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Mutually Assured Destruction: Trump Wishes Us All A Happy Thermonuclear New Year

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Mutually Assured Destruction: Trump Wishes Us All A Happy Thermonuclear New Year


Now that the presidential election is over, will it ever really end? Not if Donald J. Trump and the cable news networks get their way. Having made the election into a pro-wrestling spectacle, the Twitter-addicted president-elect and his ratings-hungry enablers at CNN, Fox News, etc. appear determined to turn the United States government into an endless “reality TV” program.

The hallmark of reality TV, of course, being sheer unreality. Absent terrorist attacks and weather-related catastrophes, however, political melodrama is the best known way to keep people watching what we quaintly call “news.”

CBS chairman Les Moonves admitted as much last February. “It may not be good for America,” he said of the GOP primary contest, “but it’s damn good for CBS.”

Trump’s role in the spectacle, he said, was great for ratings.

“Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now?” Moonves added. “The money’s rolling in and this is fun….I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

Well, Trump kept it going, alright. All politicians are egomaniacs, but the president-elect’s need for attention makes, say, John McCain or Joe Biden look like Trappist monks. Trump with a Twitter account is like a Labrador retriever with a basket of tennis balls: amped-up and easily distracted.

Even so, the time could be coming when the rest of us need to start treating his 140-character outbursts as more symptomatic than substantive.

Consider Trump’s ambiguously-worded December 22 tweet: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

And a very Merry Thermonuclear Christmas to you too!

But what does that even mean? Aides floundered to explain. We have to build more and better bombs until everybody agrees to disarm? By the following morning, Trump had reportedly telephoned the decorative but often confused Mika Brzezinski, of MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Seemingly under the impression that his new best friend Vladimir Putin had threatened to ramp-up Russia’s nuclear arsenal, Trump vowed “Let it be an arms race because we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

In short, a standard Trump boast: Big me, little you. Surrounded by bodyguards all his life, it’s a pose that comes naturally to him.
From CBS News to CNN, the New York Times to the Washington Post, it played as a very big deal. Cable networks found the excitement hard to resist. “Trump tweet startles with apparent nuclear policy reversal,” was Rachel Maddow’s take on MSNBC. Social media exploded.

A new nuclear arms race! Was this what Trump meant by making America great again? A return to those halcyon days of schoolchildren hiding under their desks, building fallout shelters in the yard, stockpiling canned goods and arguing about the ethics of shooting desperate neighbors who’d failed to construct their own hideaways?

Had Putin even made such a threat? If so, it would have been unusual, as the Russian strongman had that very day sent the president- elect “warmest Christmas” greetings along with hopes that Trump would “bring our level of collaboration on the international scene to a qualitatively new level.”

Indeed, Putin subsequently went out of his way during his annual year-end press conference to deny that there was anything alarming in Trump’s pronouncements. “There is nothing new” to Trump’s comments, Putin told reporters in Moscow. Nothing at all.

He also chided Democrats as sore losers.

To Slate’s estimable Fred Kaplan it appeared likely that the inexperienced Trump had simply overreacted to remarks Putin had recently made to the Kremlin Defense Ministry—political boilerplate about Russia not allowing anybody to get the nuclear drop on them.

The concept is “mutual assured destruction, and the reasoning, Kaplan explains “straight out of Nuclear Strategy 101.” (A course we can be confident Trump has never taken.) When it comes to nukes, offense is defense, and vice versa. The key to everybody’s survival is that no country deceive itself into believing it has achieved “first-strike” capacity, i.e. succumb to the world-destroying delusion that it can win a nuclear war.

Does Trump even know that the U.S. under President Obama has already embarked on a “nuclear “modernization” plan costing roughly $35 billion a year? Probably not. Command and control systems are dangerously outmoded, making accidental launches a terrifying possibility. Deployment remains at least ten years in the future.

Does Trump understand Russian anxieties that missile-defense systems installed in Eastern Europe under George W. Bush can be seen as offensive threats? (The reason Putin needs to reassure Russian audiences.)

Again, probably not.

Very likely our feckless, blowhard president-elect simply went off half-cocked, something the Russians appear to understand if Mika Brzezinski does not.

Also that Trump is still deep in Vladimir Putin’s pocket.

IMAGE: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses members of the National Rifle Association during their NRA-ILA Leadership Forum during at their annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, May 20, 2016. REUTERS/John Sommers II 

Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons is a political columnist and author. Lyons writes a column for the Arkansas Times that is nationally syndicated by United Media. He was previously a general editor at Newsweek as wells an associate editor at Texas Monthly where he won a National Magazine Award in 1980. He contributes to Salon.com and has written for such magazines as Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Esquire, and Slate.

