A few notes on unbuilding a key part of the presidency

The American President can blow up the world. A lot of work went into reassuring us that he won't. Now it's being undone.

19 Feb 2017 7:19 pm 97 Comments

Watching President Trump’s February 16th press conference, I felt stunned into silence. I could not think of how to comment on that performance. These notes are my attempt to figure out why. They are a departure from my usual writing: more speculative. I’m reaching for something here. Which means I could be wrong about some or maybe all of it. If I am, you will tell me.

1. Since the start of the Cold War 70 years ago, Americans have been aware of a crazy thing about the holder of the Presidency. That person could blow up the world. The possibility of nuclear annihilation changed the institution by introducing new psychological facts to the relationship between the American people and the occupant of the White House. And, we should add, between the publics of other nations and the American President. For this was a terrible power to invest in one man. (It has always been a man, which is part of the terror, so I will be using the masculine pronoun throughout.)

2. By giving the order, the American President could blow up the world — or at least Europe, North America, and Russia — and everyone at some level was aware of this. Which meant we had to have confidence that he wouldn’t do it, or we could never vote for him. There would be no time to go to Congress, or for any plebiscite. The power had to be entrusted to one man, and his reactions in the moment, as with Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis. We didn’t have to trust Theodore Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln in that way. But from the Cold War on Americans have been required to extend to their president an almost inhuman degree of trust: don’t blow up the world, Mister President… Please!

3. It’s not possible to have a normal relationship with a mortal who obtains that kind of power. And yet the American President has to present himself as a “normal” person who has a very, very important job. Through successive governments since Truman the presidency has been adjusted to meet these conditions. How do you make people comfortable with the fact that the President is able to blow up the world? Or: how do you make them forget that he has this power? Well, you project an image of inner strength, measured calm, unflappable temperament. But that is just a start. In fact, the whole model of the modern presidency is affected by this demand to quiet a completely rational anxiety surrounding the president’s awesome, god-like and mostly unearned powers. In a word, the American presidency has to do psychological work. It has to reassure.

4. So how is this work done? Through a series of propositions that are implied in the behavior we expect of presidents, in the daily rituals of the job, and in the way the executive branch organizes itself. Here are a few of those propositions. (There are many more.)

* The President has access to the best intelligence in the world.
* The President starts his day with a classified briefing on all possible threats.
* The President is kept constantly informed.
* The President is never, even for a moment, “off the grid.”
* The President is never alone.
* The President is surrounded by people who know what they are doing.
* The President is of sound and sober mind. He does not easily “fly off the handle.”
* The President does not free associate, speak carelessly, or grant roaming privileges to his id.
* The President does not make factual statements that are wholly insupportable.

I’m not saying that these features of the modern Presidency don’t serve other ends. They do. But one of them is to make us feel okay with a man who gets to play god with our civilization.

5. Part of the psychological work the American presidency had to do was done through the media. Rituals like the televised news conference were supposed to show that the president was in command of the facts, and could handle challenges without losing his cool. Command of television in a speech or interview is one way that presidents show us they’re in command of themselves. That’s reassuring. That’s acting “presidential.”

6. Trump does not participate in this regime. He may have access to the best intelligence in the world, but he is at war with the intelligence community. The apparatus exists to keep him constantly informed, but he prefers to watch cable news, so that he can rage at his unfair treatment. He flies off the handle constantly. He makes threats. He free associates, speaks carelessly, and grants roaming privileges to his world class id. He doesn’t care if what he’s saying is true. When a reporter at his February 16 press conference told him his facts were wrong, he shrugged and said, “I was given that information; I don’t know… I’ve seen that information around.” That is the opposite of reassuring.

7. Trump is thus revising the Presidency before our eyes. In his grip, it no longer attempts to muffle anxiety about the President and make people around the world feel okay about granting one person such enormous, unthinkable and inhuman powers. Instead, a new model is proposed: the president keeps everyone in a constant state of excitement and alarm. He moves fast and breaks things. He leads by causing commotion. As energy in the political system rises he makes no effort to project calm or establish an orderly White House. And if he keeps us safe it’s not by being himself a safe, steady, self-controlled figure, but by threatening opponents and remaining brash and unpredictable— maybe a touch crazy. This too is psychological work, but of a different kind.

8. Remember: the launch codes are with him at all times. We are supposed to not think about that. Since Truman, the Presidency has been styled to help us with the forgetting. Donald Trump is busy blowing that up. But how do we surface this story?

97 Comments

You have written what I have thought. Bravo.

Carol Davy says:

Thank you for your eloquent and thoughtful writing. The enormity of the situation we find ourselves in never leaves me.

Wendy, good for you making changes with your eating and exercise habits; th#72a8&1t;s one of the best things to do to stay young! And thanks for your prayers for that family.

I think that #7 speaks to the dis-ease that has surprised me the most about the Trump presidency.

“Instead, a new model is proposed: the president keeps everyone in a constant state of excitement and alarm.”

There’s a fatigue and resignation. My self-care routines have fallen first in this new state, exercise, nutrition, sleep. Attempting to stay abreast of the situation has disoriented me from the ordinary logic that kept me moving forward before.

I stumbled into the 2.16 conference on NPR as I drove between meetings. I was alarmed, excited in the sense of nervous attention, confusion of how to process the very contradictory messages I was hearing.

My only thought is to look beyond Trump to attempt to understand his supporters, and what it says that they are not disturbed. How different am I from my neighbors? How different must their world views be, and what am I missing?

Barbara Schrier says:

Keep up your self health routine! We. Need quality thinkers like you! What about the meticulous dismantling of the EPA!!?

Miriam Heddy (Iron) says:

Hillary tried to tell us this very thing during the debates. She tried to enact that difference. For me, the question is, how is it that some portion of the American population–Trump voters–has bought into Trump’s revision of expectations well enough to not be in the same state of alarm & anxiety as are non-Trump voters.

She did try to bring this up. In fact it was her lead strategy. “He doesn’t have the temperament.”

I have had some discussion with Trump followers who relish the thought of blowing things up. They seem to think that they will be safe, a sort of capitalistic/fascist rapture that will preserve their purity and destroy those who oppose them. They shrug off concerns about nuclear war (” I have secret methods to survive this” or “Trump would never do THAT”).

It is as though Trump supporters engage in the same magical thinking as religious fundamentalists and imagine themselves somehow set-apart from the unworthy, one might almost say “saved”. Same delusion, and very possibly many of the same people.

AmateurRussian says:

“Everyone, deep in their hearts, is waiting for the end of the world to come.” ― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84.

paul lukasiak says:

when minorities are frustrated, they burn down their neighborhoods.

when majorities are frustrated, they blow up the world.

