The Post-Bannon White House

Alan Zendell, August 20, 2017

Did you hear that collective sigh of relief when Steve Bannon was dismissed from the White House? It felt good, and it’s a step in the right direction, but we should be careful not to pin too many hopes on it. The only thing it means for sure is that his security clearance was revoked. It better have been because not doing so immediately would be both criminal and impeachable.

We need to look closely at what his departure means, for that matter what his presence meant in the first place. Steve Bannon is a vicious, unrelenting ideologue who brought tabloid-style journalism to a right wing extremist internet website. His style is a perfect match for Trump’s. Hard-hitting, unapologetic, prone to hyperbole, and willing to invent or distort facts whenever it suits him. As with the president, appearances are always more important than truth.

It was love at first sight for the candidate desperate for attention and support. Love and an ill-advised rush to the altar. In what universe does the President of the United States appoint someone like Steve Bannon as his chief strategist who weighs in with considerable influence on everything POTUS says and does? That should have told us everything we needed to know.

Like most marriages based on infatuation, this one didn’t work out because like Trump, Bannon bows to no one, and that’s the one thing our I-always-have-to-be-right president cannot tolerate. But Bannon didn’t care. He said he never intended it to be long term, and we should believe him. The divorce occurred because when you work for Trump your only agenda can be blind loyalty, and Bannon has had his own agenda all along.

He crowed about it in interviews given even before his departure was official. He wasn’t just trying to drive this president to create the distorted world of Alt-right nirvana, he was a master spy gathering intelligence for the next act in his own script. He’s been privy to every classified briefing Trump attended since the election. He knows everything that has made Trump’s White House a clown car of dysfunction. He knows all the players intimately, their strengths, weaknesses, and insecurities. Bannon himself said he’s now armed to crush his opposition, and don’t be surprised if that includes POTUS if he veers too far from the Bannon mantra.

So yes, let’s be grateful that our president who repeatedly promised to represent the needs and desires of all Americans no longer has the Grim Reaper perched on his shoulder. But they may still have long late-night unmonitored phone conversations when Trump’s not busy tweeting. Bannon may be gone, but the festering odor he left in his wake will not be easy to eradicate. And some of that stink will have a long life of its own if Trump doesn’t act to cleanse it.

We saw one aspect of it in Charlottesville last week, but that was only Act One. The White Supremacists and neo-Nazis have been itching for full-fledged race war for years. They’re like a deadly virus that never goes away but lies dormant everywhere waiting for an opening, and the Trump-Bannon partnership, whether or not they intended to, gave them exactly what they wanted. They thought they could use race to stir up chaos and expand Trump’s base. But it never occurred to them that they couldn’t control the racists once they were activated. Deadly viruses sometimes escape confinement, and when they do, all hell can break loose.

The Nazis and White Supremacists use the same tactics as Trump and Bannon. Goad, taunt, do everything short of throwing the first punch, hoping that someone on the other side eventually will, and then it’s no holds barred. (If you haven’t seen the Vice News interview with the fascist Chris Cantwell, you must.) That’s what they hoped would happen in Charlottesville when the more militant leftist groups showed up. It didn’t happen, and when one of their own whackos lost it and drove his car into a crowd with murderous intent, the air should have gone out of their balloon. But our wonderfully insensitive president kept it afloat.

There are some angry violent people among the resisters, but regardless of Trump’s distorted view, they didn’t take that Nazis’ bait in Charlottesville, and neither did the huge crowd of protesters in Boston, yesterday, so the race war was postponed for at least another week. Massive peaceful protests are the only thing that will suppress the latest Nazi uprising until the media no longer find it profitable to cover them.

The essential point is, the White Supremacists wouldn’t have had an opening if Trump, goaded by Bannon, hadn’t resorted to pandering to scum and hate, and his inability to separate the haters from everyone else and call them what they are continues to energize them. That’s the legacy of the Trump-Bannon marriage. I’m glad it’s over, but that doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of it.

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Then (1974) vs Now (2017)

Alan Zendell, August 18, 2017

My generation remembers the anxiety of the last months of the Nixon administration. Years of disillusionment over Vietnam, Nixon’s attempt to subvert the 1972 election process, the painful progression of Watergate, and the week by week unraveling of his political support combined to erode confidence in the future of the country. Living and working in the Washington area, I was probably more aware and over-sensitized to what was happening than most Americans. The result for many of us was the fear that our republic had been seriously wounded and the possibility that executive authority had been irrevocably undermined.

