Donald Trump ad libbed his threat to North Korea

The equivalent of Eric Trump versus the equivalent of Kim Jong Il

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.

Passive voice involved in mayor’s statement on officer-involved shooting

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges

If you asked me what happened in Minneapolis Saturday night, I would say the police shot a woman after she called 911. Around 11:30pm, Justine Damond summoned police to address what she thought might be an assault in the alley behind her home. “Sources with knowledge of the incident” told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that Damond, in her pajamas, was talking to one officer through the driver-side window of his patrol car when the other officer shot her from the passenger seat. It’s hard to understand how or why that happened—especially since both officers’ body cameras were turned off, as was the dashboard camera of their car.

Anyway, that’s what I’d say if I were a normal person describing what happened in Minneapolis this weekend. Here is what Mayor Betsy Hodges said about it, excerpted from her statement on Facebook:

Late last night, an officer-involved shooting occurred in the 13th ward, following a 911 call that two Minneapolis police officers responded to on the 5100 block of Washburn Avenue South. Tragically, a woman was fatally shot when one of the officers discharged their weapon.

I recognize that Hodges has a legal incentive not to assign responsibility to city employees, but come on. To say that “an officer-involved shooting occurred” during which “a woman was fatally shot when one of the officers discharged their weapon” is an extremely roundabout way to say police shot someone.  It’s disrespectful to the loved ones of the woman they shot. It’s disrespectful to the reader, who understands what happened but is forced to interpolate it from Hodges’s subject-free juxtaposition of events. And considering the occasion for this statement is that a citizen called the police and they came over and shot her, it seems tone deaf.

This moment is when the mayor does not want to present city government as a mindless bureaucracy. She should speak in the language of ordinary people, not of death-notification robots. Now is the time to acknowledge how terrible this situation looks. I’m sure there is a good reason the officer A) didn’t want to shoot this woman but did have his gun out, with the safety off, in the car, or B) did want to shoot this woman, and C) turned off his body camera along with every other camera at the scene. Hodges should acknowledge the urgent need to know why these officers did what they did, instead of pretending it was a tragic event that just happened.

With “full confidence” of Trump administration, Flynn resigns

Michael Flynn explains to the National Security Council that God didn’t make Rambo.

Those of you who picked “three weeks” in your office pool on the first resignation of the Trump administration are about to get free cupcakes. Retired general Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor last night, approximately seven hours after Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC that he enjoyed the “full confidence” of the White House. Why Flynn retired is unclear. His original mistake was to discuss sanctions in a phone conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States back in December, when he was not yet a federal official. That conversation itself is not the problem; the problem, ostensibly, is that he lied to Mike Pence about it. But the administration has known he lied about it for more than a month. Here’s Conway admitting that while simultaneously claiming that this lie was the straw that broke the camel’s back:

It seems like the real problem is that people are finding out about the lie. But Conway has issued two contradictory statements on this issue in the last 24 hours—three if you consider the resignation a statement, since she was almost certainly involved. Between her, Stephen Miller, and the shadowy blotchy Steve Bannon, this administration is turning out to be a real field laboratory for students of lying.

After voting to change land transfer rules, “Ryan Zinke’s position has not changed”

Memories

Last week, Montana’s sole delegate to the US House, Republican Ryan Zinke, voted to make transfers of federal lands to the states “budget neutral” for accounting purposes. This came as something of a surprise. Zinke has opposed land transfers throughout his career, going so far as to resign his position as a delegate to the Republican convention this summer in protest of support for transfers in the platform. Then, last week, he votes for item numero uno on the land transfer agenda. What gives?

Commander Zinke isn’t telling. He declined requests for interviews from the Indy, Montana Public Radio, and host of other outlets. Instead, his office released a six-word statement: “Ryan Zinke’s position has not changed.” I can think of two possible explanations:

  1. They actually said “Ryan Zinke’s position is UNCHAINED!” and the reporter hung up before she could hear the cheers and dance music as the congressman pounded a bottle of Goldschlager.
  2. They meant Zinke’s position in the federal government.

Right now, as I write this, he’s Representative Zinke. But five days from now, the Senate will likely confirm him as Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. At that moment, his position will change substantially. He will move from the legislative branch to the executive, slipping the surly bonds of an electorate that holds land transfers in low regard. Zinke’s position has not yet changed, but in another week or so, he will be in a place where the regards of Montanans matter less. He will be in federal government, which this year will focus on dismantling federal government and selling its assets, cheap.

You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. I’m going to miss Commander Zinke and his tireless portrayal of himself. Unless my man EG-4 shocks the world, Montana’s next representative in Congress will not be such a strong persona. Probably, he or she will not have killed even one person, much less many people in a war. They won’t appear on Fox News as often, if at all.  And say what you like about Ryan Zinke’s policies, he doesn’t.

Zinke calls on both Trump and Clinton to apologize to military families

Rep. Ryan Zinke prepares to crack a walnut.

Rep. Ryan Zinke prepares to crack a walnut.

Remember a few days ago, before we were all mad at Donald Trump for implying that someone should shoot Hillary Clinton, when we were all mad at Trump for insulting the parents of a dead Muslim serviceman? At the Democratic National Convention, where Khizr Khan lambasted Trump for his bigoted remarks about Muslims. “You have sacrificed nothing and no one,” Khan said to the billionaire restorer of American greatness, who missed Vietnam due to bone spurs. It probably would have chastened a normal person, but Trump hit back, suggesting that Khan’s wife, Ghazala, hadn’t spoken during her husband’s speech because Muslim custom forbade her.

These remarks put Montana’s Rep. Ryan Zinke in a bad spot. Zinke is a freshman congressman, and he can’t afford to buck his party too often. On the other hand, the unimpeachable dignity of military service is his whole thing. His political brand is rooted in his identity as a former Navy SEAL, and his personal ethics seem to hold veterans in the highest regard. So he released this statement on his campaign website:

Both of our candidates for president have picked fights with and said extremely regrettable things to the families of service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our great nation. As a grateful nation, we cannot allow this to become the norm, and we cannot allow it to go without notice. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton should swallow their pride and apologize to the families and service members they have offended. Politics has no role in the military.

Can I get partial credit on this? Because I can definitely think of the extremely regrettable things one candidate said to the family of a service member that should occasion an apology, but I’m blanking on the other one. Was it Benghazi? Was it the part where she runs against Trump, and therefore must be made equivalent to him in all things? These and another pressing question—why would Zinke, who has a future in politics, risk his credibility for a man who is to his party as the chicken pox is to a sixth grader?—are explored in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.