Focusing on Trump With “A Withering Gaze”

by James M. Wallmatt-dunhamap

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, President-elect Donald Trump met with the publisher of The New York Times and some editors, columnists and reporters at the paper.

Times’ columnist Charles Blow  was not at the meeting. The next day he wrote: “I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing.”

Blow spoke for many of us after the president-elect’s comment to the Times‘ journalists, when he wrote: “Let me tell you here where I stand on your ‘I hope we can all get along plea.’ Never.”

You are an aberration and abomination who is willing to do and say anything — no matter whom it aligns you with and whom it hurts — to satisfy your ambitions.

I don’t believe you care much at all about this country or your party or the American people. I believe that the only thing you care about is self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Your strongest allegiance is to your own cupidity.

Blow concluded with a personal pledge: “I’m thankful to have this platform because as long as there are ink and pixels, you will be the focus of my withering gaze.”

It is this same “withering gaze” that all Americans should fix on our president-elect, both in this transition period, and for the next four years of his presidency.

When the gaze reveals positive vibes, it should be noted. So far, in Trump’s mixed transitional and political rallies period, the vibes are largely negative.

Our national withering gaze should fix carefully on the decisions the president-elect is making. Does his leadership team, thus far assembled, possess the knowledge and personal skills sufficient to support a president with no prior experience in political leadership?

Trump’s security leadership team up to this point includes three retired military generals, starting with retired Marine General James Mattis as defense secretary (pictured above).

What should be expected from his leadership? His expressed views on the Iraq War should offer some tentative hope that his war experience makes him more of a realist than some of the civilians who launched the Iraq war.  The Intercept’s Mattathias Schwartz wrote:

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense called the 2003 invasion of Iraq a “mistake,” according to a recording obtained by The Intercept.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Mattis said, “we will probably look back on the invasion of Iraq as a mistake — as a strategic mistake.”

Mattis was one of the Iraq campaign’s most important ground commanders. He led the 1st Marine Division during the invasion and later oversaw the bloody retaking of Fallujah from insurgents in 2004. .  .  .

Mattis’s comments came during a question-and-answer session after a keynote delivered last year at ASIS International, a conference for “global security professionals” held in Anaheim, California. A conference participant provided an audio recording of Mattis’s speech exclusively to The Intercept.

Mattis’s appointment specifically contravenes a law, designed to preserve “civilian control” of the armed forces. The law stipulates that no one who has served on active duty within the last 10 years can serve as Secretary of Defense. Mattis is expected to obtain a waiver from Congress to circumvent that law.

A second general headed for Trump’s security leadership team is retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, named by Trump to direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). (right).

The Wall Street Journal reported that Kelly’s appointment “would put a military commander who directly supervised U.S. operations in Central and South America in charge of one of the president-elect’s signature platforms: securing the border between Mexico and the U.S.”

DHS was created by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.  The WSJ further notes that DHS has more than 240,000 employees, making it the government’s third-largest cabinet agency. Its duties includes “counterterrorism, disaster response, cybersecurity, and border and immigration controls. The Secret Service, which protects the president, is also part of DHS.

In the Trump administration, “the agency also would be at the forefront of efforts to deport illegal immigrants who have entered the U.S. from Mexico and to block the entry of certain refugees from the Middle East, should Mr. Trump act on pledges he made during his presidential campaign”.

A third general in the security leadership would be Trump’s national security adviser, retired Gen. Michael T. Flynn, shown here in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. This position does not require Senate approval.

An Associated Press story in Fortune says:

On issues of national security and intelligence, no one is likely to have more influence in Donald Trump’s White House than retired Gen. Michael T. Flynn.

Yet Flynn, Trump’s incoming national security adviser, has gained prominence in Republican politics by fueling conspiracy theories and Islamophobic rhetoric that critics warn could create serious distractions—or alienate allies and embolden enemies—if it continues.

“His job is to ensure that the White House is focused at all times on all of the threats that the United States faces abroad,” said Julianne Smith, a former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. She said she was “deeply troubled” by a Flynn tendency to promote fake news stories on his Twitter feed.