A graduate of Rutgers University with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia, Lyons taught at the Universities of Massachusetts, Arkansas and Texas before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. A native of New Jersey, Lyons has lived in Arkansas with his wife Diane since 1972. The Lyons live on a cattle farm near Houston, Ark., with a half-dozen dogs, several cats, three horses, and a growing herd of Fleckvieh Simmental cows.

Lyons has written several books including The Higher Illiteracy (University of Arkansas, 1988), Widow's Web (Simon & Schuster, 1993), Fools for Scandal (Franklin Square, 1996) as well as The Hunting Of The President: The 10 Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, which he co-authored with National Memo Editor-in-Chief Joe Conason.

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  1. charleo1 December 28, 2016

    I heard one of Trump’s mouthpieces/apologists, the other day explaining to us “Liberals.” That’s right, he addressed us specifically as to how we should be listening to, “The Donald.” The problem he said, was Liberals are taking what Mr. Trump says, (or tweets) “too literally.” Yes, he went on to compare us Liberals to Christian Fundamentalists. And you know, he said, how the CFs take the Biblical as the literal Word of God? Well, Liberals are trying to do that with Trump, he said. Same thing. He went on to explain. See, The Donald, ( They all call him that.) The Donald, often speaks in metaphors, and uses symbolic language. So when we hear him make such statements as, “We build nuclear weapons for a reason, so why shouldn’t we be able to use them?” The fact the comment contains the words, nuclear weapons, use them, and in the same sentence asks why not, should not worry anybody. Because it cannot be taken literally. He did NOT however explain as to why The Donald has decided as the most powerful man on Earth, when talking about the most powerful weapons on Earth, to speak in code, metaphors, and symbolisms. I for one worry wart Liberal, don’t understand the thinking.
    Because, here’s my deal. I’m a child of the 50s. I remember the cold war, and the nuclear drills, and about learning as a kid, about how the drills would not save my life. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. So, I’m getting pretty old now. Thanks in one case, where on one very scary October, we had a very wise, and sober President. Who was holding in his hands the fate of the World, and the power of nuclear codes. And, so I’m also pretty old fashioned, when it comes these things. As to how I like to hear my President talk about these weapons that have the ability to destroy me, and mine, and the planet many times over.
    I just can’t help but believe in this area especially, what a President says today, could play a role, even perhaps be a determining factor, in any future nuclear crisis he may forced to deal with on his watch. So he should be very unambiguous, and straight out, so there’s no misunderstanding as to what the heck he’s talking about. With all due respect to metaphors, and symbols. They have their place in stage plays, melodramas, and T.V. reality shows. Not in serious conversations about the survival of the human race.

    1. RED December 28, 2016

      So true Charleo!! As I mentioned earlier, I’m terrified!! As I think about this, I think the correct response is that we demand and riot until the extinction of the human race is taken out of the hands of one man, period. Clearly it is Trump that has raised these fears to a new level and has caused me to think about this more often and more seriously. But having done so now, I realize no President, no one man should ever possess the power to destroy humanity, it’s just ridiculous in the extreme. We have heard stories of Nixon being depressed and intoxicated, another alarming thought. And I’m certain there are countless other instances that should terrify all of us. I understand the strategic idea that the decision must be made quickly but I don’t think I agree with that at all. The idea is that if someone were to launch nuclear missiles at us then we must launch ours before they are destroyed or we are unable to do so. So let’s say we didn’t launch or even that other countries knew we couldn’t respond or launch in a matter of minutes? If that were the case, would China or Russia then attempt a first strike? Are they going to avoid damage or hurting themselves at all or even survive themselves if they launch a nuclear strike that destroys most of the Western Hemisphere? It’s ridiculous. And in order for them to initiate a first strike it would have to be an all out strike, otherwise we would strike back with our missiles that weren’t damaged. And there is absolutely no way an all out strike off the Western Hemisphere leaves the Eastern Hemisphere undamaged or possibly not even survivable.

      1. TZToronto December 28, 2016

        I understand your point. I think, though, that Trump’s simple-minded approach to nuclear weapons could easily lead him to decide that defeating ISIS or neutering North Korea or Iran requires only a couple of well-placed nukes, and the problems will be solved. There will probably be no consideration of the next “move” that will be made by other “players” in the nuclear “game.” Does he realize that popping the cap off of one nuke will, if it doesn’t automatically lead to WWIII, mean that every other country that possesses nuclear weapons will start to use them to “solve” their problems? So Pakistan and India will start lobbing a few bombs at each other. China and Russia will resolve their border disputes with a couple of nukes going back and forth. Suddenly every country that has one will decide to use it. Trump’s simple view of the world could lead to the end of it.

  2. Bill Smith 999935 December 28, 2016

    You think global warming is bad now…

    1. Theodora30 December 28, 2016

      Yes and then there will be all those toxic emissions from that orange haired gasbag added in, too.

