, pretend whatever he'd do would be acceptable (even though it clearly wouldn't fit with American principles). What happens when there's another one?
For someone who can't de-escalate a conflict and can't bear to be seen as a 'loser,' that means you have to go even further with your next response.
And so on...
I can most easily imagine these scenarios in terrorism-related situations, but it could just as easily be applied in any engagement foreign or domestic.
What about China's land reclamation in the South China Sea? Trump's already blasted the Chinese as thieves and currency manipulators -- so we're off to a great start -- but he's not someone who would let an international court rule against China and act as though that settles things. So maybe it's trade tariffs if we're lucky, or maybe it's military intimidation if we're not. But he can't allow himself to look weak - so those actions are a one-way street. Every step is a new point of no return.
Now what makes me feel a bit better about this is that I honestly don't see Trump winning the election. Everyone is taking the primary as proof that the impossible is possible, but I maintain that these are fundamentally different situations. A 1-1 race is very different than a 15+ candidate field (was it 16? 18? Is that Gilmore guy still running?) and while the GOP primary insulated Trump because his opponents couldn't criticize his truly disgusting statements (hard to criticize banning Muslims when your base is super excited by the idea), that protection is gone in a general election.
But what does concern me in the long-run is how it might impact future candidates. If they see this type of character as something to emulate, something that they can leverage, we might see more macho posturing and more refusal to approach situations with willingness to tamp down escalation. That doesn't seem like character that's made for a successful peaceful leader anywhere in history.