I believed that so strongly that my priority became finding a place far away from the toxicity of DC to raise my two young sons, preferably some place that would be relatively insulated from the shock waves that would follow a possible implosion of our central government. I know it sounds paranoid, and maybe it was, but it resulted in my kids growing up in the Pacific Northwest, not a bad outcome.

As it became clear that Nixon was melting down daily, complaining bitterly that the press was out to get him, two people stepped up to maintain stability. One was retired General Alexander Haig who signed on as Nixon’s Chief of Staff and famously announced that he was in charge and he intended to right the ship of state. Amid charges that he was overstepping, he did just what he promised, walling Nixon off and reassuring the country that there wasn’t a madman at the helm.

The other was Vice President Gerald Ford, a respected, soft-spoken intellectual Conservative with long experience in Congress. If Nixon was forced from office, Ford would replace him, so his steady personality and quiet strength resulted in a smooth transition. Our fears turned out to be unfounded, but we haven’t forgotten how they felt. And we may have been lucky too, as the mid-seventies, after our embarrassing withdrawal from Vietnam, were relatively free of international crises.

It goes without saying that those forty-year-old concerns were re-awakened when it became clear that Donald Trump might actually become president. Everything about his past screamed “No!” His entire campaign reinforced every negative impression of him that had been formed over several decades. He was intemperate, insensitive, profane, and often seemed quite unhinged in his rants. His campaign strategy seemed to be a combination of creating chaos and pandering to any group that was willing to support him. There seemed to be no limits to the depths he would stoop to energize the worst elements of human nature.

Many of us watched in horror as his campaign gained momentum, but unlike some previous elections, this wasn’t a left-right or red-blue thing. Trump had no political ideology or deeply rooted principles. It was clear to many of us that his main driving force was his narcissistic need for adulation. He masterfully stoked the emotions of the angry people that made up much of his base, and it didn’t matter what he said or whether what he said one day contradicted what he’d said last week. It also didn’t seem to matter whether anything he said was true. For people like me who were trained in scientific method, to whom facts mattered, that may have been the most disturbing thing of all.

Trump’s victory would never have occurred except for the level of disconnect between Hillary Clinton and millions of voters who I believe are the keys to whether this administration can survive. Many of those people either abstained or pulled the Trump lever in the voting booth, albeit while holding their noses and hoping they weren’t making a terrible error. I count many of them among my friends and family members.

After the election most of them adopted a wait and see attitude. “Give him a year and see what happens,” they said, and I responded, “I don’t think you’ll need a year.” The most telling sign that the Trump administration is in serious trouble is that those same people are starting to tell me they regret voting for him, and they’re as horrified by his behavior as I am.

Trump’s lack of a moral center, his instability which many see as a serious personality disorder, his tendency to lash out and scapegoat at will, and his disregard for the feelings of anyone who didn’t support him made this inevitable. And now disaffection has reached the point where his own party is finding the political courage to abandon him.

The erosion of the Trump administration is looking very much like what I remember from 1974, except that it’s happening at a very dangerous time in terms of world events. I hope General Kelly can hold things together the way Haig did. And I hope Vice President Pence can grow enough to take on the role Gerald Ford played. If not, we may all be in trouble.

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Questions For the Donald

Alan Zendell, August 15, 2017

Hey Donald, since you’re such a history maven I have a few questions for you. When the Nazis terrorized England in 1940 and the RAF fought back, were they equally to blame? When Admiral Yamamoto ordered the bombing of Pearl Harbor, were all the brave young American sailors trying to defend our navy partly to blame? When a coalition of Arab nations attacked Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar and the defenders beat the crap out of them, was there blame on both sides?

I have an idea for how to resolve the Korean crisis. The next time Kim Jong Un threatens South Korea, Guam, or maybe Attu Island, why don’t you give an impromptu rant about how this whole mess was really South Korea’s fault for fighting back when the North invaded them in 1950?

Do you realize how lucky you are that you’re a president rather than a Prime Minister? If this were a European country we’d be watching a vote of no confidence on CNN and Fox News tomorrow. In Russia, the opposition would have you signing a resignation letter with a gun at your head. In a lot of less civilized countries, they wouldn’t even bother with a letter.

Being from what you think of as the left, I absolutely condemn (to coin one of your favorite phrases) the notion of violently removing a president from office. But you may have noticed from your two-sentence, history summaries that that sort of thing has happened in our country before, and in the two most notable instances it was a right-wing whacko who took out a couple of our most revered presidents. In case you didn’t get that far in your reading, I’m referring to Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy.

