It has become axiomatic that when Donald Trump says or does something over the top or below the belt, beware the unseen.
His cunning use of distraction turns red herrings green with envy.
The template works like this: Trump says something outrageous that drives Washington’s Bubble Belt wild. The media leap to outrage while bookers haul in “experts” to intone the obvious in exchange for makeup and a limo.
Next, the same talking heads, commentators and columnists lament the time wasted on such trivia as, say, first lady Melania Trump’s wearing stiletto heels to visit victims of Hurricane Harvey. Critics and the media itself lament that Important Issues are being ignored whilst attention is turned on, oh, whether Ivanka and Jared are being snubbed by the D.C. in-crowd, such as it is. The point is taken, but one should note that nothing is ever being ignored by everyone. Or, rather, everything of import is being monitored and commented upon by someone.
But then, broadcast and cable producers know — and President Trump knows deeply — that most Americans don’t really care that much about what they insist they care about. A few headlines will get most through the morning. Twitter and Facebook keep the curious plied with updates, and by day’s end, who really wants to plunge into tax reform?
It is true, nonetheless, that when Trump needs time to fidget with something that actually matters, he tosses a dead fish into the Dasani tank and waits for the media herdlings to begin their march toward the trough.
Temporarily spared the spotlight, Trump fluffs the thatched nest atop his head and invites his brain to hatch some very bad ideas. Thus, we seem to be on the brink of a nuclear confrontation with North Korea. Remember when we used to worry about Trump having his finger on the nuclear launch button? Square that. When the other antagonist is North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, the nightmare can’t be dismissed as the twisted hankie of the persistently worried.
Never have two less-qualified “leaders” been so endowed with such devastating power without the requisite impulse control upon which living civilizations depend. Not to mention that these two nuke-hecklers are unmercifully coiffed to resemble cartoon characters so that we, the soberly sane, are left to ponder our face-melting demise as a clown showdown between two renegade circus performers. The horror movie “IT,” featuring a diabolical clown that opened last week, couldn’t pay for better timing.
Meanwhile, one seeks cooler comfort in the memory of the Cuban missile crisis between Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy. At least these men were capable of finding an alternative to worst-case scenarios. There seems to be no such inclination on North Korea’s part or, frankly, on Trump’s. Unless our reality star-in-chief holds his sagacity in reserve for special occasions such as this, there’s little reason to assume or hope that he’ll diplomatically temper his counterpart’s apparent need to demonstrate his manhood.
In July, Trump was typically eloquent in describing his approach to thwarting disaster:
“We’ll handle North Korea. We’ll be able to handle North Korea. It will be handled. We handle everything.”
As further insult to reason, this isn’t even a conflict over something at least historically rational such as the now nearly charming contest between communism and Americanism. No battle of wits, the U.S.-North Korea stare-down is more accurately a battle of nitwits who seem to think that threatening nuclear holocaust and mutual destruction is a contest to see who has bigger hands.
No one would suggest that Trump is responsible for all the nail-biting these past few months or that Kim’s missile and nuclear tests aren’t deadly serious. But Trump surely has exacerbated matters with his “fire and fury” rhetoric. The goading language of ultimatum, more than a bluffing tactic, is an inflammatory agent so that the possible moves inexorably toward the inevitable. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, the president’s toughest-talking Cabinet member, recently said: “We have kicked the can down the road long enough. There is no more road left.”
Perhaps, Kim might argue the same. Meanwhile, a can-kicking strategy (i.e., containment and diplomacy) seems a not-irrational substitute for mutual annihilation. Have we reached a point of no return? Will the president of the United States fire Kim, or will he invent some new distraction (staffers: watch your backs) while he becomes a stealth, wartime leader?
Stay tuned. But first: What will Melania wear to the presidential bunker?
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.