WASHINGTON — The smell of napalm in August arises from the war President Donald Trump is waging against John Brennan, former CIA director, and special counsel Robert Mueller, in his sights right now. Trump tries to bend these enemies to his will with one savage insult after another, lately revoking Brennan's security clearance.
Yet they're two of the few men in this town not afraid of his anger. So Trump lashes out all the more, using tricks of the New York real estate trade — threats, bluffs, boasts, lies.
Because the United States government is just another deal, a game with only one winner.
Oh, we know the trash he talks: disgrace this, worst that, very sad, enemy — and even "dog" for a woman of color who learned his game too well on "The Apprentice."
Omarosa Manigault Newman, fired from the White House, revealed an important insight: that Trump "loves the hate." Simply, he loves to make people hate him.
I still catch myself saying, "Presidents don't talk like that. They don't shout and swear in public." American presidents don't fight with allies abroad and Harley-Davidson at home. Never.
Now it's always. Trump started out with scowls at his own inauguration, usually a day of unity, and a tough speech that used words like "carnage."
Here's the saddest thing: Trump brings out the worst in the American character. As he is coarse, he has made our public discourse more nasty, brutish and short. Racial tensions are ratcheted up, with the president defiantly declaring the gang who started a deadly race riot "very fine people." That was last August.
Playing to the white male "base" is what they all say.
In the late summer light, wouldn't it be nice to have a president admit a slight sex scandal that had no foreign policy angles? Give me peace, prosperity and an affair with a sweet and sassy young woman that didn't amount to a hill of beans. Hey, Bill Clinton, never a dull day.
Also in August, wouldn't be welcome to see a president resign after a long fall into disgrace? One with rare insight into how he had destroyed himself after a campaign burglary went awry and got covered up — but with no collusion with a foreign power. Thanks, Richard Nixon, for keeping your crimes, like wiretapping, on our home field.
Our presidential problems were so small in the last century.
I grew up in an anti-war family that loved to hate Nixon, so much so that my mother drove to San Clemente, California, to see with her own eyes his last Air Force ride after resigning. He disembarked in utter silence on the tarmac, before critics and supporters. Silence has its dignity.
Clinton was the sun, and awkward Nixon was a dark planet, hateful in the privacy of the Oval Office. But each man knew how to conduct policy. They were men of substance who could run a government.
They knew democracy was not a one-man show.
Tragically, Republicans on Capitol Hill are afraid of Trump's rage, but for one senator who dared to vote to save Obamacare: John McCain of Arizona. Gravely ill, he's gone to live his remaining days on his ranch.
The timid Trump Cabinet quails at his anger, except James Mattis, the former Marine Corps general at the Pentagon post. The only Americans Trump shows respect for are Marine Corps generals. Attorney General Jefferson Sessions is a year-round target of his ranting and ridicule.
The press, intimidated by Trump, has tippy-toed around his tweets, as if they're gospel. Not one White House correspondent asked Trump how it felt to lose the popular vote by three million votes in 2016. Just now the media is standing up, with a chorus of editorials on the importance of the free press.
Twitter must be afraid of Trump, because by their own rules they should have shut his account, a weapon of war in his presidency.
Let's leave the FBI and the spy agencies for another day. They are not going to save democracy. Only we the people are.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators.com website.
Image courtesy of Diliff