It seems everyone is talking about it. President Trump’s continuing sophomoric, vitriolic, racist language—even in the oval office, even in public settings—has set this country, and the whole world, on edge.
Meanwhile, the incident in Hawaii, where an impending nuclear attack was mistakenly broadcast to the whole state, became only the latest example of how fragile our interconnected world has become. Those living in Hawaii describe the terror they felt during the interminable half-hour when they believed they were under imminent attack.
Hawaii is geographically isolated. Many scenarios could have led people there to imagine they were in the cross-hairs of a “limited” nuclear war. The possibility that the threat broadcast across the state was real only amplifies the potential for accidental nuclear war that we have all come to accept as “normal.”
Current geopolitical dynamics cause us to live on a razor’s edge of annihilation, and when the President openly refers to other nations as “shithole” countries, whatever vestiges of international security we have left are threatened. These seemingly unrelated events are actually tied together in ways we might not at first imagine. Whether the subject is North Korea or Haiti, context matters. Words matter.
Mr. President, what were you thinking? Your doctor proclaimed this week that you were in excellent health and totally in control of your cognitive powers. So, what were you thinking? And, then, after demonizing Haiti and the whole continent of Africa, you extol the virtues of Norway? C’mon. You often tell us how smart you are and how media savvy. You spend endless hours watching television. You understand the power of symbolism, having used it over and over again in your campaign and during your time in the White House. If it isn’t your head that is muddled, it must be your heart that is empty. Is your disdain for black and brown people so deeply rooted that you simply cannot stop yourself from the most egregious (and inaccurate) comparison imaginable? Haiