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With war drums banging in the distance, Trump’s presidency becomes more normal—and more frightening.
This is what happens when you normalize Donald Trump.
While eating “a beautiful piece of chocolate cake” with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, his private resort, President Trump launched an airstrike on Syria. On April 6, the military bombarded the country’s Shayrat Airbase with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles. The assault was a response to a chemical weapons attack waged earlier in the week by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Although Trump claimed that he was moved by images on television of the children killed in that attack, it was Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who tipped the scales in urging the president to act. Eric Trump, the POTUS’ eldest son, said that Ivanka had been “heartbroken and outraged” by the violence.
Instead of questioning the decision-making of a president who allows his children to guide international policy, the media widely praised Trump, calling his actions “presidential.”
MSNBC anchor Brian Williams, who called the airstrike “beautiful” three times during an on-air segment, quoted the late Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan” in praise of Trump. Williams called footage of the attack “beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments.” Over at CNN, Fareed Zakaria claimed that the Syria strike was a leader-making moment for the new president. “I think Donald Trump became the President of the United States,” claimed Zakaria, eyes so filled with stars they were practically leaking dust. The pundit added that it was a “big moment” for the POTUS.
Longtime correspondent Dan Rather claimed that the number of media figures who “lauded” the attack on al-Assad was “concerning,” which is putting it lightly. “War must never be considered a public relations operation,” Rather wrote in a Facebook post. “It is not a way for an Administration to gain a narrative. It is a step into a dangerous unknown and its full impact is impossible to predict, especially in the immediate wake of the first strike.”
The praise for Trump’s emotional, unilateral assault on a foreign power—one waged without discussion with Congress or a mandate from the public—is not only “dangerous” because it legitimizes going to war whenever the president needs a boost for his sad, pathetic poll numbers. It is dangerous because it has prefaced our current situation in North Korea, in which an administration emboldened by the use of its war powers stands on the brink of destruction with a regime even more hostile and unpredictable than our own.
The past week has represented a horrifying slippery slope in breaking with 70 years of international norms when it comes to the use of weapons of mass destruction.
On Wednesday, the U.S. military detonated the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan. Weighing approximately 21,600 pounds, the GPS-guided device was dropped on the Achin district, which is reportedly home to underground tunnels used by ISIS. Although Afghan officials have reported that “dozens” of Islamic militants were killed in the attack, there have been few reports as to civilian casualties. The MOAB is the largest non-nuclear device ever deployed by the U.S. government and the most massive used in combat since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
The president has previously claimed that atomic weaponry, like those that killed over 350,000 Japanese, aren’t off the table. Trump tweeted last September that the U.S. must “strengthen and expand” its nuclear capability “until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
But there’s a reason that for five decades, presidents have sought to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons: No one wants a repeat of World War II.
Although the 1945 attack took the lives of 150,000 people, thousands of Japanese developed cancer due to radiation exposure. Families gave birth to deformed children, born with one eye or no legs, for generations. Survivors were scarred for the rest of their lives. Sunao Tsuboi was hospitalized 11 times after his entire body was scalded by the blast. His face is covered in scars, and parts of his hair were burned off. At 91, Sunao still draws on his eyebrows. Sunao developed aplastic anemia, a rare blood disorder, as a result of the fallout and has to receive a blood transfusion every two weeks to stay alive. There are thousands of stories exactly like his.
Trump, however, is teetering perilously close to repeating the horrors of past conflicts. According to a report from NBC News, North Korea is preparing for a nuclear weapons test on April 15 to celebrate Day of the Sun, a holiday honoring the birth of the nation’s founder Kim Il-sung. That will be the sixth test of the totalitarian country’s atomic capabilities since 2006, as well as the latest in the past few months.
The president has responded not with a call for unity in the face of a second missile crisis, like the one that saw the U.S. and Cuba seconds away from pushing the proverbial red button in the ‘60s. Reports suggest the military is setting the stage for a “preemptive strike” should Kim’s regime—which has claimed that the country is on the verge of a “big and important event”—express further hostility and aggression toward foreign powers. Although NBC News reports that North Korea does not yet have the capabilities to launch an intercontinental strike, Kim is more likely to attack the nation’s neighbors to the South.
Moving the needle closer to nuclear midnight is a horrifying reality, but it is the one millions asked for by voting for a tyrannical egomaniac with a trigger-happy finger. What’s even more sobering, though, is that while there’s widespread disdain for the current commander-in-chief, his policies remain surprisingly popular. Americans might loathe the means, but they approve of the ends.
The U.S. populace has consistently given a thumbs up to even the president’s most repugnant actions. After Trump banned entrants from seven Muslim-majority nations, a poll from Politico and Morning Consult showed that 55 percent of voters supported his actions. Following the attack on Syria, the same outlets found that 63 percent of those polled wanted more U.S. intervention in the country, with 31 percent of respondents claiming they desired “much more” action. His overall poll numbers remain low (in the low 40s), but currently, more Americans support the GOP agenda than the Democratic platform. That can’t be ignored.
For months, critics have warned of normalizing Trump, but the truth is that Trump was already normalized. People might be uncomfortable with an Oval Office occupant who insults the family of a fallen soldier and starts Twitter feuds with Nordstrom, but if they’re OK with the fact that the POTUS supports the forced removal of millions of undocumented workers, quietly rolls back the rights of LGBTQ Americans, and declares war on any country he likes just because his daughter told him to, what’s the bloody difference?
Armed conflict in Syria and Afghanistan isn’t normal. It isn’t beautiful, no matter what kind of cake you’re eating. And it isn’t going to save Donald Trump’s garbage fire of a presidency. Patting the White House on the back for indiscriminate warmongering will only push America further toward repeating a disaster our country should have learned from a long time ago.
Nico Lang is an essayist, movie critic, and reporter who specializes in the intersection of politics and LGBTQ issues. His work has been featured in Rolling Stone, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, Jezebel, Esquire, and BuzzFeed, among other notable publications.