Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” while at his golf course in Bedminster. The prospect of a nuclear engagement is a threat millions of lives in the Korean peninsula, Japan, Asia-Pacific, and the United States. That level of destruction would alter humanity.
On Tuesday, Donald Trump addressed the media during his vacation in Bedminster, NJ. He addressed North Korea, saying “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He [Kim Jong-Un] has been very threatening beyond a normal statement. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
This followed reports by the Washington Post that North Korea had achieved the ability to produce a miniature nuclear warhead. This is a key technological hurdle, as the warheads can now be placed on North Korean missiles. North Korea’s technology has still not been able to develop a missile capable of re-entering the earth’s atmosphere without dissolving.
North Korea responded later that day, stating that if attacked, they would strike Guam to create “an enveloping fire.” The United States has an Air Force base in Guam.
Through the rest of Tuesday and Wednesday, politicians responded to the statements made by Trump.
For a brief FAQ on North Korea, check out this New York Times article. It contains links to more in-depth North Korea stories throughout.
The statements have overtaken media coverage as they indicate a new level of bellicosity in relations with North Korea. Major news organizations are printing multiple articles covering and analyzing the statements.
There is a further element buoying this story which is the personalities of Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump interacting. Kim Jong-Un has long been considered pugnacious. His numerous apocalyptic warnings to the United States, coupled with North Korean propaganda videos, have made him seem unhinged. Donald Trump has failed to demonstrate rational thought, failed to show consideration of consequences for his statements, failed to show an ability to lower tensions, and a habit of pathologically lying. Now, nuclear weapons are bringing two world leaders who lack the reticence for conflict that would save millions of lives.
In a scenario where people had greater confidence in their leadership’s thought process, one would see more supportive statements from the people surrounding Donald Trump. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the first major figure to defuse Trump’s bombast.
Tillerson said, “I think Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days…Nothing I have seen and nothing I know of would indicate the situation has dramatically changed in the last 24 hours.”
Tillerson went on to defend Trump, “I think what the President was doing was sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language.”
Note that the use of “I think” indicates Tillerson is engaging in conjecture. He was not part of formulating these remarks.
That statement makes up a headline story, just beneath the ones about Trump’s initial remarks, on The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Fox News, NBC News, ABC News (where this is actually the headline story), and CBS News. The media has coalesced, including Fox, around a statement made by Tillerson to de-escalate Trump’s rhetoric. This is more noteworthy if it is true that Tillerson was blindsided by the remarks. That would imply that the prominence given to Tillerson through the media does not match any sway he has (or does not have) in private.
CNN featured the response from around Congress. CNN began the article with Senator McCain’s response before moving onto the response from other members of Congress.
“I take exception to the President’s comments because you’ve got to be sure that you can do what you say you’re going to do,” the Arizona Republican said in an interview with Phoenix radio station KTAR. “The great leaders I’ve seen don’t threaten unless they’re ready to act and I’m not sure President Trump is ready to act.”
“It’s not terrible what he said,” McCain said. “It’s kind of the classic Trump in that he overstates things.”
Chuck Schumer called the comments “reckless.”
A second Republican response came from Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK): [He] told CNN’s Erin Burnett that a preemptive strike against the North Korean regime would require Congress’ approval.
“The administration has done a good job up until now working closely with the Congress on their broader strategy. But we’re going to play an important role here,” Sullivan said Tuesday night.
On Twitter Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) highlighted some of the pragmatic challenges when making statements like these.
USA Today has a story collecting the responses from world leaders. The consensus is strongly in favor of avoiding military action. There is no support for Trump’s statement.
In fact, it is difficult to find any person who has come forward to say that Trump was right to say that. Or to insinuate that his comments were helpful in dealing with North Korea in a non-military matter.
Fox News is the most sympathetic to Trump and comments like this are right in their wheelhouse. Fox News prefers to present news in terms of good-guys and bad-guys and add a combative flare to any news story. Since there is no chorus of support for Trump’s remarks, Fox frames the crisis by attacking those who were critical of Trump.
The main page headline: “TRUMP’S TOUGH TALK: Dems call North Korea threat ‘reckless,’ but experts say diplomacy failing”
Fox often uses headlines to tell more of the story than most media outlets. Let’s break this down into three parts:
1. “TRUMP’S TOUGH TALK” this is the all caps, foremost takeaway. Trump is characterized as tough. Tough talk is often associated with being frank and to the point. So in three words, Fox conveys that Trump, with true John Wayne swagger, did away with niceties and gave North Korea a dressing down.
2. “Dems call North Korea threat ‘reckless,’ – this is a quote from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. It narrows the criticism of Trump to just Democrats. Also, when juxtaposed to Trump’s tough talking, it paints the Democrats as the frail, hand-wringing foil to Donald Trump. Donald Trump took action; the Democrats quibbled.
3. “but experts say diplomacy failing” – an ending that affirms Trump and weakens Democrats. The use of “but” changes the direction of the headline to implicate that the preceding clause is being contradicted. Read it as, “Dems call North Korea threat ‘reckless’ but experts say diplomacy failing” and you can conclude that “experts” are disagreeing with the notion that it was a “reckless” remark.
So Fox has effectively limited the scope of the statement to a digestible Trump vs. Democrats issue. This fits much easier into the narrative that Fox presents on a daily basis, and is therefore familiar to regular viewers.
1. Should the media cover the muted response from Republicans? A common tactic to defending an indefensible statement is to avoid saying anything at all. Both parties use this, but the Republican party has adopted it with much greater frequency as Trump tweets extemporaneous thoughts on a regular basis. In the last 24 hours, Paul Ryan has tweeted multiples times about lowering taxes. But has not addressed the looming threat of war coming from the Commander-in-Chief. When Republicans do not comment on stories, the media excludes them and works with the quotes that are provided. However, should they point out how no elected officials have supported the President? Should the media be more explicit that all statements so far have been directed at calming tensions, rather than supporting Trump’s “fire and fury?”
2. What can be done? The threat of war with a nuclear state risks millions of lives. North Korea is rapidly developing technology to reach the U.S. mainland. When that is developed, every life will be at risk. The stability of the United States will be held at the whims of an unstable North Korean dictator. You can pressure your elected officials to make a statement. Ask them to vocalize their opinion on the remarks.