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Reason, Nuclear Weapons, and Donald Trump

Donald Trump wondered aloud on the campaign trail “if we have nuclear weapons, why don’t we use them?” It still is amazing that this man, who so openly expressed his preference for destruction and cruelty, got elected. Trump’s actions towards North Korea have surely reflected this logic. And yes, he may stand alone even in the wretched group of American Presidents in his lack of logic at all. It seems that he almost solely relies on his emotions. I wasn’t so sure if this was true on the campaign trail, as he at least used intuition to make connections with his rocking crowds.

The man had some sort of direction then. Now, isolated form his groupies, Trump’s reactionary impulses are not a strategy so much as they are just a reaction. A reaction from a man so overwhelmed and paranoid he feels the need to destroy everything in his path. Such a man is ripe to blow up the world. That is, if the order is obeyed. It may not be so surprising that Trump got elected when we consider his opponent Hillary Clinton said in the most absolute tone that “if the order for a nuclear strike comes, it must be obeyed.”  I remember hearing this in a Presidential debate and being struck by the rigidity of the statement. She seemed not to be afraid of destroying an entire country but rather afraid that even if she was to become President, no one would listen to her, as if that was (literally) the end of the world.

I bring up this quote from Clinton because she was attempting to explain nuclear weapons and their potential use through reason. Such has been the strategy and expectation of Presidents in the past for the most part. Barack Obama argued that his one trillion dollars committed to nuclear weapons was not expansion but “modernization.” Trump then, and his abandonment of objective reality, is surely postmodern. There really can be no rational reason for having, let alone using, nuclear weapons. Unless you perhaps solely rely on reason, in other words, you are a sociopath. But the assumption was that our leaders were rational actors and that they could and should explain their actions.

Trump feels no need to explain himself rationally, in fact he detests the concept. I remember him throwing paper towels at the people of Puerto Rico after refusing to give them any sort of aid. The disastrous conditions in Puerto Rico are an atrocity. Henry A. Giroux’s concept of disposable populations seems especially true for Puerto Rico. When Trump threw the paper towels there was a strangely confessional torque to his actions. That is he felt no need to hide from his own absurdness, in fact, he wanted to throw it in your face. Trump here does not even seem to be angry, he is just relieved to get it all off of his chest.

In ahistorical times the phrase of Trump being the first non-rational President seems like a fine headline. But perhaps there is also the argument to be made that when it comes to the issue of nuclear weapons, he is the first rational President.  The logic of having nuclear weapons at all is rather insane. Granted of course there is a preference for not using these weapons, as if we, let alone the people of North Korea, have much of a choice.

What Trump highlights through his ignorance of foreign policy in the United States is that the reason for nuclear weapons isn’t so much to blow entire countries up. This may sound appealing to an aimless bully with no ideology but it’s not so appealing to one who is attempting sustained and accepted world domination. Anyone who is thinking rationally could see that North Korea is completely contained economically speaking. It surely is frustrating for any person seeking world domination that there is a country who lives on its own terms, in spite of sanctions and threats. But risking nuclear war with such a country, who really poses no threat to anything but one’s ego is a silly idea.

Trump asks why do we have nuclear weapons? We have nuclear weapons so we can continue neocolonialism on poorer countries. We can destroy your entire country at any time is a sound negotiating tool for keeping other countries poor. And to think Trump wrote Art of the Deal! Of course nostalgia for the days of rationality are in order. The past Presidents were at times rational actors. Execute leaders who brought the people of poor countries together, replace them with dictators. Keep relative peace (and a lot of military bases) with countries who give resources on the cheap. Disguise war in democracy, rather than say, as Trump has said “let’s steal their oil.”

Trump is a hurricane. He has no self-control. He wouldn’t nuke a country because they were an economic threat, he would do so because they stood up to him. The fact that North Korea remains independent may be frustrating for all those who seek to pillage their country, but the risk in provoking them is far greater than the reward.

We can see why people wanted to ditch the cold hearted rational thinkers in favor of Trump, who is refreshingly self-interested rather than patronizing. But this was a misread. It is not as if past leaders have been without emotion. We clearly felt, emotionally that is, that America (whiteness is assumed here) was morally and genetically superior, even if we had no rational reason for believing it. The reason of our leaders was what prevented them from taking their emotional assumptions to their assumed end. After all, if we blow up the developing world, who will be our slaves? Of course it’s not like American workers are being treated right either.

Trump feels like him and his class are superior (or maybe more acutely he fears that they aren’t) so he may follow these emotions to their assumed end. Currently he is so infuriated that anyone would stand up to his bullying he does not see the consequences of his actions. As detestable as Trump is, reason alone will only make a cruel world make sense, it will not make this world less cruel.

North Korea may also be remembering what happened to Libya when they ditched their nuclear weapons. And Kim Jong Un may be remembering what happened to Muammar Gaddafi. I agree with Tulsi Gabbard when she says: “”In order for serious negotiations to have a chance, our country must actually end our regime change war policies. This is necessary for North Korea to see that we are serious when we say we are not interested in toppling their regime, and that we are serious about achieving peace, stability, and prosperity in a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.”

North Korea can and should be negotiated with. Can Trump be negotiated with? Bribed maybe. While Trump is surely a unique and seemingly hopeless actor, our policy towards North Korea and the rest of the world has been one of domination, exploitation and when necessary, decimation. And all justified through reason, a supposed supremacy of our people over others in the world. This time, if Trump must echo Hillary Clinton’s infamous words on the grave of Gaddafi (“We came, we saw, he died”) it will be done with a little bit less moralizing.

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Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com 

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