  3. Dominick Vila December 28, 2016

    The biggest problem is not the fact that China, and to a lesser extent Russia, the only two super powers capable of giving us a run for our money, and likely to guarantee mutual destruction, are more interested in economic rather than military expansion. Even Russia’s adventurism in Chechnya, Crimea, and Ukraine, has more to do with historical considerations than the need to annex more territory. The real problem is that many foreign leaders are likely to take Trump’s irresponsible statements as a reflection of his foreign policy, and take action to protect themselves. The last thing the world needs is nuclear proliferation, and another arms race. Mutual destruction is not a solution, as it only guarantees the end of the species, something that only a mad person in a position of power can entertain. Hopefully, there are enough cool heads in Trump’s Cabinet to explain to their beloved idol that a nuclear race, and the use of nuclear weapons, is not something we should consider, let alone boast about.

  4. charleo1 December 28, 2016

    I haven’t been sleeping well, and so I had this crazy dream the other night. I dreamed I was suddenly in the midst of a great multitude of souls. All of us headed up to the Pearly Gates to meet St. Peter for our final Judgement Day try outs. So the guy in the line ahead of me asks, what the heck happened down there? There’s been a sea of people lining up as far as the eye can see for the past two hours. It looks like the entire human race has showed up all at once! To which I answered. It’s a long story, but we had this crazy Presidential election last year. And like usual we had two choices. One was the responsible choice that could have avoided what happened. And the other was a T.V. reality star joke with a big mouth…Guess which one won!

    1. RED December 28, 2016

      This terrifies me!!! I have difficulty deciding if I’m just paranoid and over reacting or if I am complacently standing by as everyone in this world important to me is in danger from the menace that is Trump? I’m fairly confident that we are all standing by, Obama especially with his peaceful transfer of power garbage while our future prospects are seriously degraded. I guess that part is nothing new and has been going on for at least thirty years. I guess the question is how much will our future be degraded? And will we, the few left, look around at a wasteland and ask why didn’t we stop this?

      1. Theodora30 December 28, 2016

        We have been standing around for years allowing our politics to be dominated by a massive right wing propaganda machine. Trump is the outcome of that radicalization.
        It has been so frustrating to watch educated people I know who used to be sensible, moderate conservatives become more and more extreme after years and years of Faux News, right wing radio, the crackpot editorial page of the Wall Street Journal (not sure if it is as insane today but it was off the wall for years)m etc. Neither the mainstream media nor Democrats have made an effort to counter the lies. In fact far too often the MSM has actively aided and abetted them. Whitewater, Wen Ho Lee, WMD…..heck they couldn’t even be bothered informing people that Republicans are blatantly lying when they make the seductive claim started by Saint Ronnie that tax cuts pay for themselves. Ditto for all those claims about the magic of privatizing -make that profitizing – schools, prisons, hospitals, etc. Paul Ryan and Co. are still getting away with those budget busting whoppers.

        Last year The NY Times and Washington Post signed deals with Breitbart author Peter Schweitzer to use his “facts” from his book “Clinton Cash” to trash the Clinton Foundation. Those facts were quickly debunked but since it was two highly respected papers reporting the smears the damage was done. Funny that they waited until late in the election to bother examining Trump’s blatantly fraudulent foundation.

        What worries me is how we can possibly turn this around after passively allowing it to go on for so many years. Right wing beliefs have been deeply internalized by millions and will not easily be erased. I know a doctor who grew up in the Hitler Youth then became part of Hitler’s honor guard. He was a true believer until he was forced by the US to go through a reeducation program and watched videos of the camps, etc. It took almost complete destruction of that country to break the hold of Nazi propaganda. And yes, there is a parallelogram what is happening here as my doctor friend knows all too well. He was deeply upset by what was happening during the Bush administration because it was so similar to what he had lived through. Trump is even more terrifying.

        1. FireBaron December 28, 2016

          One thing, Theodora. St. Ronald of Reagan realized his tax cuts would not pay for themselves. That’s why he effectively snuck back in enough tax increases to pay for his mistakes. Granted, you never hear the right brag about Reagan raising back all that he cut, but still…
          As for the former WWE performer we managed to elect this time, who knows.

          1. Theodora30 December 28, 2016

            Yes Reagan raised taxes but I clearly remember his Budget Director, David Stockman saying that he tried and tried to get areaway to understand the consequences of his tax cuts and Reagan just did not understand. He got pressured into raising taxes.

          2. Dominick Vila December 29, 2016

            He got pressured by out of control budget deficits, and dramatic increases in the national debt, which we are still feeling to this day.

          3. Theodora30 December 29, 2016

            True, but that is really the result of Dubya’s tax cuts for the rich as well as his war in Iraq. Clinton had balanced the budget and the debt was rapidly coming down due to strong growth and tax increases on the rich that had produced a significant surplus – a surplus which Bush squandered. Not that most people know that – they still think Republicans are the Party of FIscal Responsibility.

