by Caitlin Powell
The President of the United States has once again fulfilled expectations in launching a verbal attack against anyone who criticises him. Why is this worth commenting on? His statements this time have reached new levels of menace that are now barely veiled by his farcical ramblings.
The ongoing impeachment inquiry following the complaint of a whistleblower, who alleged that Trump broke the law by pressuring Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to unearth harmful information on the Biden family, has sent the media into a spiral with calls for impeachment. And this debate has been exacerbated by a second whistleblower coming forward.
But, amid the debate and furore in Washington, a point of concern worth noting is that Trump’s comments are evolving, and becoming more than his typical, rhetorical tweets that seek to discredit those threatening his authority. During a private event at the United Nations General Assembly on 26th September, Trump said:
‘Who’s the person that gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to spy,’ following this with the comment, ‘You know what we used to do in the old days, when we were smart, right? The spies and treason? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.’
Time Magazine reported that Representatives Eliot Engel of New York, Adam Schiff of California and Elijah Cummings of Maryland said in a joint statement that Trump’s comments are ‘reprehensible witness intimidation’ and that ‘threats of violence from [Trump]… have a chilling effect on the entire whistleblower process.’
It is hard not to agree with this statement when one considers the history of spies and their punishments, from expulsion of Aldrich Ames from the USA to Soviet Russia after being found guilty for trading intel to the KGB regarding names of known CIA operatives acting within Soviet jurisdiction, to the poisonous nerve agent attack on former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter in Salisbury. And the execution of Soviet Aviation specialist Adolf Tolkachev after he was found guilty for being a member of the KGB who passed multiple documents to the CIA.
While his mention of spies and treason seems a ridiculous introduction of James Bond-esque paranoia onto the political stage, when one considers the recent history of spies, President Trump’s outward threat towards the anonymous whistleblower serves as a horrible wake up call to how the Trump presidency works – produce farcical vitriol and demonise the critic at the same time. For followers of Trump, the use of loaded words such as ‘treason’ and ‘spy’ function as reasoning for ire to be directed at whoever made the complaint, endangering the whistleblower further.
The identities of the whistleblowers remain anonymous, however the knowledge that both come from the US intelligence community means that when President Trump calls ‘treason’ on these individuals, it enlarges the already wide rift between the presidency and intelligence services as Trump has already had run-ins with this community, specifically with the FBI during the Russia investigation in his first year in office. In short, his words are not only overdramatic but harmful to both the individuals who have come forward, and the tenuous relationship between the Oval Office and Intelligence.
President Trump’s words have created fodder for commentators, journalists and bloggers for years, and this article is no exception. However, these comments on the whistleblowers turns a political event into a farce of spies, treason and intimidation that creates a caricature of modern American politics that echoes a poorly written Cold War novel demonising those speaking out.