Several years ago Netflix produced a political thriller called “House of Cards” in which a shrewd politician named Francis Underwood made his way to the White House through a ruthless but initially successful campaign of murder, lies, corruption, and betrayal. When the cards turned against him he twisted and turned in every which way and seemed, finally, to be surrounded.
“What will we do?” his wife asked.
“Don’t worry,” Underwood reassured her, “We’ll distract them. We’ll start a war.”
Actually, of course, in “House of Cards” the characters and the plot were the stuff of TV fiction.
Yet President Trump’s deadly drone strike on General Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s mastermind of terror in the Middle East, has spun up a hurricane of questions and accusations, typified by the commentator Rachel Maddow’s “Soleimani: Why him? Why now?”
Week after week throughout his presidency, Trump has expertly sought to shift public attention away from bad news about him. Distract and divert. The hit on Soleimani and the threat of war with Iran completely diverted attention from the impeachment dangers Trump is facing. Stung by the fact that he is only the third president in our history to be impeached, Trump has thrown up a barrage of defenses, hoping something will stick. But so far nothing has.
Knocking out Soleimani seemed like a familiar tactic overused, finally, too often. Instead of a smokescreen it looked more like brinkmanship. People all over the world went to bed that night wondering if they would awaken to war. “The moment we all feared is likely upon us,” Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut worried. The days rank as the most perilous chapter so far in Trump’s three years in office.
But Iran — whose war with Iraq in the 1980s cost a million lives — stepped back. In the morning Trump tweeted: “All is well!”
Many, including the satirist Andy Borowitz pictured Trump as actually “incredibly angry” at Iran for taking America’s attention away from his impeachment for only a moment. “When I did that drone strike, I was under the impression that it would knock impeachment out of the news for at least a month,” Borowitz mimics him, deadpan. “Instead, it’s only been two days and we’re back to this Pelosi garbage.”
He tried everything he could think of. He threatened to destroy Iran’s precious cultural sites, such as the ruins of Persepolis from the glory days of the Persian Empire — a threat that horrified many who condemned it as a war crime. He stood alone on the world stage, even though calmer voices recognized that his threat was nothing more than presidential bluster, aggravated by his instinct to double down in the face of criticism.
“This is where having credibility — and having a president who didn’t lie about everything — would be really, really helpful,” said Samantha Power, the former ambassador to the United Nations.
I’ve mentioned Trump’s lies many times as their numbers have grown. I lighted a candle when Trump hit 1,000 lies, and another on a day in 2018 when he hit 2,000 lies. Since then he’s lied at warp speed. He’s demonstrated for all time that the truth means nothing to him. He’s now way past 15,000 lies, and in this crisis no major European power, not even Britain, voiced their support. Amazing and no wonder!