Thank God Donald Trump isn't president right now

He's an unpredictable hothead in a situation crying out for wisdom and diplomacy

Donald Trump.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

Whatever you think of President Biden, the fact that he is sitting in the White House — and former President Donald Trump isn't — is the best thing the United States has going for it in this present crisis.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine demands a response that is both firm and restrained, a hard balance to achieve because it requires a willingness to punish Vladimir Putin while at the same time not allowing the cycle of escalation to spin out of control. That requires a combination of good judgment and diplomatic skills to execute correctly. Biden hasn't been perfect, but so far his administration has mostly found the sweet spot. Good for him, and us.

Trump, meanwhile, is out there doing what he always does: Saying provocative, dangerous stuff.

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Here he is on Saturday night, speaking to Republican donors in New Orleans:

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Maybe he was joking. But presidents, and those who aspire to the presidency, don't have the luxury of frivolity in matters of war and peace.

So let's take him seriously. If he meant it, Trump's proposal is the opposite of thoughtful and diplomatic: It's dangerous and stupid. Dangerous, because (as has been said a million times already) nobody should want the United States and Russia to get into a shooting war. The best-case scenario is that the conflict becomes World War III and ravages Europe; the worst-case scenario is it goes nuclear and destroys human life on this planet. And it's stupid — there is no other word — what one observer called "the dumbest false flag operation in history": Does anybody but Trump think the Russians would really be fooled by American warplanes attacking from American bases just because a different flag was painted on them? Even if that gambit somehow improbably worked, the idea is that it would end with a shooting war between China and Russia, which would also be terrible for the world.

It's the logic of the failed grifter Trump used to be before he became president. The kind of guy who tried to put one over on the suckers only to get buried under a blizzard of lawsuits. Now he's applied that same awful thinking to an international crisis, offering more proof that this man belongs nowhere near the Oval Office — or the nuclear football.

Over the last few weeks, Trump has reminded us of three characteristics that make him unsuitable for national leadership during wartime:

He's erratic. In the span of just a few days, the former president has gone from praising Putin's designs on Ukraine as an act of "genius" to musing about the possibility of secretly starting a war with the Russians. We saw this same kind of behavior during his presidency, when he openly flirted with waging nuclear war with North Korea, only to ultimately become enamored with Kim Jong Un. He actively cultivated his aura of instability: Bill Barr says in his new book that Trump told him the secret to a good tweet was "just the right amount of crazy."

Biden has contained the crisis with Russia largely by making sure Putin doesn't have to guess about his intentions — there will be no "no-fly zone" in Ukraine, and NATO troops won't be rushing in either. If he were president right now, Trump's brand of "leadership" would add another unpredictable element to a fraught situation that doesn't need it.

He's surrounded by the wrong people. Trump's comments came a few days after Fox News host Sean Hannity proposed on his radio show bombing a Russian convoy in Ukraine, "then nobody takes credit for it, so then Putin won't know who to hit back." Hannity famously had Trump's ear during the White House years, and it sounds like he still does.

But it's not just Hannity — Trump sidekick Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted last week about assassinating Putin, bringing bipartisan condemnation. Meanwhile, Trump's former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has gone in a few days from praising Putin as a "capable statesman" to suddenly calling for Taiwan to be recognized as an independent state. That's a move that would create troubles, or even a possible war, with China at the worst possible moment. Trump doesn't just have bad ideas. He gets bad advice.

He's got that weird relationship with Putin. You don't have to believe in "collusion" to note this. Before he became president, Trump praised Putin when asked about Russia's penchant for murdering journalists: "He's running his country, and at least he's a leader, you know unlike what we have in this country."

During the 2016 campaign, he openly called on Russia to release dirt on Hillary Clinton. And who can forget the 2018 Helsinki summit, where Trump sided with Putin against his own intelligence agencies about Russia's meddling in the presidential election? It doesn't take a conspiracy theory, just the known public record, to think something is off about all this. Biden's loyalties at least have the appearance of being a little more straightforward.

Finally, there's the nuclear question.

One of the chief arguments against electing Trump in the first place was that a bloviating narcissist like him should never, ever have access to atomic weaponry.

That was true even when the risk of war with Russia seemed low-to-nonexistent. Now? It could be catastrophic. Not just because Trump is so given to unpredictable impulses, but also because Putin — who has been happy to raise the specter of Armageddon over the last few weeks — might find his own trigger finger made more itchy by Trump's less-than-steady behavior. For the sake of all humanity, the situation calls for more cool heads rather than fewer, and that's just not what Trump brings to the table. Thank God he's not president right now.

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Joel Mathis

Joel Mathis is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and son. He spent nine years as a syndicated columnist, co-writing the RedBlueAmerica column as the liberal half of a point-counterpoint duo. His honors include awards for best online commentary from the Online News Association and (twice) from the City and Regional Magazine Association.