i wrote about Trump's scary Korea talk today for Salon:
If there's one thing we can be sure of it's that President Donald J. Trump believes he is one of the smartest men in the world. He has told us so over and over again. He brags about everything, of course, but there is nothing, not even his alleged great wealth or the size of his "hands," that he boasts about more often than his supposedly high IQ. He attributes this intellectual superiority to his "good German genes," for which he says he's very grateful.
In the PBS documentary "The Choice," Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio explained that "the [Trump] family subscribes to a racehorse theory of human development. They believe that there are superior people and that if you put together the genes of a superior woman and a superior man, you get a superior offspring."
Indeed, Trump commonly claims that the accomplishments of his late uncle, John Trump, a prominent electrical engineer and inventor who taught at MIT for many years, is proof of his own genius. Trump has often repeated versions of this: “My father’s brother was a brilliant man . . . We have very good genetics . . . I mean, it’s a good gene pool right there," pointing to his head. CNN counted 22 times that Trump has either referred to his own IQ or insulted someone else for having a low one (in his opinion). This is a key concept for him:
Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don't feel so stupid or insecure,it's not your fault
On Tuesday, Fortune published a long interview with Trump in which he was asked about the report that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called him a fucking moron. He replied, “I think it's fake news, but if he did that, I guess we'll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.” One suspects that the vast majority of people have a good guess as to which one would win too.
A reporter asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about that at Tuesday's press briefing, and she said it had been a joke. Maybe the IQ challenge was, but it's quite clear that Trump believes his intellect is superior to just about anyone, which is actually dangerous, since his words and actions indicate quite the opposite. What gets lost in all this is the reason Tillerson allegedly made the "fucking moron" comment in the first place.
He said it after a July meeting in the Situation Room with Trump and his national security team, where the president repeatedly demanded that the commanding general in Afghanistan be fired because he hadn't won the war. Trump had apparently spoken with some veterans who told him that he wasn't getting good advice from his top brass and that the NATO partners there were dropping the ball. He was also upset that Chinese firms have contracts for mineral rights in Afghanistan; he thinks U.S. firms should hold such rights, since America is waging a war in the country. He then told a story about how the 21 Club, a venerable Manhattan restaurant, had shut its doors for a year for a botched renovation recommended by a consultant, when they could have done better by asking the wait staff.
That story wasn't true, of course, and it was a completely inappropriate anecdote. It showed in living color how poorly equipped and inadequate Donald Trump is for the job of commander in chief, whatever his vaunted IQ may be. Or, to put it another way, he's a freaking moron.
Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, started sounding the alarm shortly thereafter, saying “I do think there need to be some radical changes. The president . . . has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful." Last week, as everyone knows by now, Corker went even further, saying that Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly are what "separate the country from chaos," provoking an extended Twitter attack from Trump. Corker then spoke to The New York Times and told a reporter what was really on his mind: The president's undisciplined behavior could be leading us into World War III.
The news cycle has been crazy these last couple of weeks, with Trump ginning up a culture-war battle over the NFL, the ongoing disaster in Puerto Rico, the horrific massacre in Las Vegas and now the Harvey Weinstein sexual-assault scandal. It is very difficult to focus on anything specific for longer than a few minutes before something new crashes into your field of vision. All of these are important issues, with lives at stake and tremendous cultural significance.
But what is happening with North Korea is an existential threat. With his ongoing Twitter taunts and insistence that only "one thing" will resolve the crisis (and it isn't diplomacy), Trump seems to be preparing to start a war that could easily hurtle out of control into a nuclear conflagration.
In the middle of all this chaos, last week he held a meeting with his top military brass in the cabinet room to discuss North Korea and Iran. He told them, “Moving forward, I expect you to provide me with a broad range of military options, when needed, at a much faster pace." It was after that meeting that he called the press in and said mysteriously, "This is the calm before the storm."
Trump shoots his mouth off all the time, and it's tempting to write this off as another reality-show promo. But this behavior is alarming people who understand the stakes and realize that at the very least, this presidential craziness could lead to a calamitous miscalculation. Since Congress appears to be paralyzed, it looks to be up to the president's hand-picked generals to avert a potential nuclear war.
Tuesday evening on Chris Hayes' show, Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman said: "We have a White House where the staff views the president almost as a national security risk," and reported that a prominent GOP source told him he imagines that Mattis and Kelly have had conversations about what to do if Trump lunges for the nuclear football.
Bloomberg reported on Tuesday night that Trump wants to go to South Korea on his upcoming trip to Asia, undoubtedly so he can stare even more menacingly across the DMZ than Mike Pence did. But whether he does or not, according to the report, "Trump is expected to send a 'significant message' to North Korea either verbally or 'kinetically' during the trip." In this context, "kinetic" is a euphemism for military action involving lethal force.
At this point, all we can do is hope that Trump's inner circle can prevent him from reaching for the button. The situation may sound farcical, but this is no joke.