How scared should we be? That is the pertinent question to ask after two world leaders begin a public dick-measuring contest over the power of their nuclear arsenals, and it depends entirely, as usual, on where on the Earth you live. Americans are focusing on the long-range capabilities of North Korea’s nuclear arms (they can reach Chicago, maybe!), while the much more likely threat is to South Korea, or, if you listen to Kim Jong-Un, the U.S. territory of Guam. Our secretary of state has said that we shouldn’t read that much into Trump’s words—we should “sleep well,” and that Trump was merely using the language of the North Korean dictator to communicate to him clearly. That makes it all sound premeditated, which we know is not the case—as usual, Trump saw some cameras and decided to wing out, without any consultation from advisors or cabinet members.
Plenty of sensible people have reminded us that North Korea doesn’t want to get into nuclear war, they want to be treated like a superpower. Donald Trump’s desires are much less clear, and more likely the expression of decades-old insecurities rattling around in the barren landscape of his senile, TV-addled mind. The problem could just be that, by making such a bold threat, Trump has diminished the word of American presidents in the future, or it could be that, unlike previous unhinged public moments from the reality TV star, military actions are things he can act on much quicker and more erratically.
All of which may not exactly lead to nuclear war, but it has spawned volumes of nuclear-powered takes—finger-pointing, despairing, prognostication, conspiracy theorizing, and so on. It’s right to react strongly to this sort of thing, but it’s also sort of a relief to have those takes limited to 140 characters. And anyway, on Twitter, at least people are incentivized to be funny about it:
In reality, this is the exact thing Twitter is good for—not so much spirited debate (which it is terrible at!) but pithy rejoinders, commiseration, a hole to shout jokes into while we wait this thing out. Extrapolate any of these another thousand words and they’d either be glib or sophist or both. Unlike our other great Doomsday Clock threat—global warming—there’s very little we can do to sway the ids and whims of the two deranged men holding their fingers over the buttons here. Might as well test the tensile strength of humor’s powers in the meantime.
And anyway, the president’s already back to tweeting about political rivals, because he lacks object permanence. Maybe he’s forgotten about the whole “fire and fury” thing already!