From Under the Cone of Silence

Four days ago, I lowered the Cone of Silence, thereby tuning out all the news and commentary that keeps me relatively well-informed about current events. I wanted to watch the Democratic National Convention with no help from anybody else, unfiltered and undiscussed by anyone on TV or the internet. That’s meant no New York Times, no New York Magazine, no Guardian, no Daily Kos, no VOX, no Sky News, not even any Yahoo News for four whole days.

Finding gavel-to-gavel coverage of the convention online was easy (the convention has a website). Resisting the urge to read about it has been hard. In fact, despite my best efforts, one piece of news slipped under or through the Cone.

I learned that the Republican candidate for President of the United States said the Russians should try to find a bunch of Hillary Clinton’s emails and share them with the world. (Later, he apparently said he wasn’t joking.) That made me wonder. If the emails were uninteresting, hacking them would merely be a crime and an enormous campaign dirty trick. But if they did indeed contain sensitive national secrets, that would be a crime, a dirty trick and a breach of national security. Maybe Trump should have kept his mouth shut?

Anyway, I have a couple thoughts I want to share.

Remember two weeks ago when Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she was very worried about a Trump presidency? She later apologized for speaking out, since Supreme Court Justices are expected to keep their opinions about politics to themselves (although it’s fine for them to help elect a Republican President, vacate campaign finance laws and rule that the Voting Rights Act is obsolete, all while voting along party lines). 

Then, today, I saw that a retired Marine Corp general, John Allen, who commanded our forces in Afghanistan, will speak at the convention. Presumably, he will explain why he believes Clinton would be a much better Commander-in-Chief than you know who.

In reading a little about Gen. Allen, however, I saw some criticism at the Marine Corps Times site:

One expert on civil-military relations fears that by endorsing Clinton, Allen could give the appearance that he is speaking for current senior military leaders.

“A man of his prominence and his rank can be interpreted to speak for the whole military community, retired and active duty,” said Richard Kohn, who teaches military history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Kohn said he does not believe any retired military officer should ever endorse political candidates.

“They are in effect declaring themselves partisans and leaving the non-partisanship of the military profession and that’s a different thing,” he said.

We should note that a retired Army general spoke in favor of the Republican nominee last week, but putting that aside, it strikes me that anyone criticizing Gen. Allen, and anyone who criticized Justice Ginsburg, in fact even Justice Ginsburg herself, have all missed the point.

Rules help us make our way through life in an orderly fashion. Ethical rules, professional rules, grammatical rules, rules of thumb, the rules we call “the law”, they all help us deal with the situations we confront as we go about our business. Should I take that loaf of bread without paying? If he won’t look you in the eye, he’s probably lying. Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. “Couldn’t” is okay, but “can’t” isn’t.

As we all know, however, extraordinary things do happen. We sometimes face situations where the standard rules aren’t good enough. Can you think of such a situation today? Let me put it this way: Trump is so utterly unqualified to be President, he would be so dangerous if he became Commander-in-Chief, that no rules, laws, standards or common practices should stop anyone at all from saying so. 

Despite the fact that he won a major political party’s nomination, it would be entirely appropriate if the whole Supreme Court (all eight of them) and the senior officers who make up the Joint Chiefs of Staff (all seven of them) went on national television and pointed out the obvious fact: Nobody should vote for this guy! Wake up, you people!

I don’t mean to say that none of the rules apply in this situation. We should still have a presidential election on November 8th. The FBI shouldn’t put Trump in a cell. He shouldn’t be given a one-way ticket to Mars. But, seriously, we all need to do what we can to stop him from becoming President. We need to do it for ourselves as Americans but also for the rest of the world. (There are even rules in our favor: Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.)

Before I go, there was one other thing I wanted to mention. Maybe you’ve seen a movie called “Seven Days in May”. It was based on a novel about an attempted military coup in the United States. The idea was that the President wanted to sign a treaty with the Russians, but most of our military really hated it. So Burt Lancaster and a bunch of other high-ranking officers tried to take over the government. I won’t tell you how it ended, but we were lucky to have Kirk Douglas on our side.

Now consider if somebody like the general who led the conspiracy in Seven Days in May decided to leave the Army and run for President. As played by Burt Lancaster, Gen. James Mattoon Scott was a very handsome, very intelligent, very experienced, very skilled officer. If anyone was looking for a Man on a White Horse to save America in its darkest hour, he’d be a prime candidate.

So here’s my question: If millions of Americans are willing to elect an unpredictable ignoramus and reality TV con man like Trump, how would our fellow citizens react to a candidate who favored equally misguided policies, but who could speak intelligently and had a distinguished record of service to America?

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not worry about that question. We have enough trouble already.