A former deputy national security advisor of President Donald Trump had a lot to say Thursday night at Lincoln University about what the future of international affairs looks like and where American interests will or ought to fall in them, but the subject of Trump's behavior was also unavoidable.
K.T. McFarland has a decades-long career in national security policy-making and analysis, spanning multiple presidential administrations and media commentary roles. She provided her insights and opinions at Lincoln on numerous international issues, including the rise of China; Russia's power-grabs; America's diminishing interest in having a role in the Middle East; Europe's economic outlook; and how the future of warfare will be driven by cyber-weapons.
McFarland spoke as part of Lincoln's "A Dream Fulfilled: The Presidential Lecture Series." LU President Jerald Jones Woolfolk said in her introduction that speakers in the series have been diverse in ethnicity and political views, and understanding all sides of an issue is how students and the community are educated.
Woolfolk said McFarland would offer "an insider's perspective," not just of how the Trump administration operates but also how Washington works, or does not work.
McFarland's vision of the world, at least in the coming years, is that the United States must be able to counter China before that nation's economy outgrows the U.S. economy, allowing China — with an economy based on government control and a society that bolsters government control at the expense of citizens' rights — to set global terms.
McFarland also said Europe will not again be a strong economic power — with the exception of the United Kingdom, assuming that after Brexit, the nation quickly signs a trading partnership agreement with the U.S. — and Russia will no longer be a world power as it was when it was the Soviet Union. However, Russia will attack American interests, she said, to make way to stake strategic claims.
McFarland was also Trump's nominee to be ambassador to Singapore, though she withdrew her nomination after it stalled in the U.S. Senate amid questions and concerns about her involvement with administration's communications with Russian officials.
She said she was found innocent by the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
McFarland said she joined the Trump administration as it transitioned from the 2016 presidential election into the White House, describing it as a chaotic time. Most of the senior staff, "people who are going to run the country, they had never worked in Washington. They'd never lived in Washington. They'd never worked for the government," and "none of them had ever even taken the tour of the White House."
However, of Trump's leadership, McFarland said, "He seems chaotic, but he's not. He's different. He's very different," in that he's not captive to information from staff, and gathers information from a broader range of sources.
"Does it look chaotic? Yeah, it kind of looks chaotic. I don't think it is chaotic. I think he knows exactly what he's doing. The whole thing about hiring and firing people on Twitter — he's made that decision a long time ago, he's just saving it for when he wants to change the conversation."
Someone in the audience then asked if lying fits into looking chaotic.
"Let me just — I know where you're going. This is a question, 'Does Trump lie, and does it bother me?'" McFarland said.
Her answer: In trying to figure out how Trump ticks, "I think he's like the old (football coach) Vince Lombardi, 'It's not winning that matters; it's the only thing that matters. Winning is the only thing that matters.' I think he cares about winning, and I don't think he cares how he gets there. I think he'll lie, cheat, steal, I think he'll humiliate somebody," citing Trump calling North Korea's Kim Jong-Un "'Little Rocket Man.'"
However, McFarland professed more faith in a kind of direct democracy as a mechanism for presidential accountability than an impeachment of the kind she said she expects for Trump — an impeachment that will be politically damaging through congressional votes that don't happen.
Trump has been accused of holding up congressional military aid to Ukraine while he pressured the country to investigate Democratic presidential campaign rival and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, according to the Associated Press, which also reported Trump again denied the allegations while at a rally Thursday night in the state of Louisiana.
McFarland said career Washington bureaucrats who didn't enjoy Trump's win in 2016 think they know better than him and the people who voted for him, and that's what's being seen in the capital now.
"Democracy isn't perfect. We elect idiots sometimes. We make mistakes. I don't think Trump is an idiot," and she'll vote and campaign for him, but "My point is, that it's us who get to decide. The value and beauty of democracy is if we decide wrong, we get to change our minds. Nobody does it for us," though that does place a responsibility on voters to get it right.
"If (American voters) screw it up, and they goof it up, and they don't make good use of that choice, that's their option, too. But they should have that right," she added.