Yes, it’s true. And in fairness, he’s honest about it. If nothing else, we don’t have to guess what he thinks about things. And he has made it clear, torture – for want of a better word – is good. Torture is right. Torture works. Even if studies and experience suggest otherwise. Trump seldom lets little things like reality get in the way of a good fantasy.
If his fantasies include imagining his reality show was a gift to our cultural identity, that’s fine. I have no problem with that. But when it comes to more important things, then it’s a problem. And when it comes to issues that cut to the heart and soul of our national spirit, I have a big problem.
This is an issue that gave two big black eyes to America in general, and American conservatism in particular. It showed the problems that were already present as the religious right continued to make fealty to the political right a non-negotiable. Something I pointed out back in the 90s.
But rather than break with the expediency, American conservatives, including Christians, jumped on the water board bandwagon. And at the end of the day, when it was finally stopped, they were the ones standing in the rain with ‘I support torture’ protest signs. A bad imagine to be sure.
Now Trump has come out and said torture is fine with him. And he doesn’t stop there. Fight fire with fire!, he says. Jonah Goldberg wrote an interesting piece that I was going to comment on, but decided not to. I try to keep links to specific writers limited to once a week. But he caught something about Trump that has bothered me for some time.
I don’t mean the our social values as embodied by Trump that we only suddenly found distasteful. I mean his lack of concern for history. As a student and teacher of history these forty years, I take history seriously. But if I was in a room with Trump, I get the idea that would make one of us.
And that’s a problem. Trump seems to approach history the way I do candy stores. I go in, look around, grab what I want here and there. I pay and leave. He seems to do the same. Like a ball of Velcro rolling through a lint warehouse, he picks up this and that as he goes. Without context. Without a deep knowledge or concern about how this statement or that action fits into the larger scheme of things.So fight fire with fire? Yeah, we tried that already. In late 1941 and early 1942. Most know that a fundamental assumption in the Axis strategy was the inherent softness and foppishness of the Western Democracies. A few good smacks on the nose, and we’d buckle and negotiate. We also know that this blew up in Germany’s face when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union.
What people sometimes miss is that it also blew up in their face when the US’s entered the war. Early on, we realized what the Axis powers were up to, and decided we would meet force with force. Fight fire with fire you might say. They hit, we hit back harder. They bomb us, we bomb them. Bigger. And on it went. And through the decades, it was our excesses that have come to dominate our recollections of our war effort.
Even by the 1950s, Americans were beginning to question some of our tactics in the war. By the 70s, you didn’t mention the brave boys at Normandy without contemplating the mushroom clouds. And today, for some, you’d think there was nothing but burning cities, nuclear wastelands, and all courtesy of a nation, apathetic about the suffering of minorities, that only cared about the war for self-serving reasons.
That’s what happens when you adopt a ‘do whatever’ strategy. Sure, we might win. We have the power to overwhelm any opponent if we throw out all principles and morals. But at what cost? There is a reason the Faith teaches against things like torture. There is a reason we have ‘Just War’ theory, rather than ‘Just Do Whatever’ theory.
If the obvious moral problems with torture don’t do it, then look at where adopting a ‘whatever it takes’ approach has gotten us. For those who would change our nation, it is simply one more gun in the arsenal; one more reason why the old ways need thrown down and the new ways adopted. If the purpose is to defend our nation, then using methods that ultimately cost us our nation – at least as we understand and love it – is known as counterproductive.