By J.D. Munch
The President of the United States holds a multitude of duties as the leader of the executive branch of government. In a little over seven months in the position, Donald Trump has shown little regard for any of those duties. Our Tweeter in Chief spends his days railing against political opponents past and present, watching Fox News, soliciting praise, holding post-election campaign rallies, golfing, and lying about virtually everything.
For some, this pattern of buffoonery seems at times almost comforting; for every moment Trump spends not doing his job, the opportunity for his catastrophically bad judgment to make American lives worse diminishes. But unfortunately, the President does not get time off from influencing the world, and even during the time Trump is spending taxpayer money to enrich himself through his golf clubs, he can endanger lives. As Commander-in-Chief, Trump has a duty to protect the United States and its citizens against harm. Neither his travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries nor his idiotic wall is designed with that in mind. And now, we are seeing the perils of a president who cannot resist running his mouth with the disturbing escalation of our conflict with North Korea. With every bombastic statement and impulse tweet, Trump is pushing us closer to the prospect of nuclear war. And Trump is too focused on the idea of winning to even recognize, much less care about, the devastation this kind of war would create.
North Korea has long run its propaganda through the rhetoric of the war cry. And it has been working for over a decade to develop an arsenal it can use to carry out its threats. In the last year, it has tested nuclear weapons and, more recently, intercontinental ballistic missiles it can use to deliver those weapons. It is unclear at present whether North Korea has the ability to send a nuclear-armed warhead to the United States, but military experts believe that, if that ability is not yet present, it is not far off. North Korea claims to have the capability to attack anywhere in the United States.
As the military tests increase, the United States has seen a corresponding jump in the level of threats coming from Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s dictator. It is certainly possible, perhaps even likely, that he has no intention to actually attack the United States. Our firepower is greater, and the end result of a nuclear confrontation would most likely be a devastating defeat for North Korea. For a paranoid leader consumed with eliminating threats to his survival, avoiding an actual war would seem the most prudent course.
Unfortunately, Kim Jong Un also acts impulsively from his state of paranoia. His relatives in North Korea are not safe in the moments he fears a usurper in his midst; he has had family members executed because he perceives a threat. In this light, the threat of a preemptive strike against the United States cannot be assumed to be empty talk. He may believe striking first to be an important show of North Korea’s strength, and a blow from which he can both firm up support in his country and strike fear into the United States. Defensive plans against such an attack are critical to the lives of U.S. personnel and citizens in Guam and other potential targets.
But what if Kim Jong Un is bluffing? A more prudent United States leader would focus on diplomatic efforts and working with regional allies to develop a peaceful resolution to the conflict. We do not have that leader. We have a blowhard, a president who believes in offense first and seems desperate for any kind of win he can create for himself. So faced with yet another moment to demonstrate his temperance and presidential demeanor, Trump threatened—from his golf course, naturally—that North Korea’s threats would lead it to “face fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
So we face a prospect of two delusional grandstanders pumping themselves and their nations up for a possible nuclear war. And the more Trump says about the subject, the more the potential to back North Korea into a corner from which it has no choice but to fight. It has been improving its weapons capabilities dramatically in the last year, showing the entire world that it stands ready to attack on a whim. And Trump consistently ups the volume, pushing his brinksmanship inexorably toward a triple dog dare.
What Does Winning Look Like?
From Trump’s twisted perspective, nuclear war with an outmatched opponent likely feels like an easy win. And this could be true—if, like Trump, we were to ignore any facts inconvenient to our own desired truths. His “fire and fury” statement recalls another moment in American bravado, the statement that the U.S. forces would subdue Iraq with “shock and awe.” The notion that we can just attack without facing significant repercussions was wrong then, and is wrong now. We would immediately be pulled into a conflict that, under a more rational leadership, could be avoided.
Further, if we do attack North Korea, it will undoubtedly fight back. Before the first shots, we have the potential to avoid war. We can work with regional allies to slow things down and apply pressure through diplomatic channels. It is possible this will not work, of course, but there is nothing to be gained from provoking an attack. North Korea should not attack, and Kim Jong Un undoubtedly knows this. But if he feels he has no choice, if he feels an attack from Trump is imminent or even approaching, he will no longer have a reason to hold back. Through the escalation of his rhetoric, Trump is needlessly putting citizens at risk for the sake of potential military glory—costs be damned.
We have already seen what Trump views as a “highly successful” military effort. This came when Trump greenlighted an attack in Yemen that resulted in at least 16 deaths including women, children, and a Navy Seal, all to gain what may or may not have included any actionable intelligence. But yes, the military went in and got something, and that was enough for Trump, who didn’t bother to monitor the raid from the Situation Room, to declare some kind of victory. Here, we face a potential military escalation that, if it leads to nuclear weapons used, could result in millions of deaths in and around the Korean peninsula, including allies, U.S. citizens, and what little goodwill may exist for the United States.
Collateral Damage from Nuclear War
A nuclear war would kill thousands, if not millions. These would include not only North Korean citizens, but potentially anyone in striking distance from North Korea as well. This can include the United States, but certainly includes those in South Korea, Japan, and China, and potentially allies all over the world. Lives everywhere are at stake in Trump’s high-stakes pissing contest. Would North Korea lose? Yes, but so would we. A key aspect of the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union in the 1980s was a general recognition that everyone would lose as soon as the first bomb fell.
The devastation of a nuclear blast does not end when the dust settles. Setting off a nuclear weapon would devastate a region for decades to come. We would be responsible as a nation for destroying an economy, a nation, an ecosystem. And we would be the reason that nuclear war moved from a hypothetical that led to tense standoffs into a reality of modern warfare, from a deterrent to an actual weapon with massive, unnecessary casualties inflicted in the immediate aftermath and for years to come.
Trump does not understand this; he has in fact questioned why we would not use nuclear weapons if we have them. To him, they are the most powerful toys in the world, and a standoff with North Korea is a chance to flex the United States’ nuclear might. He sees an arms race as a good thing, and the ability to strike with a nuclear weapon something to flaunt to the world. At times he seems almost to relish the idea of going to war.
But the lives lost would not be the end of what the United States would face if it actually pushed North Korea to war. We have already weakened our own alliances, with Trump questioning the value of NATO, squabbling with China, and having our UN ambassador claim meeting with the Security Council is pointless. To strike with a nuclear weapon, or to needlessly provoke an attack, would serve notice to the world that the United States, besides not caring about the environment or the health of its own citizens, cannot be trusted on the world stage to act in a prudent manner. We would lose the support we have everywhere, and face threats from across the globe.
Our New Stakes
The resistance movement has always recognized that Donald Trump created real dangers to our way of life. The man is unhinged, unable to restrain himself from something as simple as a slight from a citizen. He flies into rages over Twitter when things are not going well, and looks for ways to distract the public from his shortcomings.
Nuclear war is one hell of a distraction. In the past, presidents have enjoyed polling bumps in wartime, as notions of patriotism make people believe being American must mean supporting the president. Given the lowest polling in modern history for a president at this point in his term, and given his lack of regard for details or the consequences of his own actions, we now face a real possibility of Trump leading us into war for the sake of his own ego.
The time to reign in President Trump is upon us, with the looming specter of worldwide catastrophe and the turning of the entire world against the United States. What once felt like hyperbole now sits as a genuine existential threat. We must stop the president from destroying the country. Implore Congress to act; rise up in protest. The weight of a country that cares about itself and its place in the world must push back. The president is an idiot, and the implications no longer fit within the jokes at Trump’s expense. We must do more to resist the descent in which we find ourselves, and to use limiting legislation and impeachment to stop the man ready to push us over the brink.