After Trump won the election, I was worried that the United States might actually slide into fascism. It’s a little over a year later, and, honestly, I’m still worried about that, but now I have a new worry: that we might have a nuclear war, with both North Korea and the United States launching successful attacks, probably with the United States firing first. And what especially worries me here is that I can’t actually see a good reason to think this won’t happen, and in fact it feels like it could happen literally any day now.

When worrying about fascism, I could at least be optimistic that political institutions would successfully stand against it, and that, as a last bulwark, protests could be successful. I’ve seen both bad and good signs in both of those potential protections against fascism, but at least there’s a case there.

With nuclear war, though: what exactly is the case that Trump won’t launch a missile against North Korea? That he’ll be horrified by the potential consequences? Trump has consistently demonstrated an almost total lack of that sort of reflection. That he’ll want to think hard about consequences of his decisions? Trump has shown a staggering lack of interest in getting real information, preferring instead to be led around by blowhards on TV. That he won’t respond emotionally to events? Over and over again, Trump has shown that he can be baited by a tweet. That his advisors will convince him otherwise? I’m sure that some of his advisors think that a nuclear first strike would be a horrific idea, but I’m equally sure that some of them think it’s a great idea. That somebody in the military chain of command would refuse the order? I see no reason to believe that. That the Constitution says that Congress has the power to declare war, not the President, so surely he wouldn’t be able to? Okay, I’m just including that one as a joke, and I can’t blame that one on Trump or the Republican party: we have decades of active bipartisan undermining of that portion of the Constitution.

There is, I guess, one potential source of optimism: Trump talks up stuff (whether past actions or future actions) an awful lot more than he actually does stuff. And, actually, now that I type that out, that really is a reason to be optimistic. Hmm…


If we launch a nuclear missile and North Korea fires back, what next? On a purely selfish level: I can imagine North Korea deciding that a West Coast US target would make sense, in which case San Francisco is a logical target. I assume I and my work are far enough away from San Francisco to survive that; I’ll just hope that North Korea doesn’t decide that Silicon Valley isn’t a better target. I don’t think there will be too many nuclear exchanges past that: I doubt North Korea has all that many bombs and missiles, so I guess it turns into a conventional war after that? (Which, sadly, is something we’ve seen a lot of.)

I was going to say that I’m also not worried about other countries joining in the exchange; and I do think that that’s true. (Though other countries might be targets of North Korean attacks: people in Seoul probably have the most cause for worry, and Japan as well. Or rather, the most cause for worry outside of North Korea itself.) But I don’t really see China being complacent about the United States taking military action on their border, against a state that China has supported in the past; I have no idea exactly how that would play out in practice, though.


Setting aside the affects on me locally, what about on the nation as a whole? Probably Washington D.C. is a more likely target; I don’t know if we’re sure that North Korean ICBMs can reach that far, but it sounds like they can? And if that happens, I have no idea what the consequences will be for our system of governance, but I can’t imagine they would be good. Even if North Korea chooses another target, though, we’ll have millions (hundreds of thousands if I’m optimistic) of deaths in the country; we’ve had a decade and a half of overblown reaction to a couple of thousand people dying in an attack, this would be much worse.

And, of course, we have a long-standing tradition of using wars and other forms of demonization as excuse to ram through favored political platforms, especially repressive ones; this would absolutely be no exception.

I’d like to think that Trump getting us into war would make more people realize that he was an awful choice as president; but I think more people would respond by saying that a war isn’t time to argue about the president. And I also think that the media and government would work together to downplay protests, even if they turn out to be massive.


That’s domestically; what about internationally? We’ve already lost a lot of international respect over the last year; but I’d have to think that a nuclear first strike would cause a lot more countries to treat us as actively dangerous. Which, I’m sure, third world countries already do: we’ve spent the past century and more going around the world overthrowing governments and installing puppet regimes. But if more powerful countries start seeing the US as a source of instability rather than stability, that feels like a state change? And if it leads to serious sanctions (which, I think, I would hope it would?), that would ratchet up the tension.


I dunno. I guess, typing this out, I’m actually a little more optimistic, because I really do believe that Trump is almost all bluster, that he himself doesn’t do much. Not that he didn’t, say, support the tax bill or trying to get rid of Obamacare, but Congress was driving both of those; he probably had more ties to the Muslim Ban, but even there, I suspect it was advisors driving matters in a way that they wouldn’t be able to drive a nuclear first strike so easily. So I guess this is the time to be grateful that we have a president who far prefers to be at his golf course instead of doing any actual work…

Post Revisions:

This post has not been revised since publication.