Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Hillary, Donald and the true meaning of 'tough'

In her well-delivered closing speech of the 2016 Democratic convention, Hillary Clinton laid out her vision for America's future and the argument for her candidacy for president. Speaking in the city where Thomas Jefferson first scrawled out those magic words "We, the People", she talked of what Americans could achieve together by drawing upon their diversity, their hard work and commitment to freedom, and she repeatedly contrasted that approach with the "I alone ..." rhetoric of her Republican opponent.

Meanwhile, campaigning in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Donald Trump was also appealing for votes.

"If you really like Donald Trump, that's great. But if you don't, you have to vote for me anyway. You know why? Supreme Court judges, Supreme Court judges. Have no choice -- sorry, sorry, sorry. You have no choice."

Clinton took a slightly more holistic approach in her speech. She didn't shy from her long resume of public service, instead using it as evidence of her competence, experience and devotion to public service. She also took the time to stress the importance of character and calm in the inevitable moments of crisis that any president will have to face:

"Ask yourself: Does Donald Trump have the temperament to be commander-in-chief? Donald Trump can't even handle the rough-and-tumble of a presidential campaign. He loses his cool at the slightest provocation. When he's gotten a tough question from a reporter. When he's challenged in a debate. When he sees a protestor at a rally.

"Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons."

Donald, do you have anything to say to that?


"I wanted to hit a couple of those speakers so hard. I was going to hit them .... I was going to hit one guy in particular, a very little guy.  I was going to hit this guy so hard that his head would spin, he wouldn't know what the hell had happened."

As Trump told the story, though, he held back thanks to the pleadings of a "highly respected" Republican governor who had called to calm him down. Of course, even that restraint proved short-lived, as we knew it would.

Because not too long afterward:

Donald does love him some Twitter. After Clinton's speech last night, he tweeted out an angry string of responses, focusing mainly on her supposed weakness in taking on ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism. He clearly intends to focus his campaign on his promise of taking tough action against our enemies, contrasted against what he repeatedly describes as the weakness of Clinton and President Obama. So as this general election campaign goes into high gear, let's explore what those vague terms might actually mean.

First, we should note that when Trump had the opportunity and even the legal and moral obligation to turn bluster into personal action, he found an escape route. He likes to brag about his athletic prowess, but during the Vietnam era he obtained a medical deferment thanks to a doctor who diagnosed him with a bone spur in a heel, which would make it difficult to march or walk long distances.

"Which heel was it?" Trump was asked years later by reporters. He didn't remember, apparently because once the war ended, it ceased causing him problems.

Second, let's look at the specific proposals offered by Clinton and Trump about taking on ISIS, a problem that Trump promises to resolve so quickly that we can't believe how quick it will be. Clinton, as is her nature, has been a little more circumspect.

"We will strike their sanctuaries from the air, and support local forces taking them out on the ground," she said in her speech Thursday. "We will surge our intelligence so that we detect and prevent attacks before they happen. We will disrupt their efforts online to reach and radicalize young people in our country. It won't be easy or quick, but make no mistake -- we will prevail."

She also noted Trump's claim that "I know more about ISIS than the generals do," and she politely disagreed.

So what's Trump's plan? He hasn't really said, because as he told Megyn Kelly, he wants to keep it secret:

The closest that he has come to explaining his approach came in a "60 Minutes" interview with Leslie Stahl and his vice presidential nominee, Mike Pence.

TRUMP: We're gonna declare war against ISIS. We have to wipe out ISIS.

STAHL: With troops on the ground?

TRUMP: I am going to have very few troops on the ground. We're going to have unbelievable intelligence, which we need; which, right now, we don't have. We don't have the people over there. We are going to use --

STAHL: You want to send Americans--

TRUMP: Excuse me -- and we're going to have surrounding states and, very importantly, get NATO involved because we support NATO far more than we should, frankly, because you have a lot of countries that aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing. And we have to wipe out ISIS....

STAHL: But I still don't know if you're going to send troops over--

TRUMP: Very little. I'm gonna get neighboring states and I'm going to get -- we are going to get NATO; we're going to wipe 'em out. We're gonna -- OK, so we declare war, and we're gonna ..."

At that point, Pence broke in to declare that "this is the kind of leadership that America needs and it begins with deciding to destroy the enemies of our freedom." Because that's his role, to break in and declare such things.


PENCE: And how we do that? I have every confidence. You-- you remember I served on the Foreign Affairs Committee. And I'm very confident that when Donald Trump becomes president of the United States, he'll give a directive to our military commanders, bring together other nations, and we will use the enormous resources of the United States to destroy that enemy."

Thanks Mike.

As you may have noted, Trump's semi-secret "tough" approach to ISIS bears a startling similarity in every detail to the "weak" approach laid out by Clinton. In fact, it's identical to the approach already being carried out by the current administration, to good effect.

The only difference that I can discern is Trump's plan to produce "unbelievable intelligence," which is a breakthrough that frankly, nobody else had yet considered. All of this time we've been focused instead on finding believable intelligence; intelligence of the unbelievable sort is something that most people had given up after the effects it had in Iraq.

I'll close with a final telling excerpt from Clinton's speech in which she laid out the problem quite clearly:

"For the past year, many people made the mistake of laughing off Donald Trump's comments -- excusing him as an entertainer just putting on a show. They think he couldn't possibly mean all the horrible things he says -- like when he called women 'pigs.'

Or said that an American judge couldn't be fair because of his Mexican heritage.

Or when he mocks and mimics a reporter with a disability.

Or insults prisoners of war like John McCain --a true hero and patriot who deserves our respect.

At first, I admit, I couldn't believe he meant it either. It was just too hard to fathom -- that someone who wants to lead our nation could say those things. Could be like that. But here's the sad truth: There is no other Donald Trump ... This is it."

Make your choice, America.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.