I count myself among the majority of Americans appalled by Donald Trump’s presidency. Even so, righteous talk of his treason is worrisome from my standpoint as a critic of US war culture. I worry that a desire to defeat Trump and Trumpism by attacking any point of vulnerability works, in the present case, to reinforce militarism, even if inadvertently.
“Trump the Traitor” pretty well sums up the mainstream reaction to Mr. Trump’s resistance to the investigation of Russian meddling in US elections and his affinity for Mr. Putin. That is the title of Michael A. Cohen’s July 16 commentary in the Boston Globe.
It is “patently obvious,” Cohen writes, “that the president of the United States is an agent of the Russian government.” Trump sided with Putin (the Russian dictator, former KGB agent, unrepentant liar, and murderer) at their joint press conference in Helsinki and against US intelligence agencies and the Department of Justice. He blamed US foolishness for the troubles.
Trump is actively betraying his country with disregard for its security and Russian cyberattacks on its democratic institutions. Indeed, Cohen asks:
How else can one describe what’s happening right now? At the NATO summit last week, the president bashed America’s key European allies and even referred to the European Union as a “foe.” Last month, he pushed for Russia to be included in the G-8, all the while publicly attacking America’s G-7 allies. These mimic the foreign policy objectives of Putin.
Moreover, Cohen observes, Trump made “no mention of Putin’s seizure of Crimea and support for insurgents in Ukraine. No mention of Russian involvement in shooting down a Malaysian Airline plane four years ago this week. No mention of the poisoning of Russian opponents of Putin in London. And, of course, no mention of Russian cyberattacks.”
On the same day, John Shaddock’s commentary in the Boston Globe asked rhetorically: “Is Donald Trump Committing Treason?” The accompanying picture portrayed Trump shining Putin’s shoes with an American flag. Treason, according to federal law, is adhering to an enemy—giving the enemy aid and comfort. Abetting treason is concealing knowledge of the commission of treason. Trump’s failure to defend his country against Russian cyberattacks is “tantamount to giving aid and comfort to an enemy.“
It is difficult to sort out all the dynamics of this dramatization of Trump’s treason, but one of its entailments is to refresh and sharpen the image of the Russian enemy. Cohen and Shaddock exemplify this easy and perhaps inadvertent appropriation and nurturing of war culture.
US war culture circulates throughout our political discourse, sustaining itself despite the immense cost of ceaseless, repetitive warfare. I take my cue here from Tom Engelhardt’s August 16 post on the “repetitiousness” of the war in Afghanistan. After nearly seventeen years, the US is still fighting “fruitlessly” in a land known as the graveyard of empires. It is a war of “abysmal repetition.” Nearly every military tactic has been tried by the US, usually multiple times, without result. But what president, especially Donald Trump, wants to withdraw and admit defeat? The military is committed to a regime of “infinite” wars, with “no end in sight.”
Yet, Engelhardt observes, “most Americans hardly seem to notice that the war in Afghanistan is still going on.” There’s no one in the streets protesting it.
And if you’re being honest, can you really blame the public for losing interest in a war that they largely no longer fight, a war that they’re in no way called on to support (other than to idolize the troops who do fight it), a war that they’re in no way mobilized for or against?
There you have it. War culture operates below the threshold of dissent, nurturing itself by co-opting the language of political commentary. Whether or not Mr. Trump survives his critics’ charge of treason, the war state has replenished its political capital.