Everything we saw during the first presidential debate is indicative of how President Donald Trump behaves in the White House. His business model is chaos. He has no organization, no leadership, and sees every interaction as a contest or a battle, even when it doesn’t have to be. Chris Wallace now knows how so many administration staffers feel — and how I felt when the president got in the way of me doing my job. He is dangerous for our country.
I served as the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention, and my job was to help keep Americans safe from terrorist attacks. My time in office coincided with a dramatic rise in white nationalist violence, but my colleagues and I couldn’t get the president to help address the problem. At the debate, America saw what I saw in the administration: President Trump refuses to distance himself from white nationalists. I realized after watching the White House response to the terrorist attack in El Paso that his rhetoric was a recruitment tool for violent extremist groups. The president bears some responsibility for the deaths of Americans at the hands of these violent extremists.
Catastrophic war plans approved
As a conservative, I believe a primary purpose of the federal government is to provide for the national defense. Under the Constitution, it is a mandatory function of the federal government. After serving for three years inside the Trump administration’s national security team, I am convinced the president is failing at keeping Americans safe.
Early on in the administration, I represented the Department of Homeland Security at several meetings in which a White House staff member implied that the president had approved, and that we should begin to carry out, plans that could have led the United States into war. Thankfully, there were experienced people in the room who had enough clout to suggest that these catastrophic plans needed a second look. Many of us weren’t sure what, if anything, the president had actually approved, or that he had been properly briefed to ensure he understood the risks involved. These people helped us avoid war.
Having adults in the room matters. They protect the country from a chaotic White House structure that allows staffers to run amok. But more importantly, they ensure that the president is presented with unvarnished truth, that difficult topics like domestic terrorism are raised even when he doesn’t want to acknowledge them.
Every day, the number of experienced people in the administration that have the ability to speak truth to power shrinks. We are seeing the results: abandoning our allies and cozying up to dictators, emboldening our enemies and weakening our standing in the world. This would only get worse in a second Trump term.
Trump has repeatedly ignored threats
Just as he ignored white nationalists, he also ignored COVID-19. After nearly 20 years around national crises, you can recognize a good response — and a bad one. By late January, professionals and outside experts were sounding the alarms. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency on Jan. 31. But throughout February, longtime colleagues at the Federal Emergency Management Agency were privately expressing dismay at the flailing response.
Bob Woodward’s revelations last month, using the president’s own words, demonstrate that the government’s failure wasn’t just because of bureaucracy, the newness of the virus, or even the president sticking his head in the sand. It was intentional. This is worse than dereliction of duty — this is willfully leading defenseless people to a killer. President Trump repeatedly lied to the American public. Those lies have led to more deaths and illnesses.
Crisis communications: Trump 'leads' like he's still selling over-priced condos. And his happy talk is killing us.
A recent study assessed that had we exercised our pandemic mitigation plans (which have existed since 2005), as other wealthy countries did, nearly 9 million more Americans would be employed, and over 100,000 would still be alive. We could have saved half of the Americans who have died so far.
Your government is supposed to perform some basic functions; keeping you and your family safe is primary among them. In 2016, I voted for President Trump. But when someone asked me if I could vote for him again, after he time and again refused to keep Americans safe — how could I say anything but no? How could anyone?
Elizabeth Neumann served as the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention in the Trump administration. Follow her on Twitter: @NeuSummits
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump made it hard for me to protect America: ex-assistant DHS secretary