Did Donald Trump really just walk us to the brink of war with North Korea on a whim this week, or has this all been a figment of our lurid imagination? It seems crazy to contemplate that the world now stands on the edge of disaster because the American president simply lacks self-control. And yet that’s exactly the discussion on the table.
Trump’s bizarre statements about “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” coupled with the follow-up press conference in which he declared a “whole new ballgame” and doubled down on his apparently extemporaneous threats against the North Korean regime should chill the bones of every military family and every American with a child of draft age.
Trump talks in many ways exactly as Kim Jong Un does—in disjointed statements full of bellicose hyperbole. He blusters in a clear effort to shore up his flagging ego; to make himself seem strong when in fact he is weak; an isolated, morose figure lumbering from self-named golf course to self-named golf course and imprisoned by the office whose grandeur he cannot measure up to. He screams into the ether to try and push back the void, when the void is deep inside him.
He is a bitter, angry, frightened man, cornered by prosecutors, rejected by a majority of Americans, declaring his leaking aides are merely fighting to prove who loves him the most and yet unsure which of his former lieutenants—or maybe even family members—will sell him out to save themselves. His dream of finally commanding global respect by becoming president of the United States and of besting his obsession, Barack Obama, has collapsed before his first year in office is even complete.
His sycophant lieutenants believe the country should respond by lining up behind the Narcissist in New Jersey, comparing his North Korea bluster to the Cuban missile crisis. In fact, it is the inverse: President Kennedy in that crisis answered Soviet brinksmanship, he didn’t provoke it.
Donald Trump is a weakened president, and a man not prone to controlling his impulses. Given his temperament, personality, and looming legal predicament, there is literally no telling what a cornered Donald Trump will say or do. And in the case of North Korea, his bluster is aimed at a man who has killed his own family members to preserve his absolute power, and who waves the threat of nuclear war around like a hand grenade with the pin pulled out, sometimes just to demand the world supply the nation he is starving, with grain. To threaten war with such a regime is, to put it bluntly, an act of insanity. No wonder Trump’s own administration are pleading with the world to ignore him.
There’s good reason. Make no mistake: War with North Korea would be a cataclysm. The Hermit Kingdom possesses long range missiles that could in theory reach the American mainland and apparently, miniaturized nukes, too. Ten million souls live in the shadow of the Kim regime in Seoul, South Korea, including nearly 29,000 American troops. The media walking us through the potential bombers and bombing routes, as if reigniting the active Korean War is a thing to be contemplated by rational minds is almost as barmy as Trump’s pronouncements. And yet, with Trump in office, what choice is there?
The North Korean regime is the same as it ever was. It bleats out threats and launches missiles into the clouds to demand the world’s attention, and to declare its own insecurity. Kim Jong Un looks back in terror at Nagasaki and Hiroshima and Iraq and contemplates his own removal. Previous presidents have dealt with the tantrums with rationality and discourse. Not Trump. He answers Kim madness for madness, with talking points about opioid addiction clutched in his stubby hands. And his pronouncements, matched to North Korea’s instability, makes the unthinkable no longer inconceivable, unless this Republican Congress somehow abandons its quisling and moves to stop this president before he starts a fight that the people of Seoul and Guam and maybe even Chicago have to finish with their lives.
It’s been clear for some time that Donald Trump is a threat to the carefully crafted global compact, long enforced by the rigid rationality of the West and led with some horrific exceptions—namely Vietnam and Iraq—by the United States. He defies conventions. He explodes norms. He makes blunt threats he likely has no intention of cashing in. He is destroying the reputation of his party and the dignity of the presidency, enriching himself and his family in the process. And by accident, by whim or by choice, he has stood the entire world’s hair on edge.
This man, who thanks Russia for expelling our diplomats, who attacks his own party leaders, and who cannot seem to exercise the barest self-control, should not have ready access to the nuclear football. And yet he does.
At what point do the American people have a right to ask if this man, who a minority of our fellow citizens handed power, is emotionally fit to wield it? At what point is it fair to inquire as to the health of the president’s mind? At what point is it just to ask about his fundamental fitness to be president, and to demand that his fellow leaders, charged with the proper functioning of the federal government on behalf of all Americans, and not just their hardened, shrunken base, make an inquiry as well?
If Donald Trump begins to blunder this country into war, with the whip of the prosecutor and the shriek of impeachment at his heels, I think it’s incumbent on the American people to decide that the time has long since come.