We all know that the most effective form of government is a powerful chief executive who inherited his position and never got a chance to fail. When times are tough, you want a rich kid with a long resume in the family business. That’s how my grandparents’ generation won World War II: their parents won World War I. But what happens when two Little Lord Fauntleroy types square off? If you were to pit, say, Fred Trump’s kid against the cleverest public-school graduates in New York, you know who would win. Same goes for Kim Jong Il’s kid against the savviest apparatchiks in North Korea. When two such people square off, though, the resourcefulness that comes from being sucked up to your whole life cancels out on both sides. They are left with only their positions to defend them, plus their unimaginable wealth. Today is Friday, and two of the biggest assholes in the world are ready to win a nuclear war. Won’t you pit hack against hack with me?
There’s something about the green marble background at the UN General Assembly that really puts Trump in his element. Normally it looks dated, like Astoria’s idea of opulence in the 1990s, but put an icon of self-aggrandizing greed in front of it and the whole thing comes together. It makes me want to get out my gold fork and knife and dig in to a copy of The Andromeda Strain. Anyway, decor is the only way Trump is in his element at the United Nations. He makes a jarring contrast with most other aspects of that organization, for example their commitment to world peace. This morning, he took advantage of his audience of world leaders to threaten North Korea, like so:
For those of you who can’t watch videos because you’re prisoners or something, here’s the fillet:
The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully, this will not be necessary. That’s what the United Nations is all about. That’s what the United Nations is for. Let’s see how they do.
The United Nations is the greatest force for peace in the world, and I call on it to fulfill its mission by restraining my murderous impulses. Let’s see how they do. These remarks call attention to another element of the Trump aesthetic that is totally out of place at the UN: mean nicknames. In addition to raising questions about how he understands the Elton John Song, referring to Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” seems very out of place here.
Mean nicknames made a kind of sense during the campaign, which explicitly set candidates at odds with one another. Trump’s basic promise was that he would bully politicians on behalf of ordinary people, so his insult-comic persona was likable, albeit from a limited perspective that I did not share. It makes no sense before a body whose object is international cooperation, though. I suspect that the UN would cause more problems than it solved if all the delegates called one another names. It’s hard to claim you want peace with North Korea when you antagonize its notoriously vain dictator and then threaten to “totally destroy” his country. But it’s not Trump’s job to prevent the war that two generations of his predecessors have successfully avoided. That’s up to the UN. Let’s see how they do.
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.
Two interesting things happened in North Korea this weekend. First, third-generation dictator Kim Jong Un presided over a parade to honor his grandfather Kim Il Sung. There were lots of missiles, including the ostensibly intercontinental Pukguksong pictured above. The next morning, apparently as a show of defiance as American ships approached the Korean Peninsula, the North tested another ballistic missile that failed within seconds of liftoff. Let that be a lesson to you, Kombat! Kids. When you become dictator of a secretive rogue state and want to show off your military might, schedule the parade after the missile test. Otherwise, you risk embarrassing yourself. On a completely unrelated note, here’s US President Donald Trump on his revised opinion of China’s relationship with North Korea, which President Xi Jinping explained to him over the weekend:
After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy. It’s not what you would think.
Ah, yes—our new president, who insisted throughout his 18-month campaign that China had absolute control of North Korea and its belligerent foreign policies, changed his opinion after considering the subject for 10 minutes. This news raises a fun question: Which of these egomaniacal stewards of his family empire will keep us out of war?
Yesterday, North Korea may or may not have successfully tested a nuclear bomb. Pyongyang’s official news agency announced that its test of a miniature hydrogen bomb had been a “perfect success” that took the country’s “nuclear might to the next level,” but the same agency also maintains that Kim Il Sung once rode a unicorn. North Korea has been locked in a truth-telling contest with the rest of the world for several decades now. Still, the 5.1-Richter earthquake near a suspected nuclear test site suggests that the secretive dictatorship exploded something yesterday, and that’s unsettling. Whatever North Korea is up to, it seems to have taken another step toward ranged nuclear weapons. Speaking to CNN this morning, Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) put the blame for this development squarely where it belongs: President Obama. Video after the jump.