Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 3, 2015

Learning from Trump

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 3, 2015

Today three things converged in a way that is pushing a new — for me — perspective.  This is mostly a personal post, so you are warned and welcomed to click away.  It is also a new perspective that will, I expect, have an influence on how I contribute to Homeland Security Watch.  I am wanting to be transparent.

I expect today’s “injects” had amplified influence given the context of the San Bernardino bloodbath. Then in recent weeks I have also been considerably involved in both Central American and Syrian refugee issues.  The ongoing engagement with such extreme violence and its consequences has, undoubtedly, caused me to listen — to hear and to feel — differently than before.


Until this morning I had not heard what Donald Trump said yesterday, speaking to Fox and Friends.  This is the video at the top.  It is both what he said and how he said it that literally sickened me. It has long been clear that Mr. Trump is vulgar.  Prior comments have confirmed his ignorance, bigotry, and predisposition to violence.  In this Fox telephone interview he announces, “And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families.” (The entire interview is disturbing, but it was about the 4:45 mark when I was physically repulsed.)


While on the train to Philadelphia I started getting emails from friends about Senator Lindsey Graham’s Thursday morning remarks to the Republican Jewish Coalition.  The South Carolina Presidential candidate immediately followed Ted Cruz and had heard some of Donald Trump’s earlier remarks to the RJC.  Mr. Graham was apparently inspired to depart from his planned text.  Following is what my friends quoted to me (I have not fact-checked).

“ISIL loves Donald Trump” (responding to yesterday’s kill their families tactic). “He (Trump) knows how to empower their base.”

“Why we lose has nothing to do with not being hard ass enough on immigration.”

“Winning this election is about repairing the damage done by incredibly hateful rhetoric driving a wall between us and the fastest growing demographic in America,”

“I believe Donald Trump is destroying the Republican Party’s chance at winning an election we cannot afford to lose.”

Apparently Cruz was also hit hard on other issues.  One of my friends commented, “Finally authenticity attached to a functioning brain.”  What I took away from multiple reports is that Mr. Graham was arguing that fear, exclusion, and self-righteousness are traps used by tyrants and those who want to be tyrants.  I still haven’t found a full version of the speech.  But this seems to coincide with news coverage.


I was still considering the contrast between the murderous vulgarity of Mr. Trump and Senator Graham’s experiment in spontaneity as I walked to my hotel.  That’s when the most important realization of the day hit me.

This morning, before catching the train, I was a panelist at a Washington DC policy discussion.  A woman for whom I have enormous respect was one of the principal organizers.  The speakers and other panelists were, like me, mostly the usual suspects: White House, DHS, FEMA, National Labs, academics, retired military, a few active, private sector.  A very large room was crowded.

The panelist who was at the other end of the table from me spoke second. I was fourth. His rhetoric and content was clearly not typical of Massachusetts Avenue panelists.  But I try to be atypical too.  It soon became clear that he perceives a catastrophic event is an issue of when not if.  He self-defined himself as a “prepper.”  Especially because all of this is not-typical (for DC), I was rather pleased he had been given a seat at the table.

But then he shared having had prior experience with a leading US bank where “at least a third of the executives were of Middle Eastern descent.” This was in the context of preconditions that he was setting out for catastrophic risk.  It quickly became clear that this is a man consumed by fear.

I was mostly embarrassed for my friend.  I wondered who had recommended this guy.

But no one challenged him. In particular, I failed to challenge him. Just as no one on Fox and Friends challenged Donald Trump on his readiness to purposefully kill women and children and others not known to be specific risks.

Where and when I was raised there was a well-known cohort of those in some way crazy.  Given that it was a very small town, in most cases the rest of us had an idea of what had driven them crazy. At some level — depending on the situation, more or less — we empathized.  In this context I was taught (perhaps learned too-well) to not respond directly to crazy talk.

In the case of this morning’s racist accusation I did not explicitly consider the option of challenging the comment until nearly three hours later, probably thanks to the bad example of Donald Trump and the good example of Lindsey Graham.  To notice the outrageous comment and not even consider responding is a complete ethical failure.

When and where I grew up public silence was combined with private engagement. This was a matter of dignity and diagnosis and social control. I’m sure it was sometimes abused.  But in my experience it mostly worked back then, back there.

Washington DC in 2015 is a very different place.

This is a time and place when fear, exclusion, and self-righteousness are being very widely deployed.  There is a need for courage and inclusion, without self-righteousness.  I’m guessing the third characteristic could actually be the most challenging.

So here’s the deal: for at least five months I have been on the edge of walking away from Homeland Security Watch.  I don’t really have the time.  It is good discipline.  But it’s been a very long time since I enjoyed it.

Maybe today’s epiphany gives me good cause to continue.

I have always thought the blog should be mostly about amplification, aggregation and a bit of analysis.  I have mostly wanted to avoid specific advocacy.  I am still not interested in partisan advocacy.  But it seems as if courage and inclusion need more advocates, especially in the context of homeland security.


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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 4, 2015 @ 2:56 am

Thanks always Phil for your insights and comments. I find them highly interesting and useful to me and HS generally and help me learn which is what it is always about IMO!

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