Trump Time Capsule #20: 'It's War, It's Absolute War'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

I made the mistake of watching, live, Donald Trump’s phone-in interview with a highly deferential Fox and Friends crew early this morning. If you have the stomach, you can watch it below.

This was the source of the quote “It’s war, it’s absolute war!” with which Trump opens the discussion, and his repeated suggestions (as David Graham has closely analyzed) that President Obama may in fact be a double agent who is fostering the terrorists.

Time Capsule #20, June 13, 2016, Something’s going on.

Sample quotes:

"We're led by a man who is very -- look, we're led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he's got something else in mind. And the something else in mind, you know, people can't believe it."...

"People cannot believe, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and he can't even mention the words 'radical Islamic terrorism.' There's something going on. It's inconceivable. There's something going on."...

"He doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands. It's one or the other, and either one is unacceptable."

I am not aware of any modern precedent of a major-party nominee publicly accusing an opponent, let alone a sitting president, of treason. Sure, each side has harbored dark fantasies about the other — and, sure, the rhetoric of the early 1800s and the Civil War era was very dire. But in the conscious lifetimes of today’s adult Americans, no major-party nominee has, before today, publicly suggested that his opponent might actively be a traitor.

You could see this as a linear extension of Trump’s “other-ing” of Obama, through his earlier insane birth-certificate crusade. But the step he has now taken should be noted. He is suggesting that a serving president is not just possibly foreign-born but also perhaps a foreign agent. This is the man Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Reince Priebus, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, John McCain, Bob Dole, and the rest of the Republican “establishment” say deserves their support.

***

In fairness, Obama is not the only sitting president against whom Trump has made charges verging on treason. Four months ago, in a Republican debate in South Carolina, Trump said that George W. Bush had deliberately lied the country into its disastrous war in Iraq:

“They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none, and they knew there were none.”  

Also please read Molly Ball’s report on the so-far doomed task of creating a “nice” and “presidential” Trump; Glenn Thrush on Trump’s overall response to the slaughter in Orlando; and Katy Tur on Trump’s now-established pattern of responding to any bad news with “I was right!” comments and Tweets.

No one like this has ever before gotten this far in our democratic system.