Wow!

Kathleen Pavelko says:

The key narrators of this new model are, of course, journalists. They are torn by conflicting impulses: to be stenographers (after all, anything the president says–or tweets–is by definition newsworthy); to break news via leaks or (we hope) outside-in reporting; and to fight back against the escalating war on media (what Stelter today called “verbal poison.”)

I’d suggest the comparative approach, made as American-relevant as possible; look for European examples; look for historical (even ancient) examples that demonstrate the failure of putting faith in norms and guard rails.

Terry Healy says:

Really excellent. A superb summary of what we all are getting bits and pieces of, I’ll do what I can to spread it around. Keep up the good work.

A system gave rise to this man. Thought and energy need to go into that. All the war and greed and addictions have hollowed us out. I think Trump is a tumor, not the cancer.

This is astute. Gary Kasparov tweeted yesterday that America will survive Trump, but that Trump has made Americans newly aware of things they took for granted. You have, too, in your description of what the president has been and (alas) now is.

In point of fact, even if America per se survives Trump, his policies and those of his enablers in Congress are such that tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of Americans will not, and it is only privileged foolishness that allows us (not you specifically) to forget that.

Mike Cunningham says:

You make a number of very valid points that I don’t want to discount. However I feel your article misses the mark in several ways.
1) Trump is sane and rational; he is not disturbed, unstable or mentally ill. See Dr. Allen Frances, author of relevant sections of DSM5. He is anti-Trump but also debunks notion that Trump is clinically unsound.

2) Wanting reassurance about nuclear weapons is perfectly understandable and I want the same thing. However, if we are relying on the outward projections of a father figure to preserve civilization, we are in big trouble. Any good actor can pull that off. Contrary to what you wrote it is not one person and one person alone who can launch. Trump does not have the power to wake up one morning and start pushing buttons. Even if he did have that power, to do so would imply he is insane. And every indication is that he wants to defuse nuclear risk with the Russians.

The cold war mentality of mutually assured destruction on the other hand IS crazy and we are lucky that a flaw in process did not set off nuclear exchange. Or in the case of Cuban missle crisis, a nuclear armed vessels that misread intentions almost launched a tactical warhead.

3) There is no evidence that Trump is at war with his own Intel agencies. He is at war with elements within that community that appear to be trying to publically discredit. To me this is of far more concern than thr blustering that Trump delivers to the media.
There is also no evidence that he watches cable news rather than Intel briefings. If there were I suspect that evidence would be leaked in a heartbeat.

4) The way to oppose Trump is by playing it straight and forming a coherent opposition to policies. And by voting. The media struggling for new heights of indignation and hysteria has not work and I doubt it will.

Thanks.

1.) I didn’t make any observations about Trump’s mental health.

2. ) “No one can stop President Trump from using nuclear weapons. That’s by design: The whole system is set up so the president — and only the president — can decide when to launch.” By Alex Wellerstein, historian of nuclear weapons at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

3.) No president has ever made the kind of comments about the intelligence community that Trump has. There is simply no precedent for it.

Brad Bonnette says:

I’ll add that there is plenty of evidence that Trump watches and reacts to cable news. There have been four incidents that I can think of where he has tweeted something verbatim that appeared on cable news within an hour of the story (Chelsea Manning ungrateful, sending troops into Chicago, Lawfare blog pull quote, Eli Lake pull quote) and he admitted his Sweden comment at the rally was based on a story he watched on Fox News the night before.

Mike Cunningham says:

Thanks for your reply Jay.

worst? I had a look at your template i think this looks much better than yours.. Lol request for a psd and you can design the psd.. read the deiipcrtson dude!!

Cool! That’s a clever way of looking at it!

Trump is not sane. For every one expert you can find who pronounces Trump mentally fit, there are hundreds signing letters and petitions pronouncing him unfit. See the NYT on Feb. 13: “Mental Health Professionals Warn About Trump,” in which 35 U.S. psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers signed a letter warning about Trump’s mental health: “[Trump’s] grave emotional instability… makes him incapable of serving safely as president.” Previously, more than 18,000 psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals signed a different letter, agreeing that Trump has “a serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States.” His words and his actions are not those of a sane person.

Glenn Abrahamsen says:

What about the millions that voted for him? And those that still supports him?
Are they mentally ill too?

It is so easy for us that are not mentally ill to say that no-one with a brain like us could ever say or mean the things that Trump and his supporters say and mean.

So these people must have a diagnose. And at the same time we stamp on all those that suffers from diagnoses like this. Saying that their diagnose is the reason we and they too, feel scared of the future. And that all those hours exposing their most personal thoughts and feelings with qualified doctors and therapists was all for nothing. As they could just have sent in some videos where they talked about immigration and jobs, and then get the correct diagnose back.

Glenn Abrahamsen says:

What I mean to say is that these people (Trump those alike) are just like you and me.

They are not imperfect humans suffering of a sickness. They are not disease. They are not degraded or different in any ways.

They just have a different set of experiences that has given them a different set of values, and a different way of viewing the world.

The time when we saw those that we disagreed with as subhumans has long passed. Or so I thought.

Susan Bauckus says:

Yes, Allen Frances objects to characterizing Trump as mentally ill but he goes on to say: “Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither)” (NY Times, Feb 14). Moreover, he certainly does watch cable television, given that he cites Fox News as the source of his “what happened yesterday in Sweden” comment.

Finally, what do you mean by indignation and hysteria on the part of the media? I think commenters have shown a fair amount of indignation and sometimes hysteria, but how have the media done that, other than reporting what Trump has said and pointing out what’s incorrect?

“Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it.”

Distress caused to other people, like enemies, or when negotiating, isn’t a bad thing. But Trump seems to be causing it in people, in organizations, in governments, that the US never had to worry about before. Of all the weird crap that was normalized for GWB, there have had to be new levels of “What the hell was that?” painted on the “normal v. abnormal” meter for Trump. And it’s only been a month.

I never feared that movie mogul’s proclamantion “I don’t get ulcers. I give them!” more than I do now.

AmateurRussian says:

I’m at a complete loss. I’ve read nutrition pamphlets from the Church of Scientology that are more cogent than this.

GregLBean says:

How about reprogramming the American people so they understand that Russia is not the threat they currently have been led to believe it is.

Sign the USSR collapsed at the end of the Cold War, when it was shown to be an infant militarily vs the US, it, Russia has only spent 1/10th as much on armaments as the US.

That is, the US spent over $10T while Russia has spent $1T. (roughly)

In short, Russia is still an infant militarily vs the US.

ITS NOT THE THREAT THE DEEP STATE AND MEDIA CONTINUALLY SAY IT IS!!

