When President John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev brought the world to the brink of annihilation in 1961 over the precarious position of Cuba on the Cold War-era map of the world, it was the closest the U.S. and Russia had come to making direct war on each other without any Chinese middlemen adding enough distance between, as Commodore Perry called them, the “Saxon and the Cossack.” The crisis in Cuba was an insane piece of dick-measuring and Kennedy’s darkest moment, a staring contest that could have wiped out all life, culture, and history. Two imperialist nations of approximately the same size and influence were locked in an odd combination of proxy actions and military posturing, and both found that staring contest coming to a head that neither actually wanted—the mutually assured destruction of the two most influential nations in the world and the post-nuclear nightmare that would result.
As Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un set themselves to square off in a rabbit-hole version of that same staring contest, it’s so distressing because destruction is precisely what both sides seem to desire most. On Kim’s side, mocked up images of DPRK missiles hitting U.S. targets get Super Bowl-level cheers from a populous afraid of the gulag. On Orange Don’s, a well-noted obsession with nukes and a bottomless appetite for self-denial, self-congratulation, and political onanism is being cast in a more sinister light by the day. Writing for Quartz, the amazing Sarah Kendzior traces Trump’s desire to dictate nuclear policy to a 1984 (too perfect) interview in which he name-drops Roy Cohn, a backroom politico best known for advising Joe McCarthy. “It would take an hour-and-a-half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles,” Trump said. “I think I know most of it anyway. You’re talking about just getting updated on a situation… You know who really wants me to do this? Roy [Cohn].”
Kendzior follows this up with a more recent Trump-ism that makes the idea of a nuclear standoff with perhaps the only other human on earth who can match Trump for macho overcompensation, caprice, and bone-headedness: “I’m speaking with myself [about policy], number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.” To be sure. They’re words that somehow convinced more than 50 million Americans to vote against their best wishes and install an administration for whom family values more closely resembles the Hussein family variety than the GOP-approved Graham variety. This is an executive who asked three times in an hour-long interview last year why the president shouldn’t use nuclear weapons, as though he’d never seen a photo of Hiroshima and butter would soon freeze in his mouth.
So what then are we to make of Mike Pence, posturing in the DMZ and imploring Kim not to push Trump? Are these the only good words Trump sent Pence on his way with? And most importantly, just how far is this high-risk narcissist willing to go to distract the U.S. from his corrupt and paper-thin presidency? If things ever get as extreme as they did in 1961, one thing’s for sure: there will be nothing for Trump to hide, as there will be nothing left of this country but shards and rubble.