Trump goes nuclear

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I’m shocked his fingers aren’t thrumming together at this point. Gage Skidmore via Flickr

The most egregious pulp fiction wouldn’t have assumed the president could be selling state secrets

In 2016, Oxford Languages proclaimed “post-truth” as the word of the year. Oxford Languages defines post-truth as follows: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Certainly not a coincidence, in that same year Trump was elected president of one of the most powerful countries in the world. But nobody – not even the brainiacs at Oxford – perceived the full extent of Trump’s gravity, which flung American society into entirely unknown territory. Since then, reality has had to compete with “alternative facts,” the dangerous fanaticism of the far-right, and the fever dreams of QAnon adherents. Never a dull moment in terra incognita!

Trump’s presidency was basically one unending scandal. Sexual impropriety, racist outbursts, interminable lawsuits, egregious buffoonery, and even an attempted insurrection. Now, add mishandling top-secret information about nuclear weapons. Fake news and artfully-crude tweets are low stakes compared to the most powerful weapons of war ever manufactured. Characteristic of Trump’s exploits, the situation resembles a daytime soap opera – now with nuclear weapons.

Trump loves to be first. He was the first president to be impeached twice. On August 8, 2022, Trump became the first former president to be raided by the FBI. The FBI executed a search warrant on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort to recover government records that were illegally removed from the White House. The FBI’s cause for the search warrant relates to three federal criminal statutes, and the gravest of these relates to the Espionage Act.

The FBI has alleged that Trump illegally retained documents relating to national defense information. In recent days, The Washington Post reported that Trump possessed documents on one foreign nation’s nuclear capabilities. It is not clear which nation that is. However, only nine countries in the world, including the US, possess nuclear weapons. It cannot be understated how dangerous and negligent this situation has become.

Before the raid, Trump claimed the accusation that he had these documents was a “hoax.” On his social media platform, Truth Social, he ranted into the void. At first, the documents didn’t exist. And if they did exist, well, Obama took classified documents, too. And look, the FBI “stole” Trump’s passports and medical records in the raid. He assures us that he’s a “very healthy, an absolutely perfect physical specimen!” (The FBI did not respond to requests to confirm this statement). Besides, it doesn’t matter if he has the documents anyway, because Trump says he personally declassified them.

Trump claims that there was a standing order to declassify all documents he removed from the White House to take to Mar-a-Lago. Many, many former Trump officials reject this claim. John Bolton, who served as Trump’s national security adviser, calls this so-called standing order “a complete fiction.” Olivia Troye, a former homeland security adviser for Mike Pence, called it “ludicrous.” CNN reports that they interviewed 18 former Trump administration officials on this alleged standing order. All of them agreed that no such order existed.

First of all, presidents don’t have the power to declassify information on a whim. It simply doesn’t work that way. Secondly, there is a rigid procedure outlined in the Presidential Records Act of 1978 which mandates the diligent preservation of all presidential records. That is, the documents should have been archived or transferred to the appropriate parties once Trump vacated the White House. Considering their sensitivity, these documents pertaining to a foreign nation’s nuclear weapons should have maintained a very strict chain of custody. Should we assume negligence, subterfuge, or malice?

Unsurprisingly, Republicans and right-wing news media have spun this fiasco in a bizarre direction. Fox News barely mentions the nuclear documents. Instead, they are crying foul at the FBI and the Biden administration. The FBI has been weaponized by the Democrats, they claim. The raid on Mar-a-Lago was politically motivated! The rule of law has been abandoned! And, in a delicious turn of irony, some Republicans have called to defund the FBI. Marjorie Taylor Greene, unsurprisingly, has been the loudest voice in this chorus. It is barely worth the effort to point out the hypocrisy of these statements. The chant has mutated from “Blue Lives Matter!” to “Defund the FBI!”

Since Trump’s ascension in the GOP, Republicans have been in a uniquely difficult position. For some of them, at least, they are torn between two increasingly divergent trajectories. On the one hand, these politicians must confront facts. In fact, Trump did lose the 2020 election. In fact, QAnon is an unhinged conspiracy theory. In fact, Trump did illegally take top-secret documents about an unnamed country’s nuclear arsenal.

On the other hand, these Republicans must also placate frenzied Trump adherents, otherwise they may lose elections. The word “placate” here means “openly repeat patent falsehoods,” by the way. Post-truth, this phenomenon becomes more and more commonplace. Repeat the lie, keep your office.

The news media’s response to this farce, however, conspicuously neglects the most important questions. Why did Trump take these documents? What did he do with them? What did he plan to do with them? It remains to be seen, but the potential answers are horrifying. Instead, politicians and the commentariat are preoccupied with either defending or injuring Trump’s honour. Some Democrats have donned the pretense that this issue is about the rule of law. Trump, they say, must be held to account. He must be shown he is not above the law.

The national security of at least two countries – the United States and the country mentioned in the documents – has been fundamentally compromised. This incredibly reckless drama is just another symptom of a terminal illness; all performance indicators suggest that the United States of America is an empire in collapse. Political factions compete to decide whose version of reality is the truth. Nuclear secrets just stroll out of federal government buildings and into the beach resorts of decadent billionaires.

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