How about educating Americans to understand this!

That will dramatically lessen tentions and paranoia about Trump.

As a second step, promote normalisation of relations with Russia!!

Where do you get such information? Intelligence community is not a deep state, and it knows PUTIN wants to destabilize to get hands on oil through Ukraine. He’s a dictator and there’s nothing normal about that and especially wanting to “befriend” one!!

GregLBean says:

You’ve bought into the delusions.

Russia is oil rich.

Crimea (Ukraine) was historically Russian and is majority Russian ethnicity.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain are more extreme dictatorships than Russia and are US’s best friends.

Your arguments are either wrong and/or hypocritical.

The US has been using Russia as a threat for over 50 years and yet when asked why no American can explain it.

Give me facts or normalize relations!

GregLBean says:

Here’s an outstanding journalist’s view on the psychosis that Americans have about Russia.

https://theintercept.com/2017/02/23/the-increasingly-unhinged-russia-rhetoric-comes-from-a-long-standing-u-s-playbook/

Sarah Read says:

How is this message imparted to those who proudly stand beside this president? Those who blindly cheer for his impudent and dangerous behavior.

I suspect they all blindly believe that “he will never do that”. Like saying “he’s crazy, but not that crazy”.

I do not know.

I think the answer is that they don’t think about it. The human mind has powerful defenses that keep us functioning in the face of crippling anxiety. Dissociation. This is true for everyone, not just Trump supporters. If we really internalized that we might blow up at any moment, we would be paralyzed. So our minds treat this prospect as a dream.

Part of what Jay wrote, about learning to deeply trust the president, also applies to learning not to think about the threats. We learned that life is better when we don’t wonder, when we don’t worry, when there are no shelters or drills. We just live and if we die, we die.

I would also remind everyone that, however bizarre it seems, many who voted for Trump self identify as Christian and have a different relationship to death and destiny. This is a powerful way to dissociate for some people (not all Christians, obviously, but I suspect for most of those who supported Trump).

“He’s acting so strangely; what if something happens, will he use nukes?”

“Hush, let Jesus take the wheel.”

Thank you for writing this. Honestly I think this is the best piece of psychological insight, not into Trump but into the feeling he causes in most people. I have literally stayed up night with a lingering sense of dread. There’s a gallows humor joke I make frequently about the end of the world is coming, and this piece helped me understand why I specifically identify the dread as a fear of the “end of the world” as opposed to fear of the many other real and existing terrible things that are happening as a result of this presidency. Yet it’s disconnected fear of an actual world’s end, which I mask with frequent jokes about it, that is at the heart of some of my actual psychological distress. Thank you.

Thanks, Rachel.

A lot to think about here. Thank you.

An early thought, partly enunciated by others above. This argument implies that to vote for Trump, one must discount or disbelieve the entire edifice of nuclear war and how it might come about. Since 1991, the end of the Soviet Union, Americans have tended toward the belief that nuclear war is no longer possible, as indicated by the expectation of a peace dividend.

New voters growing into that role were born since that mindset came into being. Older voters, being human, prefer not to think about the annihilation of humanity. Trump’s revision of the Presidency (#7) provides them with the comforting idea that they are right; we are in a new world where we no longer have to worry about such things.

Unfortunately, the nuclear weapons, their numbers much reduced but still enough to destroy the world, remain.

Stacey Seeks says:

“New voters growing into that role were born since that mindset came into being.”

This is an important point. It’s much like the mindset of young parents who fear vaccines because they’ve never lived with the visible consequences of the diseases they’ve nearly eradicated. If you didn’t grow up doing drop drills, hearing airstrike siren tests, and watching nightly news reports about the status of the nuclear arms race or describing nuclear winter, your voting decisions are made without valuable experiential data.

Also, don’t underestimate the influence of extreme religiosity—and its inherent anti-logic dogma—amongst DJT’s supporters. If your life decisions are formulated on a conviction of being special and magically protected, particularly within the doctrine of what is fundamentally a doomsday cult, it’s no leap to firmly believe that you will survive, and that only the bad guys will be destroyed, in a nuclear Armageddon.

Mark A Schneider says:

Jay, hope you had a chance to read Emily Nussbaum today (New Yorker, “How Jokes Won the Election”) since she has a partial answer to your question, How do we surface this story?

Nussbaum quotes this guy: “We memed a President into existence,” Chuck Johnson, a troll who had been banned from Twitter, bragged after the election.”

The implication is clear: it’s going to take a better meme to undo him, an anti-Trump super-meme that erodes his authority by relentlessly revealing his grandiosity to be a sham. Strong reporting, hacksaw-sharp comedy (like SNL), music, theatre, literature, And yes, even pink knit hats. A total barrage. The antidote is the anti-meme.

We need to will it into existence.

Didn’t read Nussbaum article, but agree. Yes, a multiplicity, a scattershot of media eroding and deflating “his grandiosity” as a “sham”.

Gerald Grace says:

Thank you Jay for your insightful observations. Keep up the good work.

I really do not think it is necessary to psychologically place his behaviour into a DSM category. In my layman’s opinion he is an erratic, unhinged narcissistic demagogue who will go to any lengths to boost his own ego. He has demonstrated this time and again with his lies and fabrications.

We cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into complacency just because he does not fit into a DSM category.

He has grown up getting what he wants without having to answer to anybody, except perhaps to his father in earlier years.

He is a real danger to the world and needs to be removed from office as soon as possible before some serious irreversible damage is done.

I think that Trump supporters are getting media feeds that are not critical of, and therefore not disturbed by, the behavior. Also true enough are fundamentalists to either welcome or ambivalent about an apocalypse- and that’s frankly to me, more frightening.

Jill Anderson says:

Thank you. This is very well said.

You answered your question with this post. Good work. You’re now reporting. There’s so many facets to the new situation there’s no excuse not to participate.

Thank you, Dave. I think of this as describing something that can’t really be reported. To me it’s writing, being a writer with a responsibility to my fellow citizens to remain alert and put what I see into words.

If the writer puts what they see into words, they can be dragooned into being someone’s communications channel, a mouthpiece. The more artificial the drama around them becomes, the more likely it becomes that the appearances they perceive and convey are orthogonal to, or actively hindering perception of, the reality.

Trump and crew, our common cultural points of reference, seem to be the epitome of drama. If this becomes someone’s IRL experience as well, that person can be moved well along the path to the ultra right wing ideal of “the people” not knowing WTF is for real or WTF is going on. This is a problem.

