Trump’s Twitching Twitter Finger Nears The Nuclear Button

As our unprecedented president becomes ever more unhinged, he threatens to do immense damage long-term to our constitutional rights and liberties, our climate and economy, and our already shredded social safety net. But the most lethal near-term threat he poses is the gravest peril of all — nuclear holocaust. Don’t worry, you may say, he’s so cozy with Putin he’d never nuke him. Yet as president, Trump has at the end of his twitching Twitter trigger finger what’s known as the “nuclear football,” a small device inside a satchel carried by a military attache who accompanies him at all times in case he decides that he needs to respond to a real or imagined attack. For all the bad presidents we’ve endured in the nuclear age, none has been quite so crazy as to think of actually opening that satchel and pushing the button. But in the case of this man, we have every reason to be gravely concerned.

The attached article by Bruce Blair, a widely respected nuclear analyst, was published during the 2016 campaign but is still more urgently relevant today. I hadn’t realized until I read it that no one — not Congress, not the National Security Council, no one — stands between the president and the button. He has solely at his own discretion the ability to launch several thousand nuclear warheads from submarines, bombers and missiles at cities and military targets in China, Russia, North Korea, Iran and other unspecified but long-ago determined destinations. And once he does so, within minutes of their launch they will be detected by those nations on the receiving end and their own missiles will be launched in retaliation. In a matter of less than two hours, several hundred million people would die and the planet would be fatally irradiated for years to come.

Back in the eighties when Ronald Reagan was president, physicians and physicists analyzed and described post-nuclear scenarios, predicting a “nuclear winter” not unlike ancient volcanic eruptions that fundamentally altered the earth’s climate and resulted in the epochal extinction of vast numbers of species. Climate catastrophes that we currently project to occur in the next century or more if nothing is done to prevent them could occur instead in a matter of weeks, even days.

After the cold war ended most of us relaxed about the nuclear threat as Russia and the U.S. reduced their arsenals and ostensibly took them off hair-trigger status. But no one anticipated that someone who has already shown himself in his first month in office to be both mentally deranged and emotionally unstable would hold the fate of the planet at the end of his twitching index finger. We’ve also seen that as the world begins to close in on him and call his bluff, he becomes ever more desperate to avoid discovery and humiliation. It is in just such a circumstance that, already unable to discern the difference between reality and fiction, he might resort to the kind of ultimate escape hatch that the button represents without ever realizing — or perhaps even caring — what it means.

Many of Trump’s most fervent supporters already hold an end-of-the-world perspective in which apocalypse is simply the gateway to salvation. Others, feeling that their lives are at a dead end, say they voted for Trump so he would “blow the whole thing up” without thinking through the implications of that statement for their own security or very survival. Surely none has ever visualized the nature of an actual nuclear holocaust. They’ve watched too many dystopian movies while chomping popcorn and come away from them altogether unscathed. Some may imagine this scenario would be no different — just another episode of reality TV. Or they may believe that only unbelievers will die while believers will blithely rise into heaven, a fantasy ironically shared by certain fundamentalist Christians and Muslims. The truth, of course, is that as in any war, most who die are altogether innocent of any crime, and that this kind of dying is a prolonged and hideous agony. And as for the survivors, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev once warned, “the living will envy the dead.”

For many reasons it will be very difficult to remove this president from office before the end of his term unless members of his own party come to realize that their responsibility extends far beyond their personal political fortunes — to the country, the planet and posterity. At the moment precious few of them have shown even the most minimal degree of decency, let alone courage. So it’s up to the rest of us — those who have everything to lose by letting a madman steal our future — to insist that this president represents a “clear and present danger” to this country and this planet and that he cannot be permitted within reach of the nuclear button. “Take the toys from the boys,” goes the phrase. In this case, it’s no toy, but it is a boy, with a petulant, paranoid, ever more isolated and impulsive personality. We don’t let boys play with matches, so why would we let one play with our very survival?