A Clear and Present Danger

Origin of the Phrase

You might think the phrase, “A Clear and Present Danger” is only a movie title.  But it’s not. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes, Jr. coined the phrase in a famous opinion on freedom of speech. It defines an exception to First Amendment rights. He concluded that no one has a constitutional right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater when no fire is present, for such action would pose a “clear and present danger” to public safety. The term has evolved to mean a risk or threat to safety or other public interests that is serious and imminent.

Today, Donald Trump is the embodiment of a clear and present danger to the national security and welfare of the United States. Let’s count the many ways.


Good intelligence based on the best available information on our adversaries, enemies and the world around us is vital to our national security. That’s the viewpoint of all U.S. intelligence professionals but it’s not the perspective of the Commander in Chief. Real intelligence—as in every area of his government—must remain secondary to Trump’s now primary objective—reelection in 2020.

Russian interference favoring him in the upcoming 2020 election is fake news, Trump whines. Once again, he claims it’s a conspiracy by his enemies to deny the legitimacy of his presidency. And in the background, Fox News’ sycophants echo this baseless assertion. Meanwhile Senate Majority Leader, Moscow Mitch McConnell, blocks legislation dealing with foreign interference in our elections.

Demonstrating their fealty to this wannabe monarch—not the Constitution—Lindsay Graham and other Republicans now want to reopen the settled facts of Russian interference in the 2016 election. It was the Ukraine, they bellow, and Joe Biden’s corruption at the core. Don’t confuse them with facts. Nothing must interfere with Trump’s reelection, despite his incompetence and the clear and present danger he represents to our national security.

Acting Director of National Intelligence

So there was no misinterpreting the rules of the game, Trump fired the Acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire. There’s no place for truth if it reflects adversely on Trump. He then replaced him with another Acting Director, a Trump loyalist, Richard Grenell, who has zero experience in the intelligence field. But he guarantees that Trump will hear only the intelligence he wants to hear.  More importantly, unless there are leaks from the intelligence community, the public will hear only what Trump wants us to hear.

The Federal Vacancies Reform Act allows the Acting Director to remain in place for six months, which means Grenell’s term (replacing Maguire) would ordinarily end on March 11th.  However, by nominating Congressman John Ratcliffe, Director of National Intelligence, Trump can extend Grenell’s appointment another six months. Trump had put Ratcliffe’s name forward previously but withdrew it after bipartisan opposition to his appointment. So for the next six months he has a highly partisan, inexperienced individual in charge of U.S. intelligence. And an equally partisan, inexperienced individual waits in the wings.

I should note that the last Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community was issued in January 2019. There has been no such report in 2020 and there is no date for its issuance. I guess the U.S. public is no longer entitled to this information.

Health and Welfare – Coronavirus

For the first time since the Swine Flu epidemic between 2009 and 2010, the U.S, faces a severe public health emergency. Yet Trump did not—and still does not—take this threat to public health as seriously as we should expect of the U.S. President. On January 30th he announced that the Coronavirus outbreak was “all under control,” and that it’s a “very small problem in this country.” But as usual, the stable genius had no real knowledge of the virus and its potential to spread rapidly as well as the means to control it.

Perhaps most indicative of Trump’s inability to understand the danger represented by this pandemic and his incompetence in dealing with it is reflected in his fiscal 2021 budget proposal. On February 10th, just 11 days after the World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus an international public health emergency, Trump proposed a 16% reduction from 2020 spending levels for the CDC. Congress has repeatedly raised Trump’s previous proposed spending levels. But his insensitivity to the magnitude of this threat to the public is incomprehensible.

Trump ‘s Indifference to Health Threats

This was not the first time the Trump Administration demonstrated its indifference to public health threats. Previous cuts in funding for the CDC forced the discontinuation of epidemic-prevention efforts in 39 out of 49 countries. Then in 2019 John Bolton eliminated the NSC position of senior director for global health security and biothreats. Established in 2016 after the Ebola virus outbreak, the director was to coordinate actions of international, national, state and local public and private organizations facing a worldwide epidemic. Absent that position and the elimination of epidemic prevention efforts in 39 countries, the government was unprepared to react quickly to such a lethal epidemic.

Mike Pence – A Terrible Choice for Health Czar

While blocking entrance to the United States of foreign nationals who had traveled in China was a positive step, it falls dramatically short of what is needed. The appointment of one person to oversee and coordinate a response to the Coronavirus is also a step in the right direction. However, the individual appointed, Vice President Pence, lacks the experience to deal with an epidemic of this nature and failed miserably in stemming the HIV crisis when he was Governor of Indiana.