Three retired generals on the government case, and counting (two of them require Senate confirmation). They are Mattis, Kelly and Flynn. Sounds like a law firm ready to take your case for a very high fee of trust in a time of tension and uncertainty.

President-elect Trump has chosen his generals, who now will help him with security at home and abroad. That is the assignment the voters gave our next president. It is his decision to make, pending, in two instances, Senate approval.

These generals and the President who chose them, will demand close scrutiny at a moment in history which resonates with earlier moments in history, described by Charles Dickens in the opening line of his  A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

The picture of General Mattis is an Associated Press photo. The picture of General Kelly is from the U.S. archives. The picture of General Flynn is by Tom Williams CQ-Roll Call Inc.


About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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8 Responses to Focusing on Trump With “A Withering Gaze”

  1. Jack Graham says:

    It is now clear that this column has changed focus from errors in the blind pro-Israel policy of the United States to the “liberal” rant in opposition to Donald Trump. I liked this column before, when it gave attention to a subject neglected. I like military men, because, when Lincoln disregarded therm and attempted to reinforce Fort Sumter, we had a war which destroyed the Constitution and accomplished nothing worthwhile that would not otherwise have been accomplished more humanely and gracefully in peace. Good military men understand war, the need to avoid it, and how to maintain peace.

  2. Hi Jim,Your opening with Chas Blow’s extremist statement is unfortunate. Guess what? Donald Trump IS going to be President, our President. To say, “I will never . . .get along with him”, is too extreme. Withering gaze, yes. Indeed, from all progressives and fair-minded people. Left-wing bigotry is as real as right wing bigotry. There has been a “conservative” bent in the US that came out big-time in this last election.
    My sense is that Mr. Trump will take it too far to the right and have no end of troubles keeping his job when the pendulum swings back, even during the first few years of his term. I’m leaning toward David Brooks’ speculation: resignation or impeachment in the first year. . .

  3. samijoseph says:

    I have to declare that my interest in US politics stems from the fact that it is the US that provides sustenance and behaves like a blind devoted supporter of Israel; the illegal occupier of my country. Additionally, the US uses all leverage at its disposal to shield Israel from all criticism and, in return, Israel takes advantage of this protection to commit with total impunity the most atrocious crimes against the Palestinians in the occupied territories.
    Granted that the American people deserve a better president than Trump, but the ongoing relentless campaign to discredit him by the media, which is controlled by the ‘shadow government’, is just to give him a taste of what to come should he contemplate making decisions contrary to their whims when he occupies the Oval Office next month.

  4. Jim Patterson says:

    Very interesting………JP

  5. Robert Assaly says:

    Thanks Jim. Very insightful. Two omissions: what will make or break the Trump legacy are these generals’ stance toward Russia and Iran. On Russia, I hope Trump lives up to expectations. Second, “I don’t believe you care much at all about this country or your party … the only thing you care about is self-aggrandizement ,” while true for Trump, could just as easily have been written about Hillary.

    Thinking of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, to name a few, Mr. Graham’s assertion that “good military men understand war, the need to avoid it…” is a sad commentary on military men in the US service since 9/11.

  6. Jack Graham says:

    Mr. Assaly, — Our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, all on false pretenses, were pushed, not by military men, but civilian politicians, from George Bush, Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry, etc., — Republicans and Democrats alike, led by the New York Times, CNN, and other major media. Once into a war, military men do as ordered; but our military men don’t get us into these wars. It is a clear pattern in American history, back to the days when Washington avoided but Jefferson pushed us into war with Great Britain. The neo-cons behind our civilians who push us into our wars in the Middle East are generally chicken hawks. If you want to read slanted news against about Trump, a large number of major media will give you all you want. But we don’t have much quality commentary about misguided American foreign policy toward Israel such as has distinguished this forum for many years.

  7. Janet Gunn says:

    Once again, a helpful use of and reminder of the classics! We’ve been there before, comforting or not. My head keeps spinning.

  8. Patricia says:

    I would have to agree with Jack Graham’s assessment.

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