It doesn't take a psychiatrist to see that, above all else, what drives Donald Trump the most is his desire to be a winner. While this aspect of his character is far from new, it has been highlighted time and again since he took office. Winning the election wasn't enough. He had to have won by the "biggest Electoral College margin since Reagan" (even though his victory was dwarfed by Obama twice, Bill Clinton twice, and George H.W. Bush) and also have been the rightful popular vote winner (despite losing by three million votes and there being no evidence supporting his claims of widespread voter fraud). He couldn't be happy with being sworn in as leader of the free world; his inauguration had to be the largest in history (even though it was clearly a smaller crowd than Obama's 2008 ceremony). It's a necessity for Trump to be the biggest, the best, the most dominant.
Normally, this type of one-man pissing contest just causes us to roll our eyes and mutter a snarky comment about the president's obvious insecurities.
But then he incorporates our national security into his alpha-male ludicrousness, and suddenly a simple character flaw turns into something much more disturbing.
It started last Thursday, when Trump said in an interview that the United States had "fallen behind on nuclear weapon capacity" and that he wanted us to be "top of the pack" when it comes the nations with nuclear armaments. Then on Monday, the president unveiled his budget proposal. His plan calls for a 10% increase in military spending (totaling $54 billion) to be paid for by drastic cuts to most non-defense agencies, including massive cuts to the State department. He followed it up on Monday with a speech to U.S. governors in which he lamented that "we never win wars anymore" and claimed that "we have to start winning wars again."
If this type of talk scares you, know that you aren't alone. A recent survey from NBC News showed that a whopping 66% of Americans are afraid that the country will become engrossed in a major war during Trump's term in office.
This is an area where Trump's bluster and bombast can have actual, dangerous repercussions. If he really were to take steps to expand America's nuclear arsenal, it would represent a reversal of decades of progress. At the peak of the Cold War, the U.S. and Russia alone had over 60,000 nuclear weapons. Now, the entire planet's nuclear arsenal is less than a third of that total. That's still more than enough firepower to end human civilization as we know it many times over, but it is nonetheless a huge step in the right direction. We have enough threats to our long-term viability on this planet right now with climate change, starvation, water shortages, and disease (just to name a few). Do we really need to add a new nuclear arms race to the ever-growing list?
Trump's Strangeloveian nuke fetish is disturbing, but it appears to be a symptom of a broader love for war and military action. And it's not love in a "support our troops" sense, either. He talks about war, not as a way to make our country safer, but as a way to show everyone else who's boss and enrich ourselves in the process. According to Trump, the biggest problem with the Iraq War wasn't the lives lost (including 4,500 American servicemen and at least 66,000 civilian noncombatants) or the insane cost (over $2 trillion dollars); it was that we didn't plunder Iraq's oil reserves to pay for it (which is a war crime, by the way). But don't worry! Trump says we may get another chance to go in and get that oil after all.
I'm not being as naïve as to deny that all modern American presidents have had to utilize military force at times, or that they always do it in a way that always follows the letter of the law 100% of the time. Barack Obama was surely a lot more trigger happy with drone strikes than many liberals were comfortable with, and people are still analyzing the Bush administration's bumbled handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But none of Trump's predecessors every glorified war in the way he has done. None of them disrespected our military by complaining about how we don't win wars anymore, and none of them spoke with such excitement about the chance to get back to "winning again."
War is not a thing to celebrate or glorify. It is (or should be) an absolute last resort. Because there are no real winners in war. Even the country that emerges victorious experiences the traumatic aftermath of lives lost, minds broken, and families torn apart.
Some argue that there are "just wars," in which going to war is the moral action to take in order to prevent suffering. Others claim that there is no such thing, and that wars are immoral in and of themselves. I'll leave that argument for others. I just hope we can all agree on one thing that is not a legitimate reason for war: stroking the ego of the narcissist in the Oval Office.