Moreover, Trump ordered the medical specialists not to make any public statements unless they first clear them with Pence. That’s a problem given Trump’s penchant for lying and already ridiculous statements about the virus. “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”

Trump’s Real Concerns

Based upon his statements and actions to date, Trump has two concerns: the stock market and public questions of his competence in dealing with this epidemic. And both concerns are enveloped in one issue—his reelection. So once again he demonstrates everything comes down to his self-interest. He blames the epidemic on a conspiracy by his political enemies—the press and Democrats—who want to prevent his reelection. His failure to take responsibility places American citizens in harm’s way. As much as the Coronavirus, it marks him a clear and present danger to the welfare of the United States.

The Constitution and the Law

Trump believes he can do as he pleases without any oversight or restraint by Congress or the Court. Sadly, his Republican sycophants have given him every reason to believe that’s true by failing to hold him accountable for even his most blatant misdeeds. Attempting to force Ukraine to investigate a U.S. citizen by withholding approved foreign aid, obstructing justice, and using his position to personally benefit financially have brought him neither appropriate reprimand or consequences.

While it’s bad enough that he considers himself above the law, he now publicly interferes with the judicial process concerning other citizens. He demands that those who are his friends, supporters or associates receive minimal or no punishment for their crimes and rales against judges and jurors who conclude differently. As for his political enemies, Trump demands they be prosecuted for the perceived wrongs they’ve committed against him, despite not having committed any crime.

He wants to rule as an autocrat in a banana republic. With his complete and total disrespect of the Constitution and the law, Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States.

Climate Change

Science has no place in this administration, particularly when its conclusions run contrary to the interests of Trump and his supporters. His disregard of dramatic changes in weather patterns, melting glaciers, drought, extreme flooding and fires reflects both his incompetence and unwillingness to deal with any subject requiring decisions that might negatively affect the economy and, thus, his chance of reelection.

In 2003 the Department of Defense concluded climate change should be a U.S. national security concern. More recently, scientists at the Department of Defense, NASA, and 11 other agencies issued a report that climate change will have a devastating effect on our economy and society.

Yet this President—this stable genius—dismisses the threat. Of course, that’s because he knows more than his generals. Nevertheless, it’s another reason why Donald Trump poses a clear and present danger to the national security and welfare of the United States.

Foreign policy

The President has the responsibility to set foreign policy whether we agree with it, or not. But we do have the right to expect that it’s done with the best interests of the United States at its core. When it becomes clear that the President is not acting in the best interest of the United States, we must speak out.

Russia interfered in the 2016 election and is already interfering in the 2020 election. That is the undisputed conclusion of all U.S. intelligence agencies, yet Trump refuses to take action to protect the United States from foreign interference in our election.

His action in Syria deserting our Kurdish allies and allowing Russia and Iran a greater say in Middle Eastern policy was not in our interest. Additionally, his “gift” of Syrian territory to Turkey suggests a decision made for his benefit in a Turkish business venture, not U.S. interests.

Trump’s policies of angering and demeaning close allies, imposing tariffs on their products and threatening to walk away from NATO are not in U.S. interests. These are policies that make us less safe. Accordingly, Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States.

Trade Wars

Trade wars with other countries accompanied by tariffs placed on their products coming into the United States have imposed a tax on U.S. companies and consumers. Yet Trump tells us that it’s the Chinese and other countries paying them—a blatant lie. The tariffs caused serious harm to farmers who have been compensated for their losses with billions of dollars in subsidies. Notwithstanding the new NAFTA agreement, Trump’s trade policies are fundamentally a disaster and harmful to the United States.

Deficit and Debt

Trump’s tax policy has not delivered the promised benefits. Instead it has created the largest deficit in U.S. history and a debt that will burden the unborn children of the unborn children of our unborn children.

Federal Reserve

Despite the almost universal recognition of the need for the independence of the Federal Reserve, Trump continually attempts to dictate monetary policy. His goal is to keep interest rates low and use the tools at hand to continue to stimulate the economy and aid his reelection.


Finally, Trump has placed a stain on the United States with his abandonment of the norms of civil discourse and the role of the president. He does not pretend to represent all the people of the United States. Only his base of supporters are important. While he did not create the country’s extreme polarization, he certainly intensified it.

The Coronavirus poses a serious threat to the health of the U.S. population. But in this crisis, as in other aspects of government, Donald Trump’s incompetence and self-dealing is a more serious threat. He poses a clear and present danger to the national security and welfare of the United States.

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