Peter Blaikie

Peter Blaikie

In the October issue of The Montrealer, I attempted, as objectively as possible, to identify different groups of probable supporters of President Donald Trump for the November 3 election. One of my children, who lives in the United States, asked me how I could possibly have forgotten the adherents of QAnon, the zealous conspiracy theorists whose whole-hearted support of Trump is undiminished by any reference to the real world. My only defense – space limitations!

At the other extreme, through Peter Kerr, I received an email comment which deserves to be published, albeit anonymously, in full.

“Thank you, Mr. Blaikie, for insulting at least 50% of the people of the United States by your article in The Montrealer for October 2020.

Your arrogance and ignorance knows (sic!) no bounds, typical of virtue-signalling Canadian smugness when it come to the US and Trump. Also typical of the small-minded Canadian attitude toward a great power.

Shame on you.”

As to “arrogance”, I plead Nolo contendere; others will judge. As to “ignorance”, I take the Fifth.

I do my best to discover and study the available facts and to base my conclusions on those facts. As to Canadian smugness and small-mindedness when it comes to the United States, I believe that our perspective is one of deep dismay and foreboding, that a country with such enormous potential and with so many of the best and brightest can be brought so low by a man utterly lacking in moral fibre. As to the matter of insults, while my “fan” believes that I insulted some 50% of Americans, the reader’s references to “Canadian smugness” and “the small-minded Canadian attitude toward a great power” insult Canada’s entire population.

Americans are entitled to have a president whose values and personal qualities exemplify the best of the country, not its worst 

In a quip generally attributed to Oscar Wilde, although also associated with others, a gentleman is defined as “one who never insults others unintentionally”. On that basis, I am a gentleman. Although I rather suspect that those who voted for Trump did so proudly, to the extent that anyone in the groups I suggested might consider himself/herself insulted, it was quite deliberate. As far as I am concerned, while I may understand why some 73 million Americans voted for Trump, and while I might find them admirable in many other respects, I certainly have no respect for their political choice.

Let us to admit that, from the perspective of those who voted to re-elect Trump, their decisions may have seemed rational. However, based on what should be expected from the President of the United States, their support cannot be justified. Beyond working for the security of the United States and its citizens (where Trump’s performance is highly debatable, but that is for another day), the president’s first duty is not to constantly and only play to and inflame his “base”, but to seek to be the president of all Americans. While this can be horrendously difficult, even at the best of times, President Trump made no attempt whatsoever to unite the country. His actions, during his entire term of office, were designed to sow discord and disunity; they succeeded to an alarming degree.

Beyond specific issues of policy, Americans are entitled to have a president whose values and personal qualities exemplify the best of the country, not its worst. There were few things I found more depressing, over the past four years, than to listen to Trump supporters stating, in essence, “I find his tweets distasteful, his insults unnecessary, and much of his behaviour disturbing, but I support his policies”, and then, in far too many cases, being incapable even of identifying those policies they actually supported, much less explaining them beyond slogans repeated and recycled endlessly by Trump and his enablers. Perhaps even more depressing was the performance of the Trump lackeys and sycophants in the Senate and House of Representatives.

In his years in office, Trump has worked diligently to hollow out many of the most important agencies of government

Many philosophers and ethicists have argued that we live in an age of moral relativism. Even taking that to be true, not all opinions are of equal value and entitled to respect. It is my view that, given the following elements of Trump’s presidential performance, there is no reason why the political choice of his supporters should be respected, however admirable those supporters may otherwise be. There is no valid reason to respect those who voted for a President:

  • Who, during and even prior to the formal election campaign, did everything in his power to persuade his supporters that the election would not be “free and fair”; that the use of mail-in ballots would lead to fraud; that the election of his opponent, then Vice-President Joe Biden, would lead to socialism and a depression; and that he could only lose if the election were fraudulent. Not a scintilla of fraud has been found.
  • Who, since November 3, has refused to acknowledge his defeat and to concede victory to his opponent; has continued to declare the election fraudulent; has retained a team of clownish attorneys to present utterly frivolous claims to a variety of courts, all of which, with two minor and meaningless exceptions, have been dismissed by both Republican and Democratic appointees.
  • Who has applied pressure, wherever possible, on Republican election officials, with a view to forcing them either to reject thousands of valid ballots or to refuse to certify the lawful results. He has gone so far as to attempt to directly influence Republican officials from Michigan by inviting them to the White House; fortunately, his pressure tactics have been unavailing.

Trump’s relentless pressure, which included the unceremonious firing of the responsible Republican election cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security, Christopher Krebs, has had its impact, not only on the officials, but on his supporters. Several polls since November 3 have shown that, at the very least, 70% of Republicans consider that the election was fraudulent and rigged.

  • Who, in his fantasy world, considers his performance in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic to have been irreproachable, when that performance has actually been an abject failure. With the possible exception of his relatively early ban on most flights to the United States from China and Europe, his performance has not only been irresponsible, but has been utterly dishonest. To the usual question, “What did he know, and when did he know it?”, the answer is that Trump knew a great deal long before he made any public acknowledgement of the dangers attached to Covid-19. For months he lied to the American public. For months he treated the wearing of a mask to show a lack of manliness. For months he attacked the governors of “blue states”, for example, New York and California, as being responsible for failures which were his own. For months he refused to use his presidential powers to ensure an adequate supply of Personal Protective Equipment. For months he undermined his scientific advisors and, for at least five months, has not attended a single meeting of the Pandemic Task Force.
  • Who, in the face of all the evidence, has categorically refused to take any responsibility for the debacle leading, to date, to the deaths of more than 260,000 Americans? While Trump loves photo opportunities seated behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, for him the buck does not stop there.

