Thanks to his Apple-like obsession with proving to people that he can “think different” or at least differently than previous presidents, Donald Trump has repeatedly demonstrated his talent at improvising outlandish solutions to unsolvable problems. There was the “big, beautiful wall,” of course, his signature project to end the opioid crisis and banish rape on the US side of the border by confining the rapists to Mexico.
Trump’s latest foray into restoring order in a world whose climate has gone berserk (and “nobody really knows” why), followed his bold decision in 2017 to drop out of the Paris climate accords. That foolish agreement too narrowly focused on the question of keeping the temperature down.
Now that hurricane season is underway, his new initiative took the form of a suggestion to nuke the next tropical storm that tries to cross the eastern border of the US known as the Atlantic seaboard. This made a lot of sense, not only in terms of the threat to valuable real estate that hurricanes represent, but also in light of Trump’s reported question to a foreign policy expert back in 2016: “[I]f we have them [nuclear weapons], why can we use them?”
Wired sums up the history of thinking outside the box on the use of nuclear weapons and quotes AXIOS’ Jonathan Swan on Trump’s current thinking: “The idea has evidently surfaced multiple times in the administration, including during a hurricane preparedness briefings at the White House.” He recounts that Trump interrupted with these words: “I got it. I got it. Why don’t we nuke them?”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
Strategic thinking that permits politicians to imagine extreme and disproportionate ideas to solve real world problems and then allocate resources to those extreme ideas
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has as the theme of all its work the idea of preparedness. It’s a slightly awkward bit of vocabulary that, in terms of its basic meaning, could be replaced by the more familiar notion of readiness. But it appears to designate something more official, organized and bureaucratic. It has inescapable associations with defense and military-type operations, even if FEMA essentially addresses the response to natural catastrophes.
Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, adopted as the scouting motto, “Be prepared.” He offered this definition of its meaning: “[Y]ou are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.” The Boy Scout Handbook specifies the meaning: “His idea was that Scouts should prepare themselves to become productive citizens and strong leaders and to bring joy to other people … to be ready in mind and body and to meet with a strong heart whatever challenges await him.”
Preparedness quite naturally links to patriotic ideals, suggesting a connection with military defense. That may be why Trump thought nuclear weapons could constitute an appropriate response to hurricanes.
Students of Shakespeare remember that in the play’s final act, shortly before his tragic demise, Hamlet famously said: “There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.” Unlike FEMA, whose job is to prepare resources in case of a catastrophic event, Hamlet expresses a sentiment akin to inshallah (God willing) in Arabic.
Had Hamlet’s 16th-or 17th-century Danish court thought of creating its version of FEMA, perhaps Hamlet’s preparedness would have avoided the carnage at the end of that final scene in Act V. He might then, after exposing his uncle’s criminality, have become the new king, to reign happily ever after, meaning Denmark may never have had to listen to the “absurd” proposal of a future American president intent on buying a large island in the Atlantic under the Danish throne’s protection.
FEMA’s job is quite literally — to quote Hamlet again — to “take arms against a sea of troubles,” or, in the case of hurricanes, a troubled sea that threatens an innocent land. Why shouldn’t the land defend itself against an over-assertive ocean? Again, if you have nuclear weapons, why not use them? It’s always worth it, even if it’s a shot in the dark. It’s like slavery. Try it and if for any reason you discover that it doesn’t work, you can always give it up later and try something else (e.g., create a precarious salaried class).
Trump isn’t the first president to have considered the idea of nuking hurricanes. But the last one to do so was Harry Truman, the president who inaugurated the nuclear age when he authorized the launch of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945.
As Wired documents in copious detail, for several years Americans saw the atomic bomb and future nuclear devices as a potential solution to all the world’s problems and a response to all of humanity’s needs. Reading through the examples cited in the article of misplaced and utterly naive optimism expressed even by scientists in the post-World War II years, we might be reminded of similar attitudes expressed today concerning artificial intelligence (AI), robots and automation. Inebriated by the destruction of two Japanese cities and the majority of their populations, certain thinkers, planners and scientists imagined “using atomic weapons to melt the polar ice caps, gifting ‘the entire world a moister, warmer climate’” or “landscaping the earth.”
The awareness and consequent fear of radiation that quickly became evident, spawning dozens of horror movies like “Godzilla” and “Them”(both in 1954), definitively dampened the enthusiasm of the promoters of nuclear utopia. Fallout shelters became all the rage as the Cold War offered the promise of an unplanned and largely unprepared nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union.
Many people interpreted Donald Trump’s message, “Make America Great Again,” as a wish to return specifically to the America of the 1950s, when the domestic economy was expanding at the same time as the United States’ influence across the globe, in a world whose former colonial masters had lost all their former political traction and the resources they collectively controlled were now available for exploitation by American businesses. In some ways, that world never disappeared.
No one will now take seriously Trump’s attempt to counter the worst effects of climate change with a nuclear explosion or two, but many of the dreams imagined by the futurists enamored of nuclear power of that time are finding their expression in today’s wild dreams, such as the one shared by Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos of landscaping Mars (now that the Earth won’t allow it) or the forecast reign of AI, when it will have achieved the ultimate dream born in the 20th century’s consumer society, as people will finally be able to give up most forms of work to become pure consumers. The only productive jobs left will be coding, though there will probably be space for a political-industrial class that can make the decisions for the coders to implement — such as finding the best way to use nuclear explosions to counter the extreme weather we may be forced to watch on monitors as we retreat to our underground bunkers.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. UPDATED: August 29, 2019, at 12:00 GMT.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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