Donald Trump is a purveyor of hatred, a contrarian: anti-liberal, anti-democratic and hostile to a free press, an anti-environmental, corruptible bully; a liar, a misogynist groper and a boor. He developed the political platform you would expect on the back of this persona. And as Village went to press at the beginning of February he appeared now to be implementing it. He holds the reins of power in the most powerful country in the world. He holds the nuclear codes, he can start wars, he can ensure nothing is done about climate change, so that civilisation itself is threatened.
At the end of January the Trump administration announced that it would temporarily bar entry to all refugees and to travellers from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen due to terrorism concerns. The relevant order seeks “extreme vetting” procedures for those it did allow to enter the US. In signing the order, Trump said he pledged to “keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America”.
His approach comprehensively breaches the Geneva Conventions and Protocols. It is uncivilised to bar humans suffering such misery. It is unAmerican to bar what the inscription on the Statue of Liberty describes as “Your tired, Your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. Yet that is the new President’s agenda.
Trump has promised to rewrite the rules on international trade to put “America first”. He has bullied Mexico, which he claims should pay for a nonsensical wall along its US border. For good or bad he has pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Trading Partnership. He would welcome disintegration of the EU, which has kept peace in Europe since World War II. He encourages hatemongers like Nigel Farage in Britain and Marine Le Pen in France.
The Trump administration is drawing up executive orders to curtail US funding to international agencies — including those connected to the United Nations — The New York Times has reported.
A different draft order obtained by the Times said that the Trump administration would call for a review of all treaties with multiple countries — with the goal of determining which ones the United States should exit.
Trump has called climate change a Chinese hoax, threatened to pull out of the landmark Paris climate pact, said he will reopen coal mines, and facilitated two carbon-encouraging pipelines. He has removed references to climate change from federal websites and appointed climate-change deniers at every level to his administration, including to head the EPA. It is rumoured there will be a witch-hunt of those who championed climate-change mitigation in government.
Climate change is the biggest problem of our age. If we fail to keep the increase in Earth’s temperature to two degrees above pre-industrial levels, we risk the end of civilisation – famine, desertification, water wars, extinctions and the demise of our coastal cities as ice melts and sea levels rise.
Trump is sexually predatory. Even before the release of a 2005 video in which he boasted about sexually assaulting women—“Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything,” he said, as well as “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything”—there was a litany of allegations against Trump. Jill Harth says Trump assaulted her in the 1990s. Trump’s ex-wife Ivana Trump once suggested he had raped her, though she has since recanted her story. Former Miss Utah Temple Taggart said he kissed her on the lips inappropriately. A woman who brought a rape case against Trump (twice) withdrew her suit in November, but in January, Summer Zervos sued Trump for defamation, after he labeled her claims of sexual assault false. There are many others. Trump denies all of the allegations and sometimes suggests the women were not attractive enough to have merited his attentions.
Meanwhile he has drawn up executive orders denying federal funding to abortion clinics in the US and for organisations that give out information on abortion. He has repeatedly promised to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court, and has nominated ultra-conservative Neil Gorsuch, saying this could mean the overturning of Roe v Wade, and that he will sign anti-abortion measures approved by Congress, now entirely in Republican hands.
Trump has no awareness of ethics: he has not published his tax returns or distanced himself properly from his financial affairs , he lies, bullies and harasses. The Department of Justice sued Trump and his father Fred in 1973 for housing discrimination at 39 sites around New York. “The government contended that Trump Management had refused to rent or negotiate rentals ‘because of race and color,’” The New York Times reported. “It also charged that the company had required different rental terms and conditions because of race and that it had misrepresented to blacks that apartments were not available.” Trump called the accusations “absolutely ridiculous”. Four times in his career, Trump’s companies have entered bankruptcy.
In support of all of his agenda, Trump brings the language and the methodology of divisiveness, difference, intolerance, misogyny and machismo. His currency is dishonesty and boorishness.
