The Nuclear President
Donald Trump, President of the United States, real estate mogul, man potentially in the throes of mental illness, loves nuclear weapons. His loose talk about them and his tendency to bring up the possibility of nuclear war has, since the beginning of his campaign and now, been a constant source of alarm to people on all sides of the political spectrum.
His most die hard supporters by contrast don’t seem particularly bothered.
While the concept of nuclear war is by itself completely and utterly terrifying, I am going to argue here that the social impact of that possibility has an effect in the here and now, never mind during some hypothetical future apocalypse. Perhaps a great example of what I mean was provided by Trump himself during his first solo press conference as POTUS. Dogged in recent days by allegations that his campaign (or people in it) have colluded with Russian intelligence, and in the context of reports of Russian planes buzzing US vessels and a spy ship supposedly loitering off the East coast, Trump deflected from this in two ways. The first and most predictable was to write it all off as “fake news”. The second was to bring up the possibility of nuclear conflict.
A recurring theme throughout Trump’s campaign and amongst certain segments of the far-right media even now was that “good relations with Russia” were necessary to avert war. Usually this went along with insinuations that Hillary Clinton was some sort of bloodthirsty warhawk out to invade Russia. That last part was both untrue and relies on a false dichotomy that assumes the choices are either war (of the kind that exterminates all life) or collusion with the Putin regime in Russia a la Trump. Throughout the campaign this dichotomy was important for Trump and his supporters in the sense that it gave them the ability to deflect from the already emerging (at that time) connections between Trump and Russia. The hidden subtext there is “even if we are working with the Russians in some capacity (which we’re not), isn’t that better than dying in a nuclear war?”
Trump, as both executive and candidate, has made good use of terror. Whether it’s blind fear of immigrants, of refugees, of “inner city crime”, or of nuclear war, the intent is the same. To cast the issues of the day as a choice between the physical survival of the American people or death. Nukes are only the most extreme example. But it should also be noted that calling up the ghost of cold war era nuclear paranoia is nothing new. In fact one could argue that the very existence of nuclear weapons puts a particular veneer on politics that is hard to get around. It has become part of the overall psychological and political profile of the society. Nuclear weapons were used as justification for invading Iraq and are often used in justifying sanctions (and possible military action) against Iran. Nuclear proliferation becomes and excuse by which the United States goes after its geopolitical enemies, even if the enemies in question pose no actual threat.
“The bomb” gives the US the ability to exert force on other countries, but it also provides it (as Trump illustrates) the ability to manipulate the fear and paranoia of the populace. If nuclear bombs are the most powerful weapons ever developed, than nuclear war is the most catastrophic force ever flirted with by mankind. And the mere threat of it, with good reason, shuts down all conversation and forces people into the safest route. Fear for life itself becomes a feature of politics.
So it is that Trump speaks of the bomb. He attempts to silence his opposition with the danger of it, and he threatens the rest of the world with his finger on the button, knowing as they do that he has the power to obliterate entire nations in minutes. This is a reality that everyone is forced to reckon with, and the possibility that somebody, either Trump or Kim Jong Un or whoever else, might finally one day decide to push that finger down and blow us all to hell. And even at our most comfortable this notion is there. It forces us to compromise with power, and in the face of that power over existence itself all other issues sink into nothing.
How Trump has cleverly tried to use this fear in order to distract from his own corruption is telling, and it shows the real reason nuclear bombs were stockpiled during the cold war. Terror of an existential kind is perhaps the greatest force for control that has ever been developed. The system is in many ways enshrined in power by the fact that it dangles us all over the edge. And one cannot understand the sort of government Trump is running if one does not understand that context