Could Trump Presidency Close Down Washington?
Donald Trump’s campaign for the nomination showed an intimidating style. He attaches ugly labels to those who compete with him — and then announces that the other guy “started it.”
His wife advised that Donald would “hit back 10 times harder to any attacks.” He, himself, talks of the “heavy price” that his opponents would pay if they dare to oppose.
He seems to be a smear artist and bully.
My personal experience with the Nixon administration suggests what life in Washington, D.C., might come to resemble if Donald Trump became president.
On May 6, 1971, the Federation of American Scientists released a 50-page heavily documented report signed by famous scientists, which I had authored, titled “Is there an R&D gap?”
It was praised in the press and in TV news. The famous Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Herblock published a cartoon with the ironic caption: “More Money! The Russians May Be Outspending Us.” And the Senate Armed Services Committee opened an investigation.
The Nixon administration retaliated. It had an office of dirty tricks. A right-wing columnist, Joseph Alsop, was induced to attack. In his column, published in 600 newspapers, he said I was working for the Russians and following the Communist line.
The Nixon administration had an enemies list and I was put on it.
A Trump administration might do this and worse. It seems likely to unleash an unruly mob of Trump supporters to harass its critics, something that was not done by the Nixon administration.
Already, a Trump backer (Roger Stone, no relation) has threatened to release telephone numbers and room numbers of Republican convention delegates who stray from the fold.
Megyn Kelly of Fox News said on the air, on “The Kelly File,” that “yours truly” had been threatened with retaliation if she asked Trump hard questions.
She did, and the Trump organization unleashed a mob of outraged Trump supporters to denounce her on Twitter and by email.
In other words, a Trump administration seems likely to consider its critics “fair game” for political destruction, as Vice President Dick Cheney famously referred to the wife of a critic of President George W. Bush. Cheney is supporting Mr. Trump.
In 1971, after the Nixon White House enemies list had been revealed, The Washington Post called to ask if I had been audited by the IRS.
The reporter said the paper was investigating to see whether the Nixon administration had ordered the IRS to harass everyone on its enemies list.
A Trump administration would have voluminous information, collected by all the agencies of government, including the National Security Agency, on the infidelities and peccadilloes of all the congressmen (and others inside Washington and outside).
Congressmen could be afraid to dissent. Fear of Trump-induced smear and harassment could exceed the legendary fear of the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover and his files.
The one thing about Donald Trump that seems unlikely to change is his narcissistic and combative personality, his arrogant contempt for critics and his indifference to the usual rules of civility in debate.
And he seems likely to surround himself with others who believe in the politics of bullying such as Gov. Chris Christie. Christie had a film team instructed to be careful to film all episodes in which Christie shouted down critics — for use in his presidential campaign.
Ominously, Christie is now in charge of the transition team that selects candidates for Trump’s Cabinet and thousands of other executive branch positions. He will look for tough guys.
Accordingly, the worst thing about a Trump administration may not be an erratic seat-of-the-pants approach to policy-making. The worst thing is that his administration might intimidate Washington, D.C., from effective review of those policies.
Trump supporters may be right to sense that he could cut through the gridlock. But what if his administration closes down the town?
© 2016 San Diego Union-Tribune