Here’s an anecdote from last week that indicates that Donald Trump has a credible chance to become the next president of the United States:
I attended a lecture titled “Where Are We in the War on Terror,” presented by retired Army Lt. Col. Jeffrey Addicott to several hundred retired residents of Sun City, Texas, about 35 miles north of Austin.
Addicott has credentials: He’s a professor of law and the director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. His bio says that he is an “internationally recognized authority on national security law.” He has testified before Congress and delivered more than 700 speeches. He has written more than 60 books and articles and given more than 4,000 interviews to outlets that range from The New York Times to Fox News.
Nevertheless, he was just plain wrong about a good deal of what he said.
For example, he said that the great majority of the refugees fleeing Syria are men. No, United Nations data, as reported in a number of sources, indicate that males age 18-59 represent about 22 percent of Syrian refugees, less than the 24 percent who are women. Among all refugees, almost 40 percent are children under 12. If these figures are reliable, Addicott is just plain wrong.
Addicott commended George W. Bush (he said that he has met Bush four times) for pursuing the war in Afghanistan after 9/11, but then Bush, he said, made the mistake of listening to bad — if well-meant — advice about staying in the Middle East to build schools and roads.
No, the bad advice Bush listened to came from his vice president and his secretary of defense, who urged him to use 9/11 as an excuse to pursue an unjustified war in Iraq, which turns out to have been the source of many of our current problems and much of the misery in the Middle East. Again, just plain wrong.
Addicott pictured the 9/11 hijackers as religious radicals, and it’s true that few things can radicalize people more than religion. But the hijackers had rational motivations, as well, including objections to American support for an oppressive Saudi monarchy and a long history of Western exploitation of Middle Eastern resources. Oversimplification is another way to be just plain wrong.
Addicott quickly moved from misinformation to fear. He claimed to have predicted 9/11 — in ALL CAPs, he said — well before the attack, and now he’s predicting another attack in the homeland, but this time the casualties will amount to 3 million rather than 3,000. Scary.
At this point he sort of lost track of his theme and began to take generic, condescending swings at “liberals.” They’re unpatriotic (he’s wrong in that blunt generalization). They believe that capital punishment is unconstitutional (again, wrong), and he displayed an unseemly enthusiasm for putting people to death. In fact, if the executioner has to call in sick, let him know and he’d be glad to fly in to throw the switch.
Liberals might whine that, oh, we might accidentally execute an innocent person. But you know, he said, “Nobody’s perfect.”
Huh? At this point I realized that we had moved into the realm of the surreal.
But it was the ordinariness of the occasion, rather than its surrealism, that was alarming. The speaker had respectable credentials. The audience was made up of educated, successful, well-funded, white retirees. They were not the non-college, blue collar coal miners and steel workers whose decline in recent decades has inspired them to support a man who has promised to make America great again. No, America has been good to these people.
A few walked out on Addicott and, I understand, a few registered complaints with the lecture’s sponsors.
But many applauded him or, at least, appeared to be content to reside in a place where facts are held in careless regard and where anyone who’s very different from us is someone to be feared and subjected to harsh measures.
In short, a land where Donald Trump could be elected president.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. Readers may send him email at [email protected].