Of all Donald Trump’s calculated braggadocio, the part that most augurs his presidential lawlessness are his words on torture, which he restated starkly in last night’s Republican debate in Detroit. When asked to comment on CIA Director Michael Hayden’s averral that members of the military could defy orders asking them to commit unlawful acts like killing civilians and torture, Trump had this to say:
[Waterboarding is] fine, and if we want to go stronger, I’d go stronger too. Because frankly, that’s the way I feel. Can you imagine these people, these animals, over in the Middle East that chop off heads, sitting around talking and seeing that we’re having a hard problem with waterboarding? We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding.
He insisted that members of the military would have to obey his orders as president and that he also supported killing members of terrorists’ families.
Torture blatantly contradicts both the domestic law and the international treaty commitments of the United States. While waterboarding was used during the administration of President George W. Bush, it elicited great controversy and was argued widely to constitute torture. That Trump would “go stronger” shows that he is perfectly willing to engage in methods that unambiguously constitute torture and that he has little regard for the law.
Today, he clarified that he would obey the laws as president. But how can we trust that? He has made so many reckless statements, performed so many reversals, and ranted so often about undertaking lawless acts that his backtracking can be regarded as little more than another ephemeral zig zag.
To break international and domestic law with abandon, to order subordinates to carry out crimes, to carry out torture and crimes of war – these are the quintessential deeds of a dictator. All those who would vote for Trump and who simultaneously exude their love for American democracy will have no excuse for not having known better should Trump be elected and disregard the law flagrantly.
Not least among the culpable are Christians who vote for Trump. He is polling strong among evangelicals regardless of the National Association of Evangelicals’ denunciation of torture as incompatible with the gospel. Likewise, the Catholic Church teaches that torture is an intrinsic evil – not to be done under any circumstances. Christians – and all people of good will – not only ought not to countenance voting for Trump but are compelled to raise their voice against him.