Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Kim Jong-don

Image by @DannyDutch.

Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that President Trump's first order was to renovate and modernize the US nuclear arsenal, so that it's now far stronger and more powerful than ever before?

Answer: In principle, yes, but:
  • first of all, the order (Memorandum of January 27, on "Rebuilding the U.S. Armed Forces") was actually asking the Secretary of Defense and OMB manager to produce not a renovated nuclear arsenal but a number of documents, including an overall Readiness Review of the armed forces, a National Defense Strategy, a Ballistic Missile Review, and a Nuclear Posture Review to assess how far "United States nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies";
  • second of all, you'd probably have to wait until after the last review is issued—it's supposed to come out at the end of this year—to get a sense of whether or not it's going to lead to a renovation and modernization beyond the 30-year trillion-dollar modernization program laid down by the Obama administration;
  • third of all, because the Trump review hasn't been completed, it's really hard to see how it could have done anything already to make the US nuclear arsenal stronger and more powerful than previously, unless they're planning to install time travel to build a better past; and
  • fourth of all, it wasn't the first order (that was an executive order of January 20 directing the IRS not to enforce the requirement that tax filers show they have health insurance so that the government won't be able to collect the tax penalties from those who don't, and begging Congress to repeal and replace the PPACA—on the first, nobody was sure by April 18 what they were required to do, and tax preparers were advising everybody to comply with the Obama law as written; on the second, his congressional appeal has of course crashed) but the eighth memorandum, and overall 12th or 13th (15th according to the Rude One).

We seem to be hitting some new level of crazy again, with the North Korea crisis, if it is a crisis—the secretary of state seems to prefer the view that it isn't ("I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days"), and I have no reason to be certain that he speaks any less authoritatively about US foreign policy than Trump does. It's clear that Trump does not have authority to say anything, though the people in charge have no means of shutting him up.

We all thought yesterday's outburst—

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Mr. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., where he is spending much of the month on a working vacation. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Referring to North Korea’s volatile leader, Kim Jong-un, Mr. Trump said, “He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said, they will be met with fire and fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
—was scripted, presumably by Stephen Miller, but now it turns out to have been composed spontaneously (the paper he seemed to be reading from was notes on the opioid crisis, the subject proper of the question session), in its remarkably even trochaic/iambic tetrameter (except for the pentameter ninth line, like the Alexandrine tail wagging at the end of a Spenserian stanza):

Angry Song
     North Korea best not make
     any more threats to the United States.
     They will be met with fire and fury
     like the world has never seen.
     He has been very threatening,
     beyond a normal state, and as
     I said, they will be met with fire
     and fury and frankly power, the likes
of which this world has never seen before.
Blindsiding his entire staff, including Bannon (who apparently wants to go easy on North Korea; he'd rather be bombing Iran) and the new chief of staff John Kelly, who is supposed to be an effective babysitter. I think it's likely that the rest of the world is getting less thrown off by these things and more understanding that Trump just doesn't speak for the regime.

When I first read the text last night, I imagined hearing it in the throbbing, weepy, lost-in-wonderment tone of a North Korean radio announcer, and I started thinking about the extraordinary Kimmishness of the Trump administration as it it developing. The emotionalism of the language, Trump's and Conway's and Bannon's and so on, the lack of concern with truthfulness, the hungry atavistic dynasticism, the insistence on joyous masses, the imaginary crowds, the whole Trump TV thing and the twice-a-day delivery to the president himself of special "good news" folders (instituted by the lamented Priebus and Spicer and produced by the RNC) to let him know day in and day out how great he is, just in case he has any doubts. It's so weird—we think of propaganda as something imposed by the regime on the people, but in Trumplandia it's something they must send upwards, to the president himself; he's the one who needs to be lied to. Though he still might dump you even if you do a really bang-up job.

One reason for arguing that Trump is not a fascist is that he really just bears the marks of some more exotic species of misgovernment, and that of the Kim family (I'm thinking more of the late Kim Jong-il, the film director, than of his martial father or eternally delighted son) in particular.

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