Trump encouraged violence at his rallies, like Fascists do, and has incited hatred against Muslims, Mexicans and Chinese. He is a misogynist and a self-confessed greedy plutocrat. He is also a fraudulent liar in a way that no other US presidential candidate, less still President, has ever been. Moreover, Trump is driven by no coherent ideology, only policy-substitute hatreds’ and the drive for ‘America First’ that he extolled even at his inauguration. His entire influence is nefarious, he sows fracture and hatred, particularly among beleaguered white men with unrealistic expectations, most of all about their country and themselves. Trump has claimed that they are the victim of “carnage” driven by crime. Mary Robinson accurately characterised this as a “white entitlement bubble”.
SO WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
We have one of the worst men in the most powerful position, one where he can do damage to millions, to billions, to the planet.
Trump once suggested that Hillary Clinton’s lack of enthusiasm for guns might attract the attentions of a gun-favouring assassin. Around the time of Trump’s inauguration as US president, there was a spike in searches for odds on his assassination. Some punters were even asking bookmakers on Twitter for odds on Trump to be killed before the end of his term.
So perhaps the solution is tyrannicide. As he might say himself – “take him out”.
Tyrannicide has had support from various philosophers and theologians through the centuries, including the ancient Greeks and Romans, most notably Cicero; Catholics, most notably John of Salisbury (d. 1180); and Protestants, most notably, Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin.
Aquinas and the Natural Law
St Thomas Aquinas gave the most substantial Christian argument for tyrannicide. He based his position on his arguments for just war and capital punishment and concluded: “He who kills a tyrant (i.e. an usurper) to free his country is praised and rewarded”.
However, Trump has a mandate: he was elected very recently. Aquinas would be reticent about the degree of usurpation in this case.
On the other hand, Trump’s impulses are not democratic. If he pushes towards curtailing freedoms and minority rights it may become legitimate for Christians to think about removing him. A tyrant by oppression is one who has come to power legitimately, but rules unjustly, oppressively, and arbitrarily. Here Aquinas believed the community had a duty to confront the tyrant, and if necessary, depose him, according to the course of law available. If he does not go, he becomes a tyrant by usurpation and thereby may be eliminated by an act of justifiable tyrannicide in accordance with principles of necessity and proportionality and provided the common good is served.
Acting in accordance with these principles, to save Germany from devastating defeat in the Second World War, and form a new government, Lieutenant Colonel Klaus von Stauffenberg, described as “a serious Catholic”, formed a plot to assassinate Hitler, which famously failed in 1944, resulting in his execution.
Outside of religion and the ‘Natural Law’ perhaps the best known relevant moral theory is Utilitarianism. Like other forms of consequentialism, its core idea is that whether actions are morally right or wrong depends on their effects. More specifically, the only effects of actions that are relevant are the good and bad results that they produce.
Utilitarians believe that the purpose of morality is to make life better by increasing the amount of good things (such as pleasure and happiness) in the world and decreasing the amount of bad things (such as pain and unhappiness).
Mature rights theories would weigh the right of Trump to life against the rights of others to equal concern, respect and rights.
Trump is a fool, he will alienate friends and enrage enemies. He will breach the constitution, illegally enrich himself, fall out with his allies and make evidence-unsupported mistakes. Ladbrokes bookies have Trump at evens to leave office via impeachment or resignation before the end of his first term. Paddy Power has Trump to be impeached in his first term at 3/1, and 7/4 to not complete his first term in office.
He will fall on a metaphorical sword, he does not need one wielded by a third party. Shooting Trump is unnecessary and disproportionate.
Furthermore in the process of self-destruction he will generate an awareness of the dangers of allowing power to an intolerant narcissist so that institutions will be reformed, progressive policies enshrined and popular opinion inured against ever repeating the Trump mistake.
On these bases, the Natural Law would wait to see democracy play its proper role, utilitarianism would say the backlash against an assassination would risk all it might achieve and lose the benefits that a democratic backlash would itself achieve. Rights-based theories would perhaps come closest to condoning violence against Trump but the right to life of Trump himself would weigh heavily.
More trivially, any would-be assassin, more even than von Stauffenberg, risks being uncovered and discredited – in person and ideologically.
The calculus is clearly against violence, even in the case of Trump. Stick to democracy, rigorously but applied, as necessary, stealthily and aggressively.