Trump Time Capsule #22: 'Prioritizing Our Enemy'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
We’re pretty sure President #1 was not working for the enemy. But what about #44? (Wikipedia)

Time Capsule #22, June 14, 2016 (Flag Day). Prioritizing our enemy.

I lay out the details and sequence after the jump, but here’s the simple summary of Donald Trump’s latest excursion beyond historical and political norms:

  • Yesterday morning, Trump suggested on Fox news that the incumbent U.S. president might be a traitor or a double agent. That was because, in Trump’s view, Barack Obama was either too dumb to recognize the threat from terrorists — or in fact was all too aware, and had wittingly allowed attacks to go on.
  • Today Trump made, if anything, a more direct attack, telling the Associated Press that President Obama “continues to prioritize our enemy over our allies, and for that matter, the American people."

Saying that the Commander in Chief has prioritized the enemy’s interests is an accusation of treason (as David Graham explains). I am not aware of any previous case, whatsoever, of a national-ticket candidate publicly accusing a president or presidential nominee of a capital offense.

In the heat of campaigns, partisans and polemicists and ordinary citizens have accused national leaders of disloyalty and treason, among other failings. A popular anti-liberal book that helped propel Barry Goldwater’s rise in the early ‘60s was even called None Dare Call It TreasonBut Goldwater left that to the polemicists. He did not himself publicly call John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson traitors.

This is apart from the spectacle of a man who has called for disbanding NATO, and for removing U.S. military guarantees to South Korea and Japan, worrying about the interests of “allies.”

People who support Trump are implicitly endorsing such views.

Details below.

Here is the 1-2-3 chain of events:

  1. Donald Trump gave a “formal” speech yesterday, scripted rather than ad-libbed, which argued that America’s problems with ISIS internationally and terrorism domestically were like all its other problems, in this crucial way: The solutions are simple and obvious, and mainly involve toughness. So once Donald Trump and his team get their chance, the whole mess would be cleaned up fast.
  2. The fact that it has not been cleaned up yet meant that those in charge, starting with the feckless Obama, are dopes at best  — and something far worse, at worst.
  3. That something, as Trump unmistakably implied about Obama in his Fox and Friends interview yesterday, is that “something is going on,” that Obama is playing a double game. “He doesn’t get it or he gets it better than anybody understands.” 
  4. When The Washington Post and many others (including David Graham and me here at The Atlantic) pointed out that Trump had broken past norms by publicly questioning a sitting president’s loyalty, Trump got furious at the Post. He broke another longstanding norm by pulling its press credentials, something even Richard Nixon did not do when the Post was involved in investigations that led to his downfall.  
  5. Today President Obama spoke with half-contained fury about Trump’s response and its combined insults to Muslims as a group, immigrants, law enforcement, and the people in U.S. and allied military and intelligence organizations that had been coping with terrorist and ISIS threats. It was a remarkable brief speech, which you can read about here and watch a part of via C-Span here
  6. Trump’s response, via email to the Associated Press, included the charge that Obama was “prioritizing our enemy.”

Trump said during the campaign that when he is elected, “We’re going to win so much, you’re going to get tired of winning.”

I am getting tired of noting that we are seeing things that have never happened before in American public life. We just take it in stride, but we’re striding into new, bad territory.

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I discussed these and related matters this afternoon with The Atlantic’s Molly Ball and Yoni Appelbaum, in a Facebook Live session: