At various times during last year’s presidential election, some of the nation’s highest-profile figures tried to make the case that Donald Trump was unprepared for a nuclear standoff.
In February, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Trump was so “erratic,” he couldn’t be trusted with the nation’s nuclear codes. In July, Hillary Clinton told voters, “Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” As late as October, then-President Barack Obama said at a rally, in reference to Trump, “How can you trust him with the nuclear codes? You can’t do it.”Nearly 63 million Americans nevertheless thought it’d be wise to put Trump in the Oval Office, and now the nation’s first amateur president faces a possible nuclear crisis with North Korea. The Atlantic’s David Graham had a great piece yesterday on why Trump is so unsuited for this specific challenge.
At a moment of nuclear brinksmanship like this, any citizen of the United States wants a few things from a leader. You want someone you can trust to tell the truth, and who foreign leaders view as credible, so that threats and statements alike are taken seriously. You want someone who is known to be able to carefully sift through a lot of evidence and assess upsides from downsides. You want someone who has a team of expert advisers whose judgment he trusts and takes seriously. And you want someone who is able to take bad news.
In other words, Trump is the opposite of what Americans need under circumstances like these. The president is untrustworthy; he’s widely recognized as an international joke; he lacks anything resembling critical thinking skills and struggles to differentiate between facts and falsehoods; and he only listens to experts who tell him what he wants to hear.
Indeed, as developments unfolded yesterday, and Trump made clear he had no intention of handling the crisis in a careful and deliberate way, it was discomforting to remember that this president doesn’t trust or even respect U.S. intelligence professionals. And with that in mind, as the standoff with North Korea moves forward, we have no idea who Trump will turn to for guidance and reliable information. Trump, when he isn’t making intuitive assumptions on issues he knows nothing about, has historically been more inclined to believe Fox News and supermarket tabloids than the Central Intelligence Agency.
Making matters slightly worse, there’s great uncertainty surrounding whether Trump intends to follow through on his saber-rattling. Speaking yesterday from a golf resort he owns, the president declared that North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it makes “more threats.”
Soon after, Kim Jong-un’s regime raised the specter of attacking Guam – effectively crossing the red line Trump had drawn just hours earlier. What are the practical consequences of this? No one has any idea because no one can say with certainty if the American president meant, or even fully understood, what he said.
Perhaps it’s best to hope Trump simply grows bored of the crisis and turns his attention to the latest shiny object he sees on TV?