Opinion: Are We Really Giving an Impulsive Novice Like Trump the Nuclear Codes?

Opinion: Are We Really Giving an Impulsive Novice Like Trump the Nuclear Codes?

President-elect Donald Trump’s tweets not only breach a sacred U.S. presidential taboo; they are also likely to usher in an era of uncertainty and fear not seen since World War II.

Opinion - commentary -analysisAvner Cohen | Haaretz

For more than seven decades – from the administration of President Harry S. Truman to that of outgoing President Barack Obama – a kind of political and diplomatic taboo formed in the United States of America: Nuclear weapons are not a subject for public discussion, and certainly not without preparation. Nuclear weapons should be treated as a special case, one that is beyond the accepted political discourse. This taboo, the product of a custom that is not enshrined in any law, is considered a means of measuring presidential responsibility.  

Last month, though, in the blink of an eye, President-elect Donald Trump spit on this sacred taboo in a Twitter post. “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” he tweeted on December 22. There are some who say Trump is so ignorant, he is completely unaware of the power of that nuclear taboo.  

Trump’s tweet was a blatant defiance of U.S.A. policy that goes back to the time of President Ronald Reagan, a policy five subsequent presidents have stood behind. It holds that the United States of America seeks to reduce nuclear arsenals and the role atomic weaponry plays in global diplomacy.

The following day, after Trump’s advisers sought to put a different spin on their boss’ foolish statement and claim that it was nothing more than a comment on the dangers of nuclear proliferation, Trump amazed the world yet again.

In an interview that was meant to minimize the damage, and in response to the claim that such a tweet could spur a renewed global nuclear arms race – or at least legitimize it – the president-elect nonchalantly told a reporter: “Let it be an arms race … we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.” In less than 24 hours, President-elect Donald Trump had twice violated the basic no-no of the nuclear age.

All of Trump’s tweets, including the embarrassing series of comments about a former beauty queen, demonstrate that he is impulsive, unbalanced and not in control of himself, a person responding immediately to every provocation, whether large or small, that exceeds his threshold. His responses are knee-jerk reactions and not subject to a common-sense review, whether by Trump himself or his institutional gatekeepers.

Trump is addicted to tweeting (and has over 18 million followers on his Twitter account). And just as he reported to no one when he was a businessman – never being bound to a board of directors sitting above him – now, too, Trump sees himself as a leader who is not obliged to account for his actions, so long as he doesn’t violate the letter of the law.

His Democratic presidential challenger, Hillary Clinton, was convinced that if she could successfully convey the message to the U.S.A. electorate that Trump was clearly unfit for the role, the public would understand that they had no choice but to vote for her – if for no other reason than because an unstable individual mustn’t be elected president. And since she was the only rational, stable person in the race, the electorate would therefore cast its vote for her by default, even if many voters strongly disliked her.

Clinton believed there was no more effective way to sell this message than via the nuclear issue. In one TV ad last October, she used the dramatic opening footage from one of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ads in his 1964 race against Barry Goldwater. It showed a girl, “Daisy,” plucking the petals of a flower one by one: after she got to the last one, the camera zoomed into the black of her eye and the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb appeared on the screen. Clinton concluded her ad by stating that someone who responds impulsively on Twitter can’t be entrusted with America’s nuclear codes.

But not only did the clearly unqualified candidate win the election; he will also take possession of the briefcase with the nuclear codes. Now he is tweeting nonsense about things he knows nothing about, on subjects his predecessors as president always treated with reverence. There’s no knowing whether Trump is tweeting his crazy thoughts to the world as a narcissistic act or one of megalomania and arrogance. But since these thoughts now have the aura of a future presidential policy, they are truly frightening.

On January 20, when Trump becomes the one with the nuclear codes, the world will be entering an era of uncertainty and fear, the likes of which it hasn’t known since the end of World War II.

The writer is a professor of nuclear nonproliferation studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • q4od  On 01/03/2017 at 5:12 am

    We have to live with their decision and we cannot do anything about it. The people have spoken. Let’s see what happens!


  • ndtewarie  On 01/03/2017 at 9:52 am

    Profesor,you erred badly.
    Shame on you. a man of your integrity and social decorum and intelligence can harbour so many negative ideas.
    Happy New Year.!

  • Ron Saywack  On 01/03/2017 at 11:24 am

    “But not only did the clearly unqualified candidate win the election; he will also take possession of the briefcase with the nuclear codes.”

