The Signal this week is the unequivocal “fuck you” message that the Trump administration is delivering to the rest of the world.
It’s certainly not new for US military personnel to commit war crimes. The Vietnam War was awash in such actions, from the My Lai massacre to the assassinations of the Phoenix Program. In the Central American civil wars of the 1980s, US-trained personnel carried out unspeakable atrocities. And US military personnel were up to their eyeballs in the torture of Iraqi prisoners, as revealed in Abu Ghraib scandal.
Usually, though, US presidents try to preserve a veneer of plausible deniability. They don’t go out of their way to celebrate soldiers accused or convicted of war crimes. It doesn’t look good for the so-called leader of the free world to openly show complete disregard for human rights and the rule of law.
Trump has now taken a hatchet to that taboo. Over the past two weeks, he has pardoned murderous war criminals and demanded that they be restored to their former military rank—and now his Pentagon chief has fired Richard Spencer, the secretary of the Navy. While there are competing explanations for this, it’s likely Spencer was dismissed for daring to stand up to Trump when the latter reversed the Navy’s plans to remove CPO Edward Gallagher from the elite SEAL unit.
Trump’s modus operandi has long been to sully every individual and institution under his control. He survives by implicating everyone in his sordid actions and by making as many institutions as possible complicit in his crimes: the Justice Department, the EPA, the State Department, and now the Pentagon. Trump demands absolute obedience, and he tries to break any individual or institution that stands in his way.
Read Spencer’s resignation letter. It’s a cri de coeur from a man horrified that the values of decency and constitutional governance are being deliberately sabotaged by the president of the United States.
When will Trump be brought to heel? We should remember the Army-McCarthy hearings in Congress, when, in June of 1954, Army special counsel Joseph Welch finally broke the power of the demagogue Senator Joe McCarthy by asking, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” McCarthy had no good answer. Trump may eventually be asked that question. In the meantime, the horror show continues.
Speaking of the military, perhaps only Trump’s team could dream up a plan to imprison immigrants next to a toxic Army dump in Texas, a place almost guaranteed to wreck their health. Or course, it’s not as if the well-being of foreign nationals—“aliens” as they are now coldly referred to in official USCIS documents—matters a whit to this group of gargoyles. Trump’s nativist enforcers are sending large numbers of asylum seekers to camps in Mexico. They’ve also started deporting refugees to dangerous third countries. Hence the obscene spectacle last week of an asylum seeker from Honduras being put onto a plane and unceremoniously dumped in Guatemala.
That’s the Signal. And the Noise? Breathless speculation about Trump’s unscheduled medical visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on November 16. More jokes about Trump’s inane marker-pen notes to himself claiming no desire for a quid pro quo from Ukraine. And Rudy Giuliani waxing mob-poetic about having “insurance” in case his boss ever decides to throw him to the wolves.