It’s no secret that I continue to think that Trump, by and large, is still being underestimated. Clearly there are powerful forces aligned against him, and ongoing investigations into his connections with Russian shenanigans continue to loom threateningly on his horizon, but I’m by no means ready to assume that US political and judicial institutions will withstand Trump’s current attempts to re-shape, and in some case completely dismantle them.
Trump’s game face. As an experiment, try to reproduce this facial expression yourself, then pay attention to the kind of thinking it engenders.
The increasingly popular portrayal is that of an attention whore with the attention span of a hummingbird who is essentially in reaction mode, blundering extemporaneously from one outrageous statement to the next. And recently from one internationally dangerous provocation to the next.
I don’t think that’s what’s going on at all. I could spend all day writing about Trump’s defects of character, but it must also be said he’s bold and he’s a fighter and—this is the important part—he’s willing to undertake big gambles. And I think I see where he might be gambling now, and in a big way.
After threatening to visit “fire and fury” upon North Korea in response to further provocations and scaring the media half to death (and thus, once again, controlling them), he doesn’t back away but doubles down.
This is worth noting. He always doubles down. Always. If there is a historic example of him retreating I’m unaware of it. So I don’t think this is just Trump shooting from the hip, it’s classic Trump operating strategy.
Consider this; what if Trump actually can manage to make some “progress” with North Korea, which, to most Americans, probably means getting them to shut the fuck up and behave like we say they should. What if, as I think Trump is calculating, Kim Jong Un can be made to understand that if he, Kim, doesn’t back down he really will be destroyed, because this crazy American with another weird haircut really is not bluffing.
Listen to Trump talk about Kim Jong Un here;
“He has disrespected our country greatly. He has said things that are horrific. And with me he’s not getting away with it. He got away with it for a long time, between him and his family. He’s not getting away with it. This is a whole new ballgame.”
This is a whole new ballgame is not an off-the-cuff remark. Trump really means it. He’s been advocating playing hardball with North Korea for years. Here he is again doubling down on the “fire and fury” thing;
“Maybe it wasn’t tough enough. They’ve been doing this to our country for a long time, for many years, and it’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries. So if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.”
Kim has figured, correctly so far, that he can talk smack all he wants, which helps him domestically, without the US going ape-shit. Trump now says those days are over. There is no rational reason not to believe he really means it.
This is not the extemporaneous babbling of someone with no idea where he’s headed, these are the remarks of somebody who thinks of himself as precisely that “somebody” he’s talking about, the long awaited no-nonsense clear-sighted leader he sees himself as and whom, in his mind, we’ve all been waiting for. And I think he’s figured that however this plays out, for him personally this can be win-win.
If Kim backs down, Trump wins a victory which has eluded all the diplomatic heavy lifting for decades. That makes Trump a winner, and on the back of that victory he can really get some traction domestically. We can hear him crowing from here, can we not? “I was right again, and all the establishment “experts” were wrong.”
There will be rallies and cheers, and accolades all around. The media will pivot back to calling him “presidential” again. Because of course they will. Then, if Mueller’s investigation does not incontrovertibly prove election collusion, he’s home free, because any shady business dealings won’t engender enough animosity to undo him. Not in this scenario they won’t.
Now on the other hand, if Kim does not back down, Trump deploys a military strike of some kind, I’d guess conventional weapons targeted at launch facilities and military installations and maybe Kim personally. He has to, otherwise Trump’s the one who looks like he’s backing down, and that’s just not possible. He’s never done it in his life and he’s not about to start now. So now we have a war, which drowns out everything—Mueller, Russia, shady business dealings, everything—and Trump will have no problems with that, no matter the human cost, because of course he won’t.
I’d suppose that scenario number one would be Trump’s preference, because that would bring more accolades and invoke less opposition, but I think he’s figured that either outcome helps him more than it would hurt him, and that, after all, is the principle which has guided him his whole life.
There’s still time, I suppose, for other options to emerge, perhaps with participation of third parties (Paging China. Paging the Peoples’ Republic of China. White courtesy telephone please). But if they do, they will be have to be options which give Trump a way out that he can characterize as a win, like maybe North Korea “cancelling” the Guam thing, otherwise there’s almost certainly going to be a war.