by Charles Davis
What’s wrong with a little hysteria when Donald J. Trump is the most powerful man on earth?
In October 2017, when the worst possible human being one could imagine calling “president” is in fact the president, hysterics would seem to be appropriate, particularly with that man casually threatening preemptive, potentially nuclear war on god-damn-Twitter every other morning.
It may all be a bluff—a pseudo alpha-male distraction from this deeply insecure male and his administration’s failures. But why assume, and disarm accordingly? The time to stop a preemptive war is before it starts, and wars have been blustered into before. Underestimating this man’s capacity for willful ignorance and evil, now, is about as savvy as dismissing his 2016 campaign as circus and spectacle.
We see what happens when Trump’s own allies in the Republican Party feel free to speak their minds. After announcing that he would not run for reelection, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, warned that we’re “on the path to World War III” and compared the White House to “an adult daycare center,” images that conjured a loutish toddler, drunk on malign narcissism, steering the ship of state into heavy seas and Category 5 hurricanes.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) says he takes the threat of preemptive war seriously. “Many of us have begun to hear whispers of more serious war talk in and near the White House,” he tweeted on Monday, writing that Trump’s comments about the “calm before the storm” sent “chills” down his spine. “Now is the time — before it’s too late — for [Republicans] and [Democrats] to make clear no preemptive war against [North Korea] can happen without a vote by Congress,” he continued.
Murphy’s office did not immediately respond when asked what actions the senator is planning to take next. And what could he actually do? In practice, the president’s war-making powers are virtually unchecked. Should Trump give the order to nuke Pyongyang, the best hope would be a general refusing to carry out the order, and that’s not much of a hope. Congress hasn’t formally declared a war since World War II, content to defer to the executive branch, occasionally letting off steam with a non-binding resolution.
But dwelling on legality misses the point. Launching a war of choice is a political decision. When George W. Bush invaded Iraq, it was it least in part because he visualized himself landing a fighter jet and delivering a victory speech in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner.
This is about politics; about loudly and preemptively rejecting the idea of a U.S. strike on Pyongyang so that the fragile ego behind the @POTUS Twitter account doesn’t think he’ll get a bipartisan, ticker tape parade for ensuring the deaths of, at a minimum, tens of thousands of people in Korea. The goal is not a resolution or a bill, but a critical mass of people, unconcerned with affecting a posture of bemused detachment, speaking out against a man-made cataclysm.
Those who speak out against preemptive war may be called hysterical by the sober and sophisticated analysts who got candidate Trump all wrong. But at least those who do can say that they tried. Compared to the alternative, it’s the lesser evil.
Charles Davis is a writer in Los Angeles whose work has been published by outlets such as Al Jazeera, The Daily Beast, The Intercept, The Nation and The New Republic. Follow him on Twitter: @charliearchy. Photo: Chris Murphy (ABC)