Thursday, May 24, 2018

We regret to inform you that the world may have to be destroyed (on Trump's cancellation of June 2018 talks with North Korea)

Soon after news broke the morning of May 24 that President Trump was canceling peace talks with North Korea, Trump tweeted out the letter he wrote to Kim. It reads like a letter written by a businessman, not a diplomat.

Like a business letter about the possible destruction of the planet.

Like a business letter released to the public via a tweet that misspelled his enemy's name as "Kim Jung Un." (He reissued the same tweet an hour later with the corrected spelling "Kim Jong Un" and then deleted the previous tweet that contained the error.)

Three sentences in particular are alarming:

“Therefore, please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place. You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.

I felt a wonderful dialogue was building up between you and me, and ultimately, it is only that dialogue that matters.”

The first and third sentences suggest that Trump and Kim should primarily be concerned about themselves. Canceling talks, Trump claims, is, at this time, "for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world". How can something that is to the detriment of the entire world be considered "good" for the leaders of two nations at the center of the crisis? The explanation seems to be that "it is only that dialogue [between Trump and Kim] that matters". Oh, silly me, I thought the issue at hand that really mattered in the final analysis was avoiding nuclear war. No, it turns out it's really about having a formal summit with a commemorative coin. The secondary issue of nuclear war is addressed in the second sentence, where the man who has the U.S. nuclear codes, the one who decides whether the world can be destroyed, says "I pray to God" that he will never "have" to drop those bombs. Admittedly, that represents an improvement over a man who reportedly asked shortly before his election, "If we have nuclear weapons why can't we use them?" At least now he recognizes that we should not want to use them. However, I do not feel at all comforted that he is asking God for advice or prophecy on the matter. He isn't even particularly religious, a position I'm not sure whether or not to find reassuring given that he now thinks the God with Whom he isn't on regular speaking terms is an expert on the coming nuclear holocaust implied in his gentleman's threat. I am also worried about what Trump thinks would constitute his "having" to launch nukes, given that the tweet to which he attached the business letter says he felt "forced" to cancel the peace talks merely because Kim had made "statements" of "anger" and "hostility." Would he intentionally trigger the deaths of hundreds of millions of people simply because he was annoyed or embarrassed by something a dictator said? Hopefully there is a much higher threshold of launching a nuclear war. An impossibly high threshold, ideally — even according to people who believe in God.

I pray to no-God that the president learns to make an effort to correctly spell the names of his most significant political contacts in major public statements when he is supposedly trying to talk them down out of their "tremendous anger and open hostility" and presumably not trying to kindle it further. If he knows he sometimes spells or types poorly, he could have a White House employee who is a good speller type or proofread critical statements for him. Showing basic courtesy through spelling would be the tiniest possible first step here. And also a step that we're extremely unlikely ever to see taken. Improbability is what is typically expressed through the phrase "I'll pray for that."

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