    Questions for the author:

    1) What are the qualifications of a presidential candidate, Mr. Cohen?

    2) Why did you not state what those qualifications are?

    To be qualified to run for president of the United States, a candidate must be a natural-born citizen of the U.S., be at least 35 years old and must have lived in the U.S. for at least 14 years. That’s it, Mr. Cohen. He does not necessarily have to be Rhodes scholar. I think Mr. Trump has met those requirements.

    FYI, even Ted Cruz is considered a natural-born citizen of the U.S., even though he was born in Canada to a Cuban father and an American mother. Only one parent needs to be an American citizen for a candidate to be deemed a natural-born citizen.

    Yes, Trump will take possession of the briefcase containing the nuclear codes, as all presidents do. And even though the president is empowered to authorise the launch of a nuclear attack, such a decision is not his alone to make. It has to be jointly made between he and the Defense Secretary.

    Additionally, the U.S. Constitution provides numerous checks and balances to prevent any form of authoritarian rule. Furthermore, it must be noted that only Congress can authorise war.

    It should also be noted that similar concerns (re: mental acuity) were raised about Ronald Reagan when he was elected in 1980. Today, Reagan is seen as one of the better presidents in history.

    Ron Saywack.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 01/03/2017 at 4:58 pm

    I’m a Christian and a pastor and I stand fully against Donald Trump.
    Here are 25 reasons why, in no particular order:

    1. Because peace-loving Muslims should have as much religious freedom in the U.S.A. as peace-loving Christians.

    2. Because LGBTQ people are beautiful and they deserve every right and liberty this country has for its citizens.

    3. Because I have a wife and a mom and a sister and a daughter, all of whom I love and respect.

    4. Because Black Lives Matter.

    5. Because character still counts.

    6. Because declaring war isn’t something responsible leaders do cavalierly or for cheap applause.

    7. Because a person’s right to marriage shouldn’t be the jurisdiction of someone currently on their third.

    8. Because to legitimately claim Christianity you need to at least slightly resemble Jesus.

    9. Because we’re all immigrants here.

    10. Because I teach my son not to be a bully.

    11. Because “being on TV” isn’t a credential.

    12. Because Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream and this wasn’t it.

    13. Because religion shouldn’t be a costume you put on only when it helps.

    14. Because this isn’t the Wild West and we don’t duel with pistols in the streets.

    15. Because intelligent adults don’t say “The Blacks”, The Mexicans”, and “The Gays”.

    16. Because diversity is inherently American and exclusion is not.

    17. Because people who flee war, oppression, and violence should not be greeted with more of the same.

    18. Because a man talking about a female rival’s physical appearance or sex life is Jurassic behaviour.

    19. Because “an eye for an eye” is actually the opposite of Jesus’ teachings.

    20. Because we don’t need politicians who feel compelled to talk about their body parts.

    21. Because using violence to silence dissension is a dangerous business for a Commander-In-Chief.

    22. Because fear and hatred shouldn’t be political currency.

    23. Because racism and bigotry are things we’re trying to destroy, not elevate.

    24. Because America is already great.

    25. Because my personal faith would feel fraudulent and useless if I didn’t.

    If your politics don’t align with the above statements, you might well be tempted to label this as an unnecessarily negative post and dismiss it all as divisive.

    On the contrary, it’s a hopeful affirmation of what I believe and of the kind of world I’m fighting for my children to inherit. It’s also fully conducive to my faith tradition.

    You may be able to use your religion to justify supporting Donald Trump, but I can’t. You’re more than welcome to disagree with me and to vote your conscience.

    I’m not here to debate your conclusions or critique you for having them. That’s actually the point of all of this.

    These are my personal convictions as a father, husband, pastor, Christian — and as a member of Humanity.

    – Pastor John Pavlovitz

  • Albert  On 01/03/2017 at 9:56 pm

    @Ron Good piece, but did Congress authorise the war in Afghanistan or against ISIS?

  • Ron Saywack  On 01/04/2017 at 5:51 am

    Great observation.

    In fact, the U.S. has not formally declared war since WW II.

    President Bush considered the attacks on the World Trade Center an “act of war” and thus retaliatory strikes in Afghanistan, under those circumstances, were justified.

    Article II, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution, provides a loophole for the president to bypass Congress. Harry Truman was the first to do so in 1950 when he went to war in Korea.

    I don’t see your point in referencing an aberrant entity as ISIS. Such cancers, most will agree, must be cauterised and eradicated by all means, if at all possible.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s