Is that why you’re so unwilling to call a Nazi a Nazi? You seem to be treading the line very skillfully, as David Dukes continues to thank you for your support on a daily basis. Is that why your good friend, the likable Steve Bannon who is definitely not a white supremacist **wink** is still one of your senior advisors? You don’t think he might loose his dogs on you if you let him go, do you?

If you still can’t see what’s wrong with your shared blame argument, let me tell you a story. Back when one of my sons was in high school he was jumped in the school cafeteria one day. It wasn’t much of fight. My son simply reached back, lifted his unknown assailant off his back and tossed him onto a lunch table which made a very loud noise. As it turned out, the other boy was black but there was nothing racial about the incident – it was simply a misunderstanding about a girl.

Even so, the school administration was so terrified of racial problems in those days, the principal ruled that they were both responsible and both boys were suspended during exam week. My appeal to the school superintendent landed on deaf ears despite supporting statements from two teachers who’d seen the whole thing. It seems that some people can’t imagine a problem that doesn’t have two sides. (Don’t worry, I got even with the supe in classic Trump style.)

I know you’re short on patience; I only have a couple more questions. When you hear white supremacists chanting, “You won’t replace us” as they terrorize our cities, who do you think they’re talking about? I’m sure your ex-friend Kenneth Frazier or your daughter and her husband can tell you. Is that another case of shared responsibility? Does simply existing incur blame on the part of African Americans and Jews?

And now let me share a revelation with you. It only became clear to me when I heard those chants. I’ve been scratching my head wondering about your new immigration policy. We went from banning all Muslims from entering the country to making sure terrorists and criminals were kept out, and suddenly you proposed a plan to cut legal immigration of all kinds in half. I must say that was a pretty subtle move, not normally something we attribute to a bull in a China shop, but I get it now.

Senator Jeff Flake has been reminding us that white males are a steadily decreasing segment of the voting population, despite all attempts to suppress the black vote. Damn, Donald, you’re absolutely brilliant. Did you come up with this yourself? The best way to maintain your white voting majority is to make sure no more black, brown, and yellow people become citizens.

Okay, I’m done now. You can go back to watching TV.

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This Needs to End

Alan Zendell, August 14, 2017

John Oliver often begins his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, by saying, “President Donald Trump – three words that should never appear in the same sentence.” Back in March, that seemed over the top. Today it sounds prescient.

It’s been twenty-seven months since Trump announced he was running for president. During that entire time his demeanor and behavior have been appalling and embarrassing. He has demonstrated in every tweet, every public pronouncement, every angry outburst that he is unfit to lead our country. The narcissistic billionaire has only one concern – himself. From the beginning, he has made every issue about Donald Trump.

His lie about intending to provide affordable health care for every American was never about health care. It was about how Donald Trump could do what no one else could because no one but Trump knew what needed to be done and only he could make the necessary deals. That should have been obvious to everyone when he cynically backed the House AHCA bill, which was the antithesis of what he promised.

And when the effort crashed and burned in the Senate, his petulant attacks on the Majority Leader were simply about his pique. Emperor Donald didn’t get what he wanted and there had to be someone else to blame. I have no desire to defend Mitch McConnell, but Trump’s rants had nothing to do with health care. They were the tantrums of a spoiled child.

His desperate need to be acknowledged as the best is clear in the way he attacks other presidents. Never has a sitting president criticized his predecessors the way Trump does. The fact that they were named Clinton, Bush, and Obama tells us all we need to know. As we have repeatedly seen, his need to belittle all of them to enhance his own image dominated issues like truth, decorum, and common decency. Did you ever expect to hear such vile, venomous language from the mouth of our president?

We’ve watched for months, hoping he would grow into his office, disappointed and embarrassed at every turn. Was withdrawing from the TPP about trade? Does the president even understand the nuances and complexity of reducing trade barriers? Or was his opposition motivated by his obvious hatred for Barrack Obama? Has any president in recent memory invested so much of his energy in denigrating the legacy of the person from whom he inherited the office?

Our concerns became deadly serious when Trump had to deal with threats from North Korea. Think back to the Cuban missile crisis. Diplomatic missteps aside, President Kennedy addressed the most serious nuclear crisis in my lifetime with measured strength. There was no name-calling, no hyperbolic threats, no breast-beating. Nothing in Kennedy’s demeanor said, “Look at me, everybody. See what a great hero I am?”

