We have to remember that we’re actually all on one team…We’re not Democrats first, we’re not Republicans first, we are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country.
Obama, November 9, 2016
Things are finally as bad as Trump said they were.
— The Onion, November 9, 2016
As the red tide rolled right-to-left across the electoral map last
Tuesday evening, I experienced — along with a tumult of other bad
feelings — a weird sense of déjà vu, going back 54 years to October
1962. I was 20, studying engineering at the University of London, and
it was a long night, a couple of days before Halloween. We were all
huddled around a radio, not saying much, because (like on Tuesday) I
suppose we were mostly feeling helpless and numb. The Cuban Missile
Crisis was heading to its climax after 13 tense days: a USSR ship
carrying nuclear missiles bound for Cuba was on an interception
course with US warships. Nuclear war between Russia and America
seemed very, very close, virtually inevitable.
What we didn’t know — what almost no one knew until years later — was that, behind the scenes, the two countries were scrambling to find a solution to the crisis. It was pretty simple, in retrospect. The US had secretly installed medium-range ballistic missiles in Turkey, right on the USSR’s southern border. In return for removing those missiles (and similar ones in Italy), Nikita Khrushchev dismantled similar bases in Cuba, and ordered his missile-carrying ships to return home.
Score one for diplomacy: John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev were very different people leading very different countries, but they had a common goal: the good of each of their countries. Needless to say, nuclear war would have devastated both nations. That was the closest we came to Armageddon. In all the years since the only time nuclear weapons were first used in August 1945.
Fast forward to last Tuesday night, and we have a very different character than Kennedy about to take over as Commander-in-Chief. I wish I had as much confidence as Barack Obama politely said he does (see above) in President-Elect Trump’s concern for our country.
I don’t. From what I’ve seen and read, Donald Trump is far more concerned with his own well being than for that of this country or the world at large. I’ve yet to see evidence for his magnanimity or big-heartedness. Having someone like Trump responsible for the nation’s security doesn’t bode well. My head tells me 2016 is very different from 1962, but my gut tells me otherwise, it’s that same feeling of helplessness and fear.
I don’t so much fear war breaking out between us and Russia (especially since Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are best buds!); nor with Iran, unless Trump follows through with his threat to undo the hard-won multi-nation agreement to lift sanctions in return for Iran ending its aggressive nuclear program. I don’t believe he will, and that new trade opportunities — i.e. money! — will win out in this case.
I do worry, though, about North Korea, led by a kid, 32-year old Kim Jong-un. At the present rate of progress of their rocket program, sometime in the next four years or so, Jong-un will be able to threaten this country with a ballistic nuclear missile attack. North Korea appears utterly incapable of meeting the norms of international diplomacy and restraint — the fact that we have some 2,000 nuclear warheads in ready-to-launch mode (out of a total of about 5,000) are not going be a deterrent against that maverick country. That is, we won’t have many options if push comes to shove. It’s hard to know what Trump makes of Jon-un; last January Trump sort-of praised the tyrant for his ferocity, calling him a maniac before adding “You gotta give him credit.”
So whom do we have with the ultimate control over our nuclear forces? Not, I’m afraid, a smart, rational, diplomatically-capable individual who, if woken at 3 a.m. with news of a crisis, needing to make a life-or-death decision within minutes, has it in him the ability to weigh options calmly and rationally. Instead we’re about to appoint as our Commander-in-Chief an impulsive and irrational character who dismisses science, logic and experience.
I remember an old British comedy radio show in which a faux political hack was asked how then newly-elected Margaret Thatcher would be deal with such a crisis. “Well,” he explained, “she will be given all the facts and all her options, and then she will decide whether or not to launch our missiles and go to war … depending on her mood at the time.” Not so funny now.
But hey, it’s early days. My hope is that even at 70 years of age, the man will mature and grow into the measured role of the most powerful person in the world. Until then, it’s sleepless nights ahead.