Walter Winter says:

Seems to me there are many risks emanating from the sheer existence of this Trump presidency that are way, way more dangerous –in the sense of likely to happen– than The Donald starting thermonuclear war just because he can. Yes He Can, but since he’s NOT a lunatic, the odds of him actually starting it are, I would argue, comparable to other infinitely small risks — i.e. of natural disaters happening on a worldwide scale, like the Yellowstone volcano blowing up, a huge meteorite landing on earth, or (man-made) a nuclear reactor blowing up right through all its supposedly infallable protection layers. All these events have a distinctly non-zero chance of happening, but in day-to-day life no one really pays attention to them. And besides, there’s very, very little one can do to prevent any of those. Similarly, Trump’s nuclear capabilities going rogue on just some nice Sunday morning is, in my view, not worth spending time+worries+energy on, particularly when compared to all other damage Trump IS likely to cause and which one CAN perhaps act on to prevent.
Furthermore, suppose some REALLY huge military/political crisis would at some point occur. Then what are the chances just about ANY leader may, no matter how sophisticated in thinking, inadvertently get sucked over an event horizon into a path of destruction? And would the Chinese, Russian, Iranian or South-Korean leadership (to name just some) in their paranoid governamental/power/ideology bubbles really be multiple levels wiser than Trump? Still, you HAVE to assume the latter to be the case, when arguing that Trump is an outlier risk +purely on his own+.

Thanks, Walter.

But I wasn’t really writing about relative levels of risk and the chances of Trump starting a thermonuclear war just because he can. I was trying to describe one way in which he is altering the presidency before our eyes, by abandoning practices that had addressed a psychological fact. Just as these practices made Americans comfortable with a President who could blow up their world, they made the nations of the world more comfortable with American power. And so abandoning them has consequences, quite apart from whether the apocalypse is nearer because of Trump.

I don’t worry about Trump going rogue and initiating nuclear war in a fit of pique. I worry more about what’s described in the video below: nuclear war via wrongly assessing the intentions of an adversary and launching missiles in retaliation over that misunderstanding. I fear that the chances of this scenario have increased dramatically with a president who is impulsive and also doesn’t seem interested in learning about geopolitics so that he can assess these threats and question his intelligence advisers.

http://www.vox.com/2016/3/30/11331218/nuclear-weapons-threat

Al Singer says:

Succinct, incisive, and understandable, Jay. Our “system” so susceptible to media manipulation has been exposed by Trump, a master of con and appealing to our base instincts. It truly is a reality TV show, and the MSM needs to stop letting Trump and his cronies play them like a violin. Send interns to press conferences (wasn’t that your idea?) Don’t cover his rallies, just say it’s not time for 2020 campaign, it’s not relevant. Run a script that tells the truth when Trump or a surrogate is speaking. Take it back.

Frances Hunter says:

Fantastic article. Said many things I had been thinking. I wish there was a way to prevent him pressing the red button. That power should never have been given to one man.

Michael Hengel says:

Overdone, Jay. No. 6 almost says it all … though Trump has access to the best intelligence in the world, he prefers Fox News.

Kevin B. says:

2. What is particularly troubling to a greater degree is how easily President Trump seems to be swayed by his “advisors”. 3 AM phone call to the President that he needs to launch? President Trump has not demonstrated the capacity for rational thought or consequences for actions.

3. President Trump is using his “psychological work” as a weapon to create fear in attempts to exercise control. You could say this tactic might keep foreign powers off balance not knowing what the President will do next, but this comes at a high price for the American psyche. There is no reassurance.

4. The out of control id of the President is no match for the mediation efforts in Freud’s model. The President is all “id”.

5. President Trump said he will be able to act “presidential”. When Stephen Colbert took over The Late Show he said it took him a while (6 months) to figure out how to leave his TV character behind and “be himself”. The President is extending his reality TV character to the White House, but in his case he appears to be making no effort to separate the two. Reality shows across the board are high drama, yelling, secrets and strange alliances. Americans love it and they like what’s playing out in the White House. Unlike other shows, this one can’t be canceled by someone other than the President.

6. See 3, 4, 5

7. If there is some purpose to the chaos, then the President must be a genius to orchestrate it in a manor that’s disguised to everyone else. I doubt this is the case. In the heat of the debate, amongst all the volume, profanity and obfuscation there sometimes is a thread of substance. We need to look for the substance, if any, while calling out the distractions.

8. We may be on a long road and their needs to be a methodical brick by brick foundation of facts, truths impacts (or lack thereof) of the policies and character of the President and his Cabinet. Your thought describes what we’re used to in a President, what’s “normal”. The President’s supporters detest normalcy. The more it’s stated things aren’t normal the more cheers there are. We need to change the approach from “normal” to a narrative of what is decent, humane, compassionate, (legal), etc. It will take awhile.

Dear Jay, thank you for brazenly naming a nerve that is being hit.

Your writing made me think that maybe the permanent reassurance by American Presidents that they will not use their nuclear powers was for internal consumption only (the perspective you give words to) but was picked up by non-Americans as a sign of weakness – which might be why some dared to attack a nuclear giant: they did not fear nuclear retaliation.

With President Trump the opposite might be going on. His flirting with a nuclear option is for internal consumption only, but is picked up by non-Americans as a serious threat – which might be why the United States are perceived as a dangerous adversary again to reckon with.

In that case the real problem lies in the focus that American Presidents with the power to destroy the world have. This focus is mainly on their own constituents, on their voters, rather than on the world.

Aaron Gross says:

Good article, as usual. But how do you explain that Trump supporters, most of whom are normal, sane people, watched the same press conference and were not made uneasy?

Seems that a large number of Americans are not in need of these psychological safeguards you described. Either that, or they’re unaffected by Trump’s weakening of them. Either way, doesn’t their response have to be explained as part of all this?

The press conference was 77 minutes. The unbuilding I’m talking about is happening because of the entire way Trump conducts his presidency.

I have no special insight that would explain the reaction of Trump voters. There I would recommend the work of Chris Arnade. If I don’t have anything illuminating to say, my goal is say nothing.

paul lukasiak says:

A more accessifble source for Arnade’s ideas might be https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/11/donald-trump-voter-respect/507350/

For those of you too busy to read it, it boils down to the old “democrats didn’t realize that white working class voters were frustrated, and decided to vote for a racist, even though they aren’t racists, so its okay to normalize what happened” stuff.

Aaron, I’m guessing precious few Trump supporters watched. They want headlines, they want Fox bloviators, they don’t want 77 minutes of relatively static and multisyllabic back/forth in yet another gold room.

Lorin Kalisky says:

Great to read this in print, as it articulates a dreadful vision that I (and i suspect many others) have been having. There may or may not be a real increased risk, but I certainly feel a marked decrease in confidence.

That said, I hate to think about a 9/11-style event happening on this guy’s watch.

