“And, you know, [President Trump] doesn’t realize that, you know, that we could be heading towards World War III with the kinds of comments that he’s making.”
That remarkably candid quote comes from Senator Bob Corker’s interview with the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin on Sunday. Corker is a sitting senator, a Republican, and the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, one of the most influential committees in Washington. In the same interview, Sen. Corker said, “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House it’s a situation of trying to contain him.”
In August, Corker told reporters in Tennessee that Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.” And over the weekend, in response to a barrage of Trump insults on Twitter, Corker responded that it was a “shame the “White House has become an adult day care center.”
I must confess the emotions I felt when I watched Sen. Corker tell reporters, “I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, and Chief of Staff Kelly are those people who help separate our country from chaos” — I was afraid for my own children, and all children in the U.S., including those whose parents voted for Donald Trump.
All of our children are in great jeopardy now, because of Donald Trump’s serious intellectual incapacities, dangerous emotional immaturity, and an amorality which suggests a complete moral emptiness and a lack of any ability to make moral judgements.
Now this intellectual, emotional, and moral failure as a human being has his finger on the nuclear button. And that is the greatest threat to America and to the world today. Will other senators stand up for their country and our national security, as Sen. Corker has? How many Bob Corkers are there — how many Republicans will continue to make their Faustian bargain with a president who will promote the economic interests of their wealthy donors?
And will America’s religious leaders stand up and speak for the nation against the threats that a President Trump now poses? Or will they make their own Faustian bargains with the president who gives them access and influence into a state newly committed to their “religious right” political agendas — devoid of any concerns for the poor, racial justice, refugees and immigrants, the environment or, indeed, the Christian call to peace-making and conflict resolution.
President Trump reportedly told national security officials in July that he wanted to increase the U.S. nuclear arsenal tenfold — and this week, has threatened NBC News for reporting the story, suggesting they should lose their “licenses” to report the news. So the well-documented story on the nuclear threat Trump poses has now turned into another presidential threat, this time to the First Amendment. Here, as with this nation’s nuclear policies, Donald Trump seems not to understand. Complaining about press coverage is a long-standing presidential habit, but no American president has ever so blatantly attacked the press and so directly challenged the First Amendment to the Constitution.
After hearing that the stockpile of U.S. nuclear weapons has been steadily reduced by international treaties and mutual nuclear obligations — something most Americans, let alone national political leaders from both parties, already knew — Trump was upset, and said he wanted to increase our stockpile to 1960s levels, as well as increasing troop levels and other military equipment.
The NBC story describes a meeting in which top civilian and military national security leaders of the United States set out to, in the words of one official, “…slow down a little and explain the whole world” to the president of the United States. This meeting “included a number of tense exchanges.” (Reportedly, it was after this meeting that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to Trump as a “moron.”)
This is a president who during the campaign suggested that more countries ought to have nuclear weapons. Yet he has made a large number of bizarre and contradictory statements on nuclear weapons since launching his campaign. Joe Scarborough reported last summer that while in a foreign policy briefing, Trump asked three times why the U.S. can’t use nuclear weapons, since we have them. He then made a similar argument in an interview with Chris Matthews on Hardball.
It is time for Christian concern to step in here. The first thing we should do is thank Sen. Corker for his courage and conscience in standing up to Trump’s dangerous statements and professed intentions. Here’s how you can do that: Tell the senator — by calling, writing to, or tweeting at him — that you are a Christian who shares his “concern” for the country.
The second thing you can do is contact your own senators — call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected — and say you agree with Sen. Corker that if this presidential behavior continues, the U.S. Senate — Democrats and Republicans — must act to “contain” the president and limit his ability to press the nuclear button. A nuclear decision-making process and procedure that was built for speed should now be changed to account for rationality and wisdom, in the face of a president who has demonstrated neither capacity.
For decades, Sojourners helped to lead broad national campaigns to stop and reverse the nuclear arms race. Christians and other people of faith were the animating core of the U.S. anti-nuclear movement. Sojourners helped initiate and lead the nuclear weapons “freeze” campaign, convened services around the country and in the nation’s capital, and organized massive protests including civil disobedience in Washington and nationwide. Our “Peace Pentecost” civil disobedience action in the U.S. Capitol in 1983, focused on first-strike nuclear weapons, lead to 242 arrests, the largest civil disobedience since the Vietnam War. We joined and co-sponsored actions at the Nevada nuclear test site and at nuclear weapons facilities across the country. And we produced fact sheets, theological reflections, and study guides — from “A Matter of Faith” to “Waging Peace” — to help educate U.S. churches about nuclear weapons and bring biblical and theological substance to the debates.
A few weeks ago, Sojourners friend and columnist Wes Granberg-Michaelson wrote: “What’s at stake here is the possibility of a nuclear conflagration which seems more threatening than at any other time since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Instead of quiet, earnest diplomacy exploring every option to prevent this, we've heard cataclysmic threats and taunts from President Trump… past U.S. presidents have recognized that peace isn’t advanced by escalating taunts and insults.”
Given the imminent danger and the demonstrated intellectual, emotional, and moral incapacities of President Trump, Sojourners is committed to help bring the present danger of nuclear weapons back into the center of our national conversation. We have claimed, along with many other Christian leaders, that our response to the unique peril of nuclear weapons is a matter or faith, not just politics. It still is; and it is time to respond again. This is an obligation of those who would follow Jesus, the one who instructs us to be peacemakers whom he calls the children of God.
As Father Richard McSorley of Georgetown University wrote years ago, “It’s a sin to build a nuclear weapon.” We once put that on a poster. Perhaps it’s time to put the poster back up.