He has insulted not only all his political opponents, but also many of those Republicans who have not demonstrated abject loyalty

As an example of the difference between true leadership and President Trump’s conception of it, one might consider another critical moment in history. In June 1944, when General Dwight Eisenhower was commander-in-chief of the Allied Forces, he had to decide when to launch Overlord, the invasion of Europe. In the early days of June, while meteorological forecasting remained almost medieval, the weather was turbulent over England and the Channel. The winds howled, the clouds hung heavy over the Channel and the rain poured. By contrast with Trump, Eisenhower relied on the best science of the day in the person of Group Captain John Stagg, his chief meteorologist and one of the unsung heroes of D-Day.

On June 5, relying on the best information available to him, Captain Stagg advised Eisenhower that there would be a 24-hour “window” on June 6, during which the Channel would be calm before dreadful weather returned. Basing himself on Stagg’s recommendation, Eisenhower said to his senior commanders, “Okay, we’ll go tomorrow”. Privately, he then wrote a note in which he stated that if the invasion was a failure, the responsibility would be his alone.

This single episode demonstrates not only Eisenhower’s reliance on experts and the best science available, but his sense of responsibility. His leadership principle was “Take responsibility if things go badly, and give credit to others when they go well”. What a contrast to the vain, self-absorbed “stable genius”, who always knows better than everyone else.

  • Who, while hundreds of thousands of Americans were protesting in support of Black Lives Matter, and a small minority, a mixture of extremists from the left and the right, was committing acts of vandalism, openly supported the right-wingers and labeled the others as terrorists. The President virtually encouraged those driving pickup trucks through small American cities and towns, with heavily armed vigilantes in their boxes, to do their worst. To the Proud Boys he said, “Stand back and stand by”. To the forces of “law and order” near the White House, he ordered, directly or implicitly, that a path be cleared through peaceful protesters so that he could walk across the street to Lafayette Square and do a photo op holding “a Bible” in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
  • Who, during his years in office, has worked diligently to hollow out many of the most important agencies of government, many of them agencies on which even his most dedicated supporters rely. He has fired one Attorney General, one Director of the FBI, at least one Secretary of Defense, together with a host of other senior officials, including John Bolton and other Directors of National Security. Many others among the most senior permanent civil servants have either resigned or been terminated. In not a single case has the President had the courage to fire someone in a face-to-face interview; the firings have almost always been by way of a tweet. The man is a moral coward.
  • Who has adopted the default position of lying, such that the fact checkers in the media have concluded that he has either lied directly or made demonstrably false statements more than 20,000 times. On not one single occasion has he acknowledged that he “misspoke” or that his statements were not entirely accurate.
  • Who has refused to release his tax returns. Although the law does not require either a candidate for the presidency or the president himself to release his tax returns, that has been the custom for several decades and was respected by now President-Elect Biden. During his campaign in 2016, when asked about his federal tax payments, Trump replied that his minimal payments demonstrated how “smart” he was; in other words, he bragged both about how rich he was and how little he paid in taxes. Recently, the New York Times, having obtained them, prepared a lengthy analysis of his tax returns for several years. They demonstrated that, during the past several years, there were some where he paid no federal tax and others where he paid only $750. It is not yet clear whether Trump was evading taxes, which is illegal, or merely avoiding them by taking advantage of every conceivable loophole in the notoriously leaky Income Tax Code. Trump has changed his tune; he now claims that the Times information was “fake news” and that he has paid “millions” in taxes.
  • Who, although there were certainly no negative consequences to the President from either the Mueller Report or the impeachment hearings, was certainly not “exonerated” by the former and only avoided impeachment through the solidarity of his sycophants in the Senate. Neither the Mueller investigation nor the impeachment hearings could be qualified as a “hoax” or a “witch-hunt” by any objective measure. The former detailed, with a great deal of supporting evidence, the ways in which Trump attempted to obstruct justice. The latter demonstrated how laughable was the suggestion that the July 25, 2019 call to President Zelensky of the Ukraine was a “perfect call”. Bizarre as it may appear, Trump may well have benefited politically from both the Mueller investigation and the impeachment hearings. As has frequently happened, the Democrats appeared to be bringing a knife to a gun fight and to have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
  • Who, as no doubt will be catalogued by historians filling bookshelves with accounts of the ways in which Donald Trump did so, has breached his sacred oath to protect the Constitution and the people of the United States. With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Let me count (but some of) the ways”.
  • He has tipped the forelock and bowed the knee before practically every dictator and autocratic leader in the world, almost always for the sake only of a photo opportunity. The list of these “worthies” includes Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un, Jair Bolsonaro, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Rodrigo Duterte, together with such dubious democrats as Victor Orban and Narendra Modi.
  • He has insulted not only all his political opponents, to whom he has attached absurd nicknames, but also many of those Republicans who have not demonstrated sufficient abject loyalty, including Jeff Sessions, Mitt Romney and a host of others.
  • He has presided over perhaps the most corrupt administration in the history of the United States, including carrying nepotism to an unmatched level, using taxpayer money to fund his personal properties and activities, as well as appointing some 280 former lobbyists to senior positions in the administration.
  • Although his constitutional right to do so is not challenged, Trump has, in any ordinary sense of the word, abused his power to either pardon convicted criminals or commute their sentences. These presidential “gifts” have gone, for example, to General Michael Flynn, who admitted lying to the FBI, and to his “dear friend” Roger Stone who was convicted following a full trial.

Do voters who continued to support Trump in the face of all of this deserve respect for their political choice? Is it possible to insult them for that choice? “No” is the answer to both questions. I wish it were otherwise. The world needs the United Stated to be the shining city on a hill.

Peter Blaikie is a successful attorney, business executive, opinion leader and world traveller. He has been active in politics, serving as a past president of the Federal Conservative Party. (Then the Progressive Conservative Party)

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