Mark J. McPherson says:

Trump has had a remarkable run, without even the benefit of any particular skill or expertise (consider the shambles and doleful wake of his casino and real estate businesses), trading always on his one trick — wrong-footing opponents and rivals through his transgressive speech and behaviors. It’s been like a 40-year game of chicken to see who had the higher tolerance for shameful and embarrassing behavior. For many, it was easier to cede the game to Trump or buy him off and out, rather than continue to contest and be subject to prolonged public humiliation.

But he’d sometimes run up against a rival in business with spine and sense enough to rise above and stay above Trump’s low tactics and he’d be unmasked. Behind all that blustery glitz and puffery Trump was revealed to be a gold-plated deadbeat grifter. But politics was a new and more public game, the shame more intense, the damage deeper and many of his rivals were made to look hypocritical and thus were hugely vulnerable. So he bluffed and blustered his way all the way to the Whitehouse.

Where he has maintained the blusterbluff vocabulary, rhetoric and bearing. Only there is now the most sober of substance behind his histrionics. And he’s no longer playing a game whose purpose is to roll hotel and casino execs or Hollywood producers. He’s attempting to wrong-foot and confound other heads of states and foreign powers. When you possess the most powerful arsenal in the world, there is no need for puffery, so long as you have resolve and discernment. Far better to let the rest of the world know you will be constant and steadfast, predictably, dependably ready to back up your words and principles. Don’t keep them guessing; keep them knowing there will be very serious consequences for crossing the clearly and thoughtfully drawn lines.

Trump’s erratic, non-serious attitudes about the gravest circumstances is deeply unsettling. But it’s much worse than simply rendering the electorate ill-at-ease (and after all, we are responsible for him as we put him in fathoms over his head). He is more importantly, a destabilizing agent in foreign relations generally and thus a threat to world peace. The puffed out chest, the badass rhetoric, the strutting and itching for a fight or attack is more pronounced than even the early, feckless and reckless days of George W. Bush. W at least had his father’s old people around him. Trump has instead assembled an As-Seen-on-TV cabinet from the stables of Fox Business News and Breitbart. He’s stomping and staggering every which way, beyond the abilities of wiser heads to restrain. And he’s already burned through most of the credibility of our traditional State Department, Intelligence and Military assets, such that the people working for his Administration have little ability to temper down the reactions to his intemperate remarks.

We are, in this sense, now dependent upon the restraint and sanity of other nations to keep us from blundering into mass bloodshed. And not every other nation is ruled by people known for restraint, sanity and decency. It is not a pretty picture.

W.S. Beck says:

Thank you for allowing to surface those feelings we normally repress. I know I have had them, especially since the president’s MO seems to be a cruel playing with us. “Will I or won’t I? You’ll just have to keep guessing.” Aside from not having the demeanor to give us that subconscious assurance that the worst won’t happen, I’ve had thoughts that if he thought he was going down, he’d take us with him. And I can’t get that thought out of my mind.

I was just thinking the same thing. If the Dems get their act together and convince all those non-voters to vote and Trump is a one-term loser, what will he do in the intervening period between losing and handing over the briefcase? In business he just litigates and bullies and bankrupts his way out of his problems. My fear is he will blame everyone else for his demise and think “Fuck it! I’ll show them. You’re all fired!” BOOM.

W.S .Beck says:

I was thinking he might do that if an impeachment proceeding succeeds. I sure hope this doesn’t go on till the midterms or for four years. He’s just so vindictive, there’s no telling what he might do. I wish I didn’t think he’d do it, but the fact that I’m even thinking it tells me I have no faith he wouldn’t.

Robert Klein says:

Would agree with what you say and add one more element. There are approximately 10 other countries that also have the ability to blow up the world or a sizable part of it. In the same way we entrust our leaders, we must also rely on these nations and people to choose wisely. When all parties, or at least the leading party(s), act calm, and cool, and knowing, it works to help ease the possibilities of misunderstanding, frustration, or rash actions from all. When the major player, in this case the US, acts irresponsibly it translates down the line to the lesser numbered though still incredibly armed nations. His instability not only scares sane people in the US and elsewhere, he also creates fear and instability in these others countries and tacitly is semi-green-lighting their actions with regard to similar weapons. This must by its very nature greatly multiply the danger dynamic by an “as yet” unknown.

Thanks, Robert. That’s true.

“Enjoy your blog and everything, but would you stop with the “half and half man” thing? It’s insulting and demeaning. You and I know that as far as “Mainstream America” is concerned, whatever his ancestry, Obama is as black as the Ace of Sprs”s.edoary anon. 9:31AM, I will try. But don’t get it twisted; there is a difference to folks in the “mainstream”. A less threatening negro in apperance is always more acceptable. It’s why some slaves were allowed in the house and some weren’t. Not that O is a HN, I am just saying 😉

Excellent article, Professor Rosen.

For all Trump’s abhorrent policies and probable treason, it is the knowledge that he could blow us all up that is most destabilizing. For reasonable people, this causes fear and dread.

I wonder if the same destabilizing potency plays into the fanatical loyalty of his followers. In most cults, the leader gains power over his followers by openly transgressing against social norms, exhibiting cruelty, exercising deliberate capriciousness of judgment. These destabilizing behaviors provoke fear and fascination. The inability to trust becomes a kind of ecstatic nihilism. They love that he could blow us all up.

In this case, Trump’s most intolerable failings become the very mechanism that binds his followers to him. Just a theory…

Jay, I think you’re forgetting that you’re looking at a mobster. Ordinarily a low-level mobster. Maybe you remember Buddy Cianci, from Providence: Buddy was smarter than this guy. This guy, minus money, is levels below Buddy in the mob.

He’s in there because he’s useful. You remember Paul Ryan’s face after the election? And you remember how “reluctantly” he agreed to be Speaker? Now you know why he suddenly looks like he’s had the best massage of his life and is having a year of birthdays.

You’re looking at the only mode Trump has. It’s not an act. It’s not a strategy. It’s what he’s got, the man’s a fixie. Please don’t kid yourself about this. Yes, he’s very dangerous, and Buddy never had nukes. And I hope like hell that whoever gave Trump the codes lied.

Stay with this guys, you’re helping a lot of people.

This is an excellent write-up and describes pretty much how I feel. As a Western European, my stress level is WAY UP since Trump became president. He called NATO obsolete, cheers about EU breaking up, his chief advisor openly boasts with wanting to replace current European governments, he pampers Russia. All in all, Trump is making war in Western Europe much much more likely than any American president of the past decades. And the Munich security conference press coverage tells me that the professionals believe that, too. Ugh.

