Just about everything Donald Trump says and does seems tuned to the 24/7 news cycle and proceeds from the same assumption behind news channel programming: that each new story not only engages the audience, it helps their memories disengage from the older stories that went before, that went away.
This assumption that your acts disappear as you leave them behind is perfectly amoral – without memory, man has no conscience.
Trump’s presidency has been filled with defects in memory and conscience, and, as he sees it, until it’s proved different – by conviction by the Senate or defeat in November, he’s gotten away with it. Now he thinks he’s gotten away with murder.
Like he knew he would: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue,” Candidate Trump bragged in January 2016, “and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
It’s January 2020 and the news cycles of the New Year are full of too much news about impeachment. So, how about changing the subject? How about shooting a missile into Iranian general Qassem Suleimani? And betting that he “wouldn’t lose any voters.”
The ugly word for what was done to Gen. Suleimani is “murder,” but for cases of important people targeted for political or ideological reasons, the word is “assassination.” The Trump Administration calls it “a targeted killing.” In Washington those words matter, but in much of the Middle East, the message in the Iranian terror strategist’s death, the mental caption on the video of the burning wreckage is “this could be you.”
White House hawks call this a message of deterrence, “don’t mess with the U.S..” But millions of people who hadn’t considered themselves enemies of America saw those flames on video and felt bullied by a country that would kill because it could. Which message survives the killing – targeted intimidation or antagonism and disrespect – could matter long after Trump’s goal line of Election Day.
There’s something in addition to conscience that memory stirs – revenge. Somebody tell the president.
Karen J. Greenberg, a noted expert on national security, terrorism, and civil liberties, is Director of the Center on National Security. She is the author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days (Oxford University Press, 2009), which was selected as one of the best books of 2009 by The Washington Post and Slate.com.
Her newest book, Rogue Justice:The Making of the Security State (Crown, 2016), explores the War on Terror’s impact on justice and law in America. She is co-editor with Joshua L. Dratel of The Enemy Combatant Papers: American Justice, the Courts, and the War on Terror (Cambridge University Press, 2008) and The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib (Cambridge University Press, 2005); editor of the books The Torture Debate in America (Cambridge University Press, 2006) and Al Qaeda Now (Cambridge University Press, 2005); and editor of the Terrorist Trial Report Card, 2001–2011.
Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Nation, The National Interest, Mother Jones, TomDispatch.com,and on major news channels. She is a permanent member of the Council on Foreign Relations.