          4. charleo1 December 28, 2016

            The fact Reagan, “realized,” his cutting in half the taxes imposed on the richest 1% was due to a Democratic Congress reminding him of the numbers. What Reagan well knew, and didn’t care about in the least, was the concept of trickle down, or supply-side economics was at its core, a lie intentionally designed to financially prevent the continuance of the two big entitlement programs, Social Security, and Medicare. Which as a shill, and ardent mouthpiece for the Aristocratic Elite. He fulfilled his mission of reversing the tenets of Roosevelt’s New Deal beyond their wildest dreams. The Reagan legacy.

          5. Theodora30 December 29, 2016

            You give Reagan too much credit. He was a magical thinker (and in the early stages of Alzheimer’s). David Stockman was very clear that Reagan did not understand that his tax cuts would be budget busters.

          6. charleo1 December 29, 2016

            I agree. From what I’ve learned of Reagan it’s clear, Reagan came to the Presidency with an economic agenda not of his own design, and with a story written especially for him with which to sell it. Then, he simply did as he had in his Hollywood days. Hit his mark, and spoke his lines. Then, as happens, became a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. But it was the agenda of which he had been a figurehead, and paid spokesperson for for years, that did so much of the damage to the once so prosperous, and secure in that prosperity, Middle Class. So I probably misspoke. That said, if he did recognize the intent of the policies he was pushing, it seems he didn’t care. Looking at the entire affair as just another acting gig to pay his own bills at home.

        2. charleo1 December 28, 2016

          Before Trump, I wouldn’t have had this thought in a million years.
          And now, after Trump, I believe we just may have become too collectively stupid for self governance. And, largely because of the kinds of propaganda you refer to so well. Now, I’m just afraid we’ve got too many brainwashed hard heads, and cocksure angry know nothings, to effectively keep the Country out of the ditch. (so to speak) Retrospectively, it seems it’s been happening for a while now. This matter of sooner, or later. As the farther the stupider. And now we are here, and nobody, and I mean no-body, has the slightest idea where ‘here’ is anymore.

      2. Mama Bear December 28, 2016

        sounds a lot like the question the world as well as Germany asked when they looked around and saw what one person could do….and what they all sat back and allowed.

      3. Dominick Vila December 29, 2016

        Bear in mind that the greatest danger to us is not Trump, but the millions of fellow Americans that voted for him, and now expect him to follow up on the crazy policy proposals he articulated throughout the campaign.
        The resurgence of radical white supremacist sentiments is the greatest threat to our freedoms, our democracy, and way of life. If left unchecked, it is likely to continue to grow to the point that it may degenerate into something akin to what happened in Germany in the 1930s. An ambivalent society, a greedy media, and irresponsible politicians something that most of us never considered, not even in our wildest nightmares.

        1. RED December 29, 2016

          I understand your point but I respectfully disagree. No doubt the Trump lowlifes are dangerous to both individuals and our democracy. But none of these Trump lowlifes, even in enormous numbers has the instant power to destroy all of humanity. That’s what terrifies me. I understand Trump and his morons can create huge amounts of suffering and damage and I don’t underestimate that but the power to destroy humanity in an instant is something totally different and far more dangerous and frightening to me.

  5. Sam Osborne December 28, 2016

    Blowhard-in-chief Trump will take credit for all of the good that happens in spite of him and blame others for all of the bad that he directly does or just lets happened out of neglect.

  6. FireBaron December 28, 2016

    My wife asked what happens if anything were to happen to him before he takes the oath of office. Technically, if it is before the VP takes his oath 15 minutes earlier, we are officially in a constitutional crisis.
    While we have had Vice Presidents who have had to assume the Oval Office shortly after the inauguration (Tyler for Harrison, Johnson for Lincoln, Allan for Garfield, Roosevelt for McKinley) we have never had an instance where something happened go the President-elect before being sworn in.
    Frankly, even though I ain’t crazy about the guy, I wish him the best of health until at least January 21.

  7. Thoughtopsy December 28, 2016

    Pres-Elect Loser showing his lazy ignorance yet again.

  8. Aaron_of_Portsmouth December 28, 2016

    There’s always a danger of electing a mentally disturbed person as the leader of the tribe, group, or nation. And when such madmen as Trump are given the reins of authority in a world armed to the teeth, and said madman is steeped in ignorance and love of himself to the degree Donald is, then this just brings us that much closer to a disaster with one wrong tweet from the petulant emperor with the mental capacity of a shrewd sparrow about to take office.

    It’s uncertain if Congress has the will and the courage to stand up to the child Emperor, nor can we be certain that those who chose him via the Electoral College have the wherewithal to understanding what is slowly taking place.


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