The one thing I miss most about the Obama presidency was being able to sleep at night.

paul lukasiak says:

A very nice comeback to those who want to keep Trump away from his Twitter account…. after all, I’d rather he be pressing the “send” button on his I-phone than that other “button”….

My biggest takeaway from the press conference is that the press was enjoying the show as much as Trump enjoyed being onstage. There was nothing quite as chilling as watching Jim Acosta and the rest of the room laugh when Trump said “very fake news”.

There is no question Trump was having a blast during that press conference.

also, how do we do it without triggering him?

Harry Shearer says:

You write: “The President is of sound and sober mind. He does not easily “fly off the handle.” as part of the previous formula for Presidential behavior.” You cite Trump for “And if he keeps us safe it’s not by being himself a safe, steady, self-controlled figure, but by threatening opponents and remaining brash and unpredictable— maybe a touch crazy.”
Two words: Richard Nixon. Listen to the tapes. Flying off the handle? He ordered break-ins at the psychiatrist’s office of one of his “enemies”. He drank to excess–we know this from intimates, and you can hear such moments for yourself. He explicitly proclaimed the value of being the person in the game of international “chicken” to be the “crazy” one, the first to throw the steering wheel out the window.
The difference you’re reaching for, perhaps, is that we now know this is going on in real time, not discovering it decades later.

Nixon was saintly in comparison with Trump: he had some remnants of a conscience. Trump has none.

Andrew Tyndall says:

The fantasy of the Presidency for the first 70 years of the nuclear age that you describe — the status quo ante — has infantilized our democracy.

The trade-off that you evoke was this: a reassurance against intimations of mortality (our lives will not end by being blown to smithereens) in exchange for the projection of a superhuman immortality onto the body of the leader.

Not literal superhuman immortality, of course, but its symbolic representation. As your describe: an omniscient intelligence, an identity with the law itself, an abnegation of desire, a disinterest in human emotions.

I say “infantilized” because this representation of the dead hand of the Presidential patriarch requires his citizen subjects, in response, to abrogate their adult responsibility to control their own destiny in an emancipated fashion.

Thus the arrival of Donald Trump — the opposite of the superhuman immortal — represents, finally, the Oedipal crisis of the entire post-World-War-II culture of the American Century.

And about time too. It is about time we got about the business of self-government in a democratic fashion.

Just for perspective, there’s a corner of America that’s always nuts (by conventional, or elitist, standards), and it’s been in the White House before.

Ronald Reagan spent some of his first term saber-rattling without being apparently clear on the amount of devastation a war with the Soviet Union would produce, and then joked off-air in his re-election run about “beginning the bombing in five minutes.” And this was during an active arms race, not during a period of relative passivity.

In Reagan’s far-right cabinet, opinions like this made their way around:

“Watt periodically mentioned his Dispensationalist Christian faith when discussing his method of environmental management. Speaking before Congress, he once said, ‘I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations.'”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_G._Watt

This is how scared people were. I remember: I was there.
http://www.nytimes.com/1982/06/13/world/throngs-fill-manhattan-to-protest-nuclear-weapons.html

In the 35 years since, I haven’t seen anyone really reckon with the 30% or more of the US that believes the world is less than 10,000 years old, and Jesus is on the way back. Branko Milanovic makes a good point here:
glineq.blogspot.co.at/2017/01/is-liberalism-to-blame.html

Our New York Times-centered universe is orthogonal to a different universe that is everyday reality for tens of millions of Americans. Working to connect those cultures better in a long term way is probably the way to make whichever president we get seem saner to everyone.

T1gerlilly says:

I highly suspect that one foreseeable complication of the Trump presidency will be increasing regionalism. It may be the case that increasing cultural tensions will simply rip the country apart.

To be honest, I’ve been thinking about what I will do if they come for my neighbors and coworkers- gay, Muslim, or otherwise inconvenient. Living in the Northeast, it’s pretty clear we couldn’t stand against the military, most of which is based in the south – unless we became a nuclear power. We’d need time for that, though we definitely have the know-how.

I know it seems far fetched, but civil societies can be destroyed far more quickly than most people realize. Deep inequality, majority resentment, and cultural differences are the perfect recipe for genocide – just ask the researchers who’ve created software to predict genocide hotspots.

Who will save us?

Trump seems to me a delusional narcissist, who is being used as a tool by Bannon and as a puppet, at whatever remove, by Putin. His very instability is what makes him a poor tool, as they can’t predict the vicissitudes of his ego any better than we can. The most patiently laid schemes may be put paid by childish fits of pique. You all ask how the average Trump supporter cannot be chilled by his erratic and blustering deceptions – but it doesn’t surprise me.

The right has fostered a media climate in which even well-meaning people cannot determine basic facts. I hear this again and again, even in my bluest of blue state. So many people are left with their gut – their tribalistic, fearful gut – which is comforted by a culturally familiar, absurdly confident figure in a package (older white man) that threatens none of their cultural predilections.
They don’t believe him, because they are used to the right not delivering on its promises.

But they also like what he has to say. They WANT to ‘bomb the Middle East into glass’. They WANT to take the oil from Iraq. They have no sense of interdependency or the consequences of war. Hell, let’s not forget these were the people who made it impossible to even TALK about not going into Iraq after 911, terrified and vengeful, utterly in the grip of their id. If they’re wounded, if they’re frightened- they want an eye for an eye- and they aren’t overly particular who it comes from.

They want their lives to be better and they’ve been sold a bill of good about why their lives have gotten worse and whose fault it is. So they believe.

They are still my fellow Americans though. I do still have faith in them – in us. If Trump goes off the rails, I have to believe the average Americans around him will rein him in. Not the Bannons or those that profit off his power, but the bureaucrats, the police officers, the average American.

After all, Caligula was taken down by his private guards, not by any of the nobility.

James Myers says:

This is the ‘horror movie franchise’ hypothesis, a version of it at least. Fear framed in ‘safe’ context.
Bernays great motivators are sex & fear. DT uses them both wherever/whenever on his voters. It helps understanding to keep apart his effect on his audience & others.
I never liked horror films, much preferred horror parodies. That may be why some of the most effective ways of talking Trump is delivered by the students of Mel Brooks. Seriously

James W Myers says:

This is the ‘horror movie franchise’ hypothesis, a version of it at least. Fear framed in ‘safe’ context.
Bernays great motivators are sex & fear. DT uses them both wherever/whenever on his voters. It helps understanding to keep apart his effect on his audience & others.
I never liked horror films, much preferred horror parodies. That may be why some of the most effective ways of talking Trump is delivered by the students of Mel Brooks. Seriously

You’ve succinctly captured the source of so much of the dread and anxiety Trump-as-President causes amongst us.