The wild screaming and threats all came from Fidel Castro. Neither Kennedy nor Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev let their emotions govern their words and actions, which is probably why we’re all still here today. Contrast that with Trump’s need to escalate the level of hyperbole to show everyone how tough he is. This isn’t schoolboy trash talk. The man who issued all those intemperate threats with no input from either his military advisers or Congress is the man who carries the nuclear codes wherever he goes. If there was ever a time for Trump to behave like a disciplined adult, it was then.

And now we’re dealing with Charlottesville. The chickens are finally coming home to roost. Trump’s pandering to the lowest aspects of human nature is what brought us to the White Supremacist violence in Virginia last weekend. Much of the country turned blind eyes when he urged his militant supporters to eject and beat protesters at his campaign rallies. They also seemed not to notice the similarity between Trump’s rallies and those of the Hitler supporters in the 1930s. Is it coming clear now?

For two days we’ve listened to shrill defenses of Trump’s indefensible silence by one hapless surrogate after another. Trump’s inability to ever admit a mistake or back down is bad enough, but even if he did at this late date, whatever he says now cannot nullify his failure to say it when he should have. Any responsible leader would have condemned the Alt-right (aka White Supremacist) movement instantly on Twitter while the neo-Nazi haters were wreaking havoc on the streets of Charlottesville. Was our television-addicted president unaware of what was going on while most of the country watched?

This is the final straw. As John Oliver has been telling us since he was inaugurated, there is no universe in which the words “President Donald Trump” even make sense. This charade is unacceptable and intolerable. And now it’s become dangerous.

A president who won’t stand up to Nazi violence and who doesn’t have the discipline to avoid escalating a nuclear confrontation with a rabid dictator has no business governing the country that’s supposed to be the leader of the free world. It’s up to all of us to use every legal means to end the Trump administration before it kills us.

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The Despicables

Alan Zendell, August 13, 2017

One of the worst moments in one of the most poorly executed presidential campaigns in recent memory was Hillary’s ill-advised characterization of Donald Trump’s supporters as a Basket of Deplorables. Of course, she didn’t mean that to be taken literally to apply to everyone who supported him. Nonetheless, the offended outcry from Trump and his people reverberated for months.

In a campaign in which Trump constantly lied, contradicted himself, insulted various ethnic groups and threw around wild accusations, he was adored by his supporters for plainly speaking his mind. The talking heads on his payroll said we shouldn’t take everything he said seriously. He was a man of big ideas, not a detail person, as if respect for facts was too vulgar or arcane for someone of his stature.

Yesterday, in Charlottesville, we got a look at what Hillary was referring to, though I call them the Despicables. Heavily armed, helmeted white supremacists, neo-Nazis, skinheads, Ku Klux Klansmen, Jew haters, and Muslim haters joined forces to terrorize the lovely city of Thomas Jefferson and one of the middle Atlantic’s finest universities. And it was all live on cable news all over the world. What do you suppose the billion or so people around the world thought when they heard David Dukes proclaim that they were there to take back the country to fulfill Donald Trump’s legacy? What must they have thought when Trump failed to respond directly to those animals and separate himself from them?

Nicolas Maduro, the new President of Venezuela whose human rights violations are so egregious that Trump threatened him with military action surely loved it. So too, Trump’s new best buddy, Vladimir Putin, who wants only the best for the American people. And Kim Jong Un must have been apoplectic with joy. I’ll bet he even showed it to his people on the closed North Korean intranet.

Trump spent years attacking Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton for refusing to describe ISIS and Al Qaeda as “radical Islamic terrorists.” After all, isn’t that what those murderers and torturers really are? Didn’t they distort their holy Koran into an abomination that justified their world Jihad? And wasn’t the fact that a small percentage of Muslims subscribed to that madness enough to convince Trump to try to ban all 1.8 billion of them from entering our country?

If driving a car into a crowd of pedestrians in France or Germany is an example of radical Islamic terrorism, how should we characterize the action of the crazed neo-Nazi who did it in Virginia? How about “radical Christian terrorism?” Both the Klan and the Nazis based their extreme views on weirdly distorted interpretations of the Christian bible. Somehow, they concluded that their Christian God intended his followers to be genetically pure, and it was their holy mission to cleanse the world of mongrels. That’s what runs through the minds of the Despicables who terrorized Charlottesville yesterday.

Why, then, can our president not utter the words that people all over the United States are waiting to hear? Why would he blame the violence in Charlottesville on hate from many sides. And while we’re at it, why is it wrong to despise white supremacists and stand up to them?

