Columns » Gene Lyons

Perilous times

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Should history record the sudden collapse of American democracy, it will be illustrated by CNN screenshots of Stormy Daniels strapped to a lie detector. You know, that staged photo of the porn actress in a tight yellow T-shirt with her preposterous fake breasts that the TV networks couldn't show often enough before her underwhelming "60 Minutes" interview on CBS.

Also with photos of newly appointed National Security Advisor John Bolton's extremely silly moustache. But hold that thought.

TV couldn't get enough of Stormy's big hooters. Hers was a scam worthy of the man-child president himself — a professional wrestling-style publicity stunt.

A lie detector? Why not a Ouija board?

Other than demonstrating that she's a whole lot smarter and more self-possessed than her impulsive paramour, however, Stormy failed to titillate an easily distracted nation. Mob-style threats, nondisclosure agreements, defamation lawsuits? Where were the bawdy details the panting audience of "60 Minutes" awaited? Was it nothing more than a Bourbon Street striptease?

No, it wasn't.

Early polls showed voters believing the porn star (and the Playmate) 3-1 over the president of the United States. But so what? Anybody who didn't already know Trump's an eternal teenager who goes for the brazen, silicon-enhanced Barbie-doll-type probably voted for him.

To the extent that they bought the tease, Americans are a nation of yokels. Or, as the great misanthrope H.L. Mencken put it in 1923, "The most timorous, sniveling, poltroonish, ignominious mob of serfs and goose-steppers ever gathered under one flag in Christendom since the Middle Ages."

The antics of the Trump White House furnish living proof daily. But nobody's really laughing. Indeed, to anybody paying serious attention the nation has rarely faced such danger — virtually all of it Trump's doing.

Richard Haas, a former high-ranking George W. Bush administration official and longtime president of the Council on Foreign Relations, put it this way on Twitter: "@realDonaldTrump is now set for war on 3 fronts: political vs Bob Mueller, economic vs China/others on trade, and actual vs. Iran and/or North Korea. This is the most perilous moment in modern American history — and it has been largely brought about by ourselves, not by events."

Washington Monthly's Martin Longman makes the same point from elsewhere on the ideological spectrum: "This is the most dangerous moment for humanity since the Cuban Missile Crisis."

For both men, it's the appointment of the Moustache of Death that has provoked immediate alarm. Bolton has never seen a war he didn't like. Unlike the president himself who (falsely) boasts about opposing Bush's Iraq war, Bolton was an early and enthusiastic proponent. As an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, he played a key role in "stove piping" bogus intelligence about Saddam Hussein's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.

Bolton was memorably described as a "kick-down, kiss-up" bureaucratic infighter by colleagues during 2005 congressional testimony. Every large organization has them. A leader who keeps such sycophants near him is invariably characterized by weakness, incompetence and false bravado.

Worse, Bolton still argues that invading Iraq, the most catastrophic foreign policy blunder since Vietnam, was a terrific idea. As innocent of military experience as Trump, he's mad keen to send other people's sons and daughters into combat.

Bolton recently wrote a Wall Street Journal column calling for a pre-emptive strike on nuclear-armed North Korea. How many hundreds of thousands would die on the Korean peninsula during that conflict troubles him not.

Bolton has long called for a bombing campaign and "regime change" in Iran — a nation with three times Iraq's population and five times its land area, with a far more forbidding landscape.

Either or both actions could easily start World War III.

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