Although I am overall quiveringly afraid and morose to the point of depression, I find some small hope in thinking that while Trump is indeed revising the presidency, it will ultimately be seen as a transient, near-inexplicable perversion, not a lasting re-definition.

One reason to think that Trumpism will be transient is that we now have a younger generation for whom the model of a president is Barack Obama, in the way when I was young (I was born in 1950), JFK was the model. That’s not to say that either of these presidents are seen as perfect or as right on all issues. Rather, for the upcoming generation Obama’s comportment, his treating all with dignity, his seriousness, his decency, his sense of humor and his sense of self define what it means to be a president.

If that’s the model, then we can hope that Trump will be seen as an aberration…assuming he doesn’t decide to take us all with him when he goes.

There is an irony here that most won’t see. That is Hillary Clinton was actually risking WWIII with Russia because she was willing to bring our air power into conflict with Russian air power in Syria. Along with of course relentlessly moving NATO right up to the Russian border.

An aside.
http://www.nytimes.com/1998/05/02/opinion/foreign-affairs-now-a-word-from-x.html

I am not saying Trump won’t blow the world up but the 20 year war against Russia by the Democratic foreign policy bigwigs was taking us perilously close to it. It also drove Russia into partnership with China, a strategic blunder of massive scale which could lead to WWIII later. Yes, Trump is a fruitcake but our ‘liberal’ Democrats, while sober, were nuts.

Joshua Morelock says:

Jay, thank you for this wonderful reminder of why 18 years ago a stalwart subtext for Presidential humor was in choosing the most vanilla candidate. (Can we all agree Ronald Reagan is moe?) You conclude, “how do we surface this story?” First, what? I assume in the following, you mean to remind the audience of the nuclear (or, “nucular” to some) launch powers vested in our POTUS. Second, to whom? I assume by making this cut your conclusion, you intentionally abrogate remarking on whom it will sway. Bravo! Your wit has a keen edge, sir.

Although they seem non-existent, thoughtful conservatives exist and do read (many were NeverTrump). However, in my experience as someone who lives among Trump supporters, none I know get regular political news from reading. Some read “editorial” position pieces from specific FOX News analysts they like. A third watch only FOX News, but the rest get some political news from other TV channels. To be frank, politics to most is just a game, like football, and watching pundits is like an ESPN pregame. Most are older, many were already adults under Reagan, and remember both “Morning in America” and his “Star Wars” speech. (S.D.I. was just a vision then, but offered hope and a step back from the abyss of M.A.D.)

Reiterating defamations of Trump only exacerbates puerile hostility in his supporters, but the same are groomed to honor their memories of Reagan. (This went so far as a push for his likeness to replace a then-forgotten Hamilton on the $10 note in 2004.) To directly answer your question, Jay, here are two ways to convince the Trump supporter of his disqualifying lack of character, with respect to nuclear launch controls. Keep in mind, this is pointless in print media, or in liberal journalism outlets, which are only heard by Trump supporters if used as out-of-context hyperbole within video blog editorials. (So, for the editors of TV news.)

1)The redirect. After a piece of any length which ends in President Trump giving a manipulative, derisive, inherently conflicted, or implicitly agressive statement regarding a foreign power, make a direct comparison to President Reagan (quote or factoid), or flatly remind of Pres. Trump’s nuclear launch (or just Commander-in-Chief) responsibilities. Extrapolating, mention relavent powers of the executive branch, if he is lying, dodging, or diminishing the importance of anything ethical. Hit this in one short line, with no defamation. Don’t use bad material, but lean toward simple thoughts, or memorable quotes and ads.

2)Longform. Eulogize a comparison in video cut scenes, contrasting to the misremebered serenity of ’80s ad copy, or narrate real historical context to contrast just about anything now. (For the launch codes subject of your piece, the soft symbology of Reagan’s 1984 crayola rainbow missile defense ad would be nicer than seeing mushroom clouds.)

Jay, if you mean to surface this story, to sway Trump supporters, and thereby reign in our President, I have one unrelated comment. We are doing a disservice to our country by allowing buffoonery at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to dominate all discussions, while Congress reviews the ACA for dissection. In the near term, it seems more important.

I have no hope of swaying Trump supporters, claim no insight into how that might be done, have no “theories” about it that are worth discussing, and made no reference to it in this piece.

Achim Kriechel says:

I write from the middle of Europe, from Germany. This means we have some experience with “unlimited absolute power” in the hand of only one person … or in the hands of a few who say always “yes sir”. This also means: We have a feeling for what it means to live in the “ground zero” of an upcoming nuclear first strike. The first victims of the Cuba crisis would have died in Berlin.

This is, among other things, one of the reasons why the election of the President in the US in Germany has almost the same attention as the elections for the Bundestag.

Absolutely sure, the most powerful man in the world should have all those positive qualities and abilities you are talking about. And I am also absolutely sure that Mr. Donald Trump owns this, only partially. But the desire to have a philosopher at the head of the state has never been fulfilled since Plato. Perhaps fortunately. The only one I know was Marcus Aurelius and he was always at war.

The only chance is to go the long way, and observe him at each of his actions day and night, criticize him and convict him as a liar when he is lying. He can not take over the media like former Berlusconi in Italy or now Putin in Russia, Erdogan in Turkey or Orban in Hungary.

And try to find out what happened in Sweden.

[The last two paragraphs address my main point. Skip to that if you want.]
First of all, I want to apologize to you Jay for writing this comment, given that the subject matter is only sparsely connected to what you wrote in your post. I want to elaborate on your point that Trump acts well outside what’s considered normal presidential behavior. I don’t disagree, but I feel the need to provide further context, which unfortunately involves going off on a big tangent on Trump supporters and why they allow this deviation from normal presidential behavior to happen.

So let’s begin. In a healthy democracy sometimes the winner is the person or issue you don’t like. Basic fact I know, but we do ourselves a disservice by believing that all, most or many of THOSE voters are ignorant, gullible and/or irrational. While I do believe that ignorance and gullibility exists no matter which side of the political spectrum you sit on, I don’t accept the premise that there is no sense or rationale in what drives people to vote counter to their well-being and interests.

To put it another way, the views of those we disagree with are likely to be more comprehensible than we think. Maybe flawed, maybe exaggerated, and maybe dogmatic, but hardly so alien that we can’t understand what’s being said or believe that no thinking, caring human can accept such things. I’m reminded of a scene from Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing, where Bradley Whitford is addressing a bunch of high schoolers and asking them why they think Islamic extremists hate them. After hearing superficial replies such as ‘they hate our freedom and democracy’, Bradley (Josh) comments that surely there’s more to it than just jealousy and perhaps they have legitimate grievances.

