Yesterday, while less effective people were working, Donald Trump was both working and vacationing at the same time. The president took a break from doing the people’s business at his Bedminster, NJ golf resort to issue this statement on North Korea:
North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening, beyond a normal state, and as I said they will be met with fire, fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.
The first time I saw a transcript of these remarks, the phrase “best not” made me think it was a joke. You can tell when the guy threatening you is not accustomed to violence when he says something weird. It’s a sign he threatens people in his head more often than he threatens them out loud. But the marquee phrase in this statement is “the likes of which the world has never seen.” That’s the one that caught the attention of the press and, fortunately, rules out the possibility of a nuclear strike, since the world saw that on this date in 1945.
Still, it’s an understatement to say presidents have not historically spoken this way. North Korea routinely speaks this way about us, but that’s what makes them the world’s funniest non-nuclear nation. The joke stops working if they irradiate Guam. What we to do is keep the dynamic between the DPRK and the US like a kid taunting a pro wrestler, and not wade into the stands to beat him to death for saying we suck.
My understanding of the consensus on KJ-1 is that he is a rational actor. He makes weird moves, but they’re to satisfy the weird demands of running a nationwide cult of personality, not merely to make chaos. He does not actually want to fight a nuclear war. He would probably fight back in a nuclear war, though, and if he felt one was inevitable he might try to beat us to the punch. You want to interact with someone like that carefully, so it’s weird Trump decided to say something so inflammatory.
Today, however, we learn that he didn’t decide to say anything in particular. Although he had discussed the elements of a statement with White House staff, what he said yesterday was improvised. That’s cool. There’s no need to write out the entire speech you will say to avert nuclear war. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the dental supply store and buy several hundred lead aprons.