America is the most powerful nation in the world, by just about any measure.
We have an enormous military budget, bases and warships strategically scattered all over the globe, the most sophisticated weaponry, and diplomatic ties to allies that exponentially multiply our reach. We have the world’s largest economy, accounting for a full quarter of the entire world’s GDP, with only 4.4% of the world’s population.
Through humanitarian aid, we’ve saved millions of lives around the world. We’ve educated, fed, and healed people. Many other countries thrive because we helped them up, and now we’re standing there with a big stick right behind them.
Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t say America is the “greatest” nation. There are many different ways to evaluate that, and a lot of competitors for that title. We’ve screwed up plenty in our 240 years. Many people hate us, some with great reason. Our flag symbolizes freedom and prosperity for some, but for others, it means death and destruction.
But deserved or not, all of this adds up to make us the economic and military leader of the world. The entire population of Earth watches us and makes decisions based on our choices – either out of admiration or fear of reprisal, sometimes both.
And for generations, we’ve elected leaders who understood the immense power and responsibility that came with the job of President. Irrespective of their flaws, each greatly valued the chance to make the world a better place. They understood that the entire world bubbles at 211°, and their job is to lower it a degree or two if they can. Each man understood the historic perspective through which his actions would be judged.
And then, it all took a hard right turn off a cliff.
Motivated by the ugly emotions, we decided “change” was more valuable than anything else.
We enacted that change by electing a self-important, uneducated game show host to take the seat of Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon Johnson. We gave an angry, racist landlord the codes to the nukes, once steadfastly held by John F. Kennedy.
And, to no one’s surprise, he lives up to the embarrassing expectation he spent a lifetime setting. Everything the man does or says lessens our nation’s esteem in the eyes of the world. What would you expect from a self-aggrandizing tabloid playboy?
He tweets about whatever story was just presented on Fox. And the world’s confidence in our leadership drops a little.
He levies personal attacks against elected men and women for all to see. And the world loses a little more faith in the grand experiment in self-government.
He rails against “fake news” in a country founded with Freedom of the Press enshrined as an almost holy right. And the world’s understanding of our unique secular morality is further tarnished.
He appoints family members to key positions in the administration. And dictators and monarchs, who’ve always seen our self-governing democracy as an existential threat, now view us through a new lens.
He refuses briefings and goes into meetings relying on his own wits to get him through. And the other heads of state look at him like a poker room full of grinders staring down a cocky “fish” with a giant stack of chips.
And now, he lets his temper and impulsivity shine, announcing to the world that North Korea will be met with “fire and fury” and “power like the world has never seen.”
Congressmen, world leaders, and pundits saw the unprecedented nature of the President’s words. Many commented on how inappropriate the tone was for the situation.
Brinksmanship might have made sense in another time, when mutually assured destruction quieted unchecked proliferation by two relatively sane states. But he didn’t lob this cartoon-villain-esque threat at a major nation-state with quasi-stable leadership and an actual economy. He didn’t say this to a country with something to lose.
He said it to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. He said it to the god-king of a brainwashed people. He said it to a regime that actively allowed millions to starve rather than cede an inch to the West. He popped off at a guy who killed his own uncle and brother for being less than exuberantly loyal to him. He said this to a madman who has millions of rounds of artillery aimed at Seoul—a city of 10 million people that happens to be only 35 miles from the North Korean border.
There was no lengthy discussion behind the scenes where Mr. Trump arrived at a calculated, self-assured, calm but strong response. No, a TV camera went live, and the former host of NBC’s The Apprentice spouted of trying to look tougher and more hawkish than Barack Obama looked in moments of crisis.
Which led to Kim threatening to nuke Guam. Which led to Mattis warning Kim to stand down unless he wanted to die along with all of his countrymen.
To be fair, none of this popped up on January 21, 2017. North Korea has been working on nuclear technology for years. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all dealt with the Kim family in less-than-effective ways. And now, all of that manifest itself in a big, ugly situation for a nutjob with a massive chip on his shoulder.
Water at 211° is just really hot water. Water at 212° is steam, capable of powering a powerful locomotive. Likewise, wars brew for years, and then one thing blows the lid off the pot. The world simmers at 211°, irrespective of who we elect.
The American Revolution had its “Shot Heard Round The World.”
World War I had the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.
World War III is simmering, and it has been for years. It simmers at 211°….
What’s going to be the one degree that takes us from mere hot water to an unstoppable, uncontrollable juggernaut?
A 4 am tweet? An insult? A bad decision made after an ignored briefing? Maybe a decision delegated to a son-in-law we didn’t choose to lead us? How about a lie to keep the investigators off the trail?
It doesn’t take major policy moves to end the world as we know it. It just takes the right environment plus one wrong move. It becomes a question of odds, and stacking the deck.
What do you think the odds are that a known narcissist is going to be goaded into saying something stupid? What do you suppose the odds are that a blowhard is going to lose his cool over some actor or musician saying something mean about him? What are you willing to bet that, within the next 48 hours, Donald Trump will refrain from tweeting or saying anything off-script?
Will you bet your life?
How about our troops’ lives?
Your kids’ lives?
Your neighbor’s kids’ lives?
Maybe a few million North and South Korean lives?
Knowing the immensely volatile stakes, are you content to leave even the smallest decisions to Donald Trump?
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