It is on this note that I offer my own idea on comprehensible and rational beliefs OF (not as) a Trump supporter. They are flawed, and seem more like myths than facts, but I don’t think they can be easily dismissed as insignificant or groundless.

1. Media/Liberals/Democrats are always so hysterical and overly sensitive to every little thing that happens. Why should we listen to you when you keep manufacturing outrage and sensationalism? Fascism? Nuclear war? Don’t be a child. Maybe I’ll listen to you when you show some objectivity (i.e. don’t hide, diminish or qualify an event when it doesn’t go your way) or when something bad actually happens.

2. You wonder why we are so nonplussed about how Trump is handling things in such a way that is so wildly different from what has been done before. Disruption and destabilization are exactly what we voted for in the first place. The problems within society and within America are precisely because of the political/media elites who live in their own bubble, deal with their own concerns, and are so completely separate from the reality of ordinary Americans that they pat themselves on the back for any small success in helping real America, while ignoring downward trends in financial security, public health and law and order.

3. So long as Trump is getting things done, we don’t care that he is flouting the law and ignoring checks and balances. You (i.e. regulators and media) do not have our sympathy as all you are doing is getting in his way.

4. When we say that Trump is one of us, we don’t mean he can relate to our financial and societal hardship. We mean that he’s NOT YOU, i.e. liberals, political/media elite.

5. Your experts are not to be trusted. What you call an expert, or to be more precise, whom you allow to be an expert, is solely based on whether or not they agree with your worldview, your values and what you consider to be bedrock facts. You do not value objectivity or truth, just your agenda. The failure of the election polls to predict supposedly impossible outcomes proves this.

6. Islam refuses to change their ways and adopt our cherished values. If they can’t even accept the rather basic idea that terrorism is wrong and should be condemned, I don’t want to live along aside them.

7. More importantly, I find it incomprehensible that the left refuses to acknowledge that Islam’s evil exists, or forgive them for their crimes or dangerous beliefs, yet at the same time condemn honest, law-abiding, hard-working Americans as racist for calling this out. This also extends to a not-insignificant proportion of African Americans and Hispanics who engage in criminal acts. Tell me why it’s wrong to call a criminal a criminal and not want him near me.

8. It just beggars belief that you sit there and lecture us on the evil and incompetence of our candidate, yet you dismiss the failures and evils of yours. Rather than address our fears and concerns about where America is headed because of the status quo, instead you deflect, shout labels and insults, and resort to fear mongering. You are the ones who refuse to have a proper conversation.

Again, no I do not subscribe to these beliefs.

This comment is already way too long, so I’ll end it with this. To stop Trump from himself requires us to shift the supporters who feed his ego. And to shift his supporters may require something rather drastic – addressing the insufficient (according to them) representation of their views within the mainstream press, even if it means swallowing that vile pill of false balance and political incorrectness. If you want them to listen to you, it is reasonable to assume they want to be listened to as well.

And it is probably not enough to have a couple of staffers who lean the other way. If a mainstream paper or news provider is supposed to represent the balanced views of a country/state, and half the country/state leans one way whereas the majority of staffers in a provider lean the other, can you really say that it is a representative paper? I suspect there’s a logical fallacy in what I just wrote, but it doesn’t change the fact that the grievance is too compelling for many to forgive or ignore. If you were to pick up anything from this post, it’s that we have a credibility problem.

Achim Kriechel says:

Just a short question to the fictitious Trump supporter:
Maybe I’m living in my own bubble. Are you sure you’re not?
But much more important is the question: Are you sure those who have your support do not have their own deals in mind as well, their own interests, which are as questionable as those you impute to me. Is there even a clue that they do it differently? Is there something you see in Mr. Trump’s past that he has not done in his own interest or for his own benefit? What about Mr. Steve Mnuchin and Mr. Wilbur Ross? Do you think water can suddenly flow uphill? Is there anything in the biography of these people that says they do not “deal with their own concerns” and they are not “completely separate from the reality of ordinary Americans”? That’s what I call, to set a fox to keep the geese.

Jay, thank you for this.

Trump is changing the US presidency and everyone’s expectations of it, and he certainly appears to be increasing the risk that the world (as we know it) ends sooner than later.

To me, these changes and heightened risks are the price we have to pay for the way life is for many people, many of whom voted for Trump. If we survive Trump, hopefully we will have paid for an improved understanding of our society, systems, and how to improve them.
[Caveat: “the way life is” may not be totally accurate – I think James Fallows of the Atlantic noted after the election that many Trump supporters (and others) thought things were “going to hell” across the country, even though their area was actually improving – a distortion caused by the media, it seems).]

As some have mentioned above, Trump is a symptom. A fundamental reason for him being elected seems to be feelings of despair / desperation among his supporters. This is explained well (to me) at least in part, here – https://medium.com/@DaleBeran/4chan-the-skeleton-key-to-the-rise-of-trump-624e7cb798cb#.6dzc5ohmz – and despair could be common among many of his supporters (other than those simply seeking to profit from his presidency).

If this is true in whole or in part, addressing it will require more than arguments, convincing, or any information-based approach really, because his supporters’ thinking and behaviour is emotionally driven – not rationally. Despair makes you desperate, and likely explains why an “abstract” concept (to many – most?) like nuclear annihilation doesn’t feel real enough to counteract the real feelings produced in daily life.

Those mentioning religious believers, who aren’t worried about the end of the world because they will be saved, also rings true.

If our goal is for the world not to end anytime soon and Trump is the most likely source of our destruction, we have to understand the people he draws power from and address their beliefs and behaviour.

You wanted a President so stop bitching.

Bytowner says:

Most of the human race wasn’t allowed a vote in this. Yet our lives are intended to be collateral damage should the one now in office go “off the rails”?

No, I don’t think we’ll stop complaining about the antics of any of the great powers of the day.

Bytowner says:

Prof. Rosen,

My apologies if I’ve overstepped my bounds as your guest here.

Hi Mai,uedFodr days ago Russia announced it was adding Canadian dollars to its currency to reduce its dependence on the U.S. dollar. So it”s not a conversion, as much as an avoidance of the U.S. dollar.

This piece may help explain the inevitable “unbuilding” in progress:

The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Narcissist

Heya Ian – the Ridley website is very well detailed on the sizing aspects, but i ordered a 52cm (normally ride a 54cm, but i like a shorter top tube, and Ridley’s all seem to come 26;long’.)I&#82181m 5’10, and my inseam is about 33″. I didn’t have to cut the seat mast either, i’ve just added in the smallest spacer, and it seems about right!Let me know if you have any other q’s, it rides like a dream!!!

Deadly accurate answer. You’ve hit the buellsye!