For months, worried observers of the Trump administration have wondered what would happen when the president first faced a bona fide, urgent international crisis out of his own control.
This week, the world seems terrifyingly close to getting an answer.
On Monday, the United Nations Security Council approved new sanctions on North Korea. On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that the North Korean regime has for the first time produced a miniaturized warhead that can be attached to a nuclear missile. And later on Tuesday, speaking at a briefing on the opioid crisis, President Trump offered an unusually warlike, blunt statement.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” he said. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He 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.”
At a moment of nuclear brinksmanship like this, any citizen of the United States wants a few things from a leader. You want someone you can trust to tell the truth, and who foreign leaders view as credible, so that threats and statements alike are taken seriously. You want someone who is known to be able to carefully sift through a lot of evidence and assess upsides from downsides. You want someone who has a team of expert advisers whose judgment he trusts and takes seriously. And you want someone who is able to take bad news.
The problem is that Trump has none of these characteristics. He has shown himself to be prolifically dishonest. The president has lied to the public about matters great and small, from the petty (the size of his inauguration crowd) to the serious (accusations of wiretapping, his own position on major matters) to the absurd (outright denying things he said publicly). As a result, Americans are in no position to trust the things he might tell them in a crisis, whether those remarks are delivered from behind the Resolute desk or via tweet.
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As if that were not bad enough, foreign leaders can’t trust what he says either. An adversary has no idea whether to take threats from Trump seriously (to say nothing of literally). He’s a man who made empty threats throughout his career, repeatedly suggesting he’d sue people who said and did things he didn’t…