Republican Senators Orrin Hatch (UT) and Cory Gardner (CO) tweeted, “We should call evil by its name,” and Gardner followed with, “Mr. President – these were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.” Marco Rubio (R, FL) tweeted, “Donald Trump needs to clearly denounce white supremacists in Charlottesville,” and Michael Signer, the mayor of Charlottesville implored the president to look in the mirror and reflect on who he consorted with. Of course, they’re all right, so why won’t Trump do it?

Because on one hand, Trump’s White House includes Alt-Right ideologues like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, and on another, poorly stated as it was, what Hillary said was true. The Despicables who committed those acts in Virginia are very much a part of Trump’s base, and if there is anything we know about Donald Trump it’s that he craves adoration. His shrinking approval numbers show that aside from his base, no one loves his administration, and judging by the crowds I saw on TV yesterday, the Despicables are numerous enough that he can’t afford to alienate them if he expects to be re-elected.

Failing to cleanse his administration of the Alt-Right is the antithesis of Trump’s catch phrase, “Make America Great Again.” If yesterday was an example of what he considers leadership, he has lost any claim he may have had to legitimacy. Do us all a favor, Donald. Accept that you are a failure as president, give the nuclear button to someone we can trust, and go back to making money and playing golf.

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What Happens When You Pander to Racists: Charlottesville

Alan Zendell, August 12, 2017

As the 2016 election campaign began to illuminate the deep divisions in our country, many of us were shocked and horrified. No one was naïve enough to think that racism and bigotry had gone the way of scourges like polio and smallpox, but the fact that it continued to exist in such numbers and with a hate index not seen in decades was a wake-up call.

Trump’s attack on Muslim and Hispanic immigrants was designed to ignite fear, anger, and xenophobia, and it worked. Whatever Trump’s intentions were, it worked over a much broader spectrum than anyone anticipated. Like electricity arcing over a space between two exposed wires, it was an easy leap from hating Muslims and all those alleged Mexican rapists, murderers, and drug dealers to unearthing the hate groups that make up the Alt-Right White Supremacist Movement.

Most observers don’t think Trump is a racist. He’s worse, a shameless, unscrupulous panderer desperately looking for love in all the wrong places, and as everyone who listens to country music knows, that never ends well. Trump loves churning things up, generally not either having a clue or giving a damn about unintended consequences. When everyone’s favorite hatemonger, David Dukes endorsed Trump, and reporters asked if he would accept Dukes’ support, Trump equivocated, unable to make himself condemn backing from hate groups that he might need to win the election. His eventual rejection of Dukes, delivered under enormous pressure, was so lame, only his diehard supporters believed it.

What many have feared since the day Trump came on the scene was that his populist bombast would legitimize every fringe group and nut job to come out from the rocks they were living under. Elevating Steve Bannon to the position of senior presidential adviser was tantamount to providing an incubator for the despicable Alt-Right movement, which has been the driving force of Trump’s first two hundred days in office. The Alt-Right agenda is directly or indirectly responsible for his legislative failures and deteriorating popularity. Everyone outside his rabid base can smell the rancid odor of the maggots eating away at our values.

All this came to a head today in Charlottesville, Virginia. White Supremacists, energized by Trump’s continuing to throw red meat to his base, had been planning their weekend rally there for months, to protest a decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park. This was no spontaneous demonstration, but a carefully organized coming together of dozens of hate groups. Gone were the hoods that hid their faces – with Trump as president they were proud to show themselves on live TV.

And there was none other than David Dukes marching and instigating. If there was any doubt that today’s demonstration was a direct result of Donald Trump’s dysfunction as president, Duke’s words eliminated it. I and many other heard him with our own ears:

“This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to ‘take our country back’.”

And how did Trump react? Hours after the White Supremacist rally on and near the University of Virginia campus erupted into violence, causing Governor Terry Mcauliffe to declare the demonstration an illegal assembly, declare a state of emergency, and call out the National Guard to assist police, where was the president who was so fond of tweeting in real time to interviews on cable news? Civic leaders, office holders, even a Republican Congresswoman declared that a statement from the president was absolutely necessary.

At 1:14 pm, Trump finally tweeted: “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”

Not one mention of the reason for the violence. Not a word about David Dukes. Not even a suggestion that all this was provoked by White Supremacists. I guess he thought it was just a bunch of unruly kids fighting in the school yard.

Two hours later, our president made a televised speech with a brief detour about Charlottesvile. Again he addressed the issue as if it were a brawl among unruly kids. Really? Does he really not understand that it was he who emboldened the White Supremacists who caused all this? He said there was too much hate on all sides. No, Mister President. All the hate was on one side, the side you pandered to, to get elected.

His base claims he was too busy meeting with his advisers over North Korea, though he somehow found the time to threaten Venezuela with sanctions and military action. Seriously, I have to ask. What’s more likely to bring America down, an out of control dictator in North Korea or nurturing the seeds of hate and discord among our own people? If you’re not sure, ask Vladimir Putin. If you’re still not sure, I direct your attention to the Civil War, which nearly destroyed us, for many of the same reasons.

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Korean Chicken

Alan Zendell, August 11, 2017

If you’re like me, you’re sick of pundits interpreting events or pushing their own agendas on television. It’s useful to keep in mind that they’re all being handsomely paid to argue with each other and that regardless of their credentials, none of them have anything at stake except lining up their next gig.

During the current confrontation with North Korea we’ve been repeatedly told that Kim Jong Un is a madman who rules with an iron hand who thinks he’s still fighting the Korean War. When we see tens of thousands of people cheering Kim in lock step in the central square of Pyongyang, it’s tempting to succumb to the idea that the people of North Korea are helpless innocents caught in some pied-piper-like trance.  It looks more like a horrific sci-fi movie than reality, unless…

What if they’re not merely drugged, brainwashed drones being paraded before the world? What if they really are true believers who hate and fear the United States? What if from their point of view they have valid reasons to believe we would annihilate them without a thought if they didn’t possess a powerful deterrent?

A couple of pundits even favor that view, reminding us that the entire country was in ruins with three million dead and their capital reduced to rubble when the Korean conflict ended in 1953. It’s true that the war started with North Korea invading the South, but in the devastation of war no one talks about who fired the first shot. The grandparents of today’s North Koreans might have been even worse off if China hadn’t stepped in to force a stalemate. Those same people had experienced the cruel domination by the Japanese Empire for decades, only to see their former oppressors incinerated by American atomic bombs in 1945.

The Korean War was fought while the United States and the Soviet Union were embarking on nearly half a century of nuclear brinksmanship. At the war’s end both South Korea and Japan were allied with and under the protection of the United States, the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons against another. Two generations of North Koreans were raised with those images and told by their leaders that they were surrounded by enemies.

What must they have thought when another fledgling nation surrounded by enemies who had sworn to destroy them was taken under the umbrella of American protection and allowed to develop a deterrent nuclear arsenal of it own? Given the increasingly paranoid nature of North Korea’s post-war regimes, why wouldn’t they believe that the ability to rain nuclear fire on their enemies was their only salvation? Israel had done it against even greater odds and survived and prospered.

I believe that when politics and rhetoric are stripped away, saner smarter minds in our government understand the North Korean mentality. They also understand that years of being told that America is their enemy cannot be easily reversed. And now they’re led by someone who is as ruthless as any national leader in recent memory, a man driven by the single-minded goal of standing up to what he perceives as the ultimate international bully, none of which excuses Kim’s outrageous behavior and public statements.

Donald Trump is right that no American administration has successfully dealt with North Korea, but he’s dead wrong if he thinks his shoot-from-the-hip style will do any better. The specter of two narcissistic bullies facing off in a game of nuclear chicken is truly horrifying. Someone needs to be the adult in the room.

Thomas Friedman addressed this with Chris Cuomo on CNN today, and while he didn’t have a magic solution, he made a lot of sense. He first reiterated what many other observers have said, that Kim Jong Un may be homicidal but he’s not suicidal. He knows that if he strikes first there will be nothing left of him and his country no matter how many millions he manages to kill. Kim may be a brutal killer, but he’s not a madman. So why not try to figure out what would reassure the North Korean people that we mean them no harm?

If we’re lucky, someone’s already doing that through some secret back channel. I don’t claim to know what the solution is, but I know the course we’re on seems less likely every day to end well for anyone.

I accept the fact that Kim is a really tough guy. Does that mean that Donald Trump has to be the star of a new reality show called, “Which Tough Guy Has the Biggest Balls?” That may appeal to most of his base, but it’s unseemly for the president of the strongest nation in the world. And like some of the campaign commercials said, our children are watching. Even if Trump doesn’t manage to trigger a chain reaction that kills all of us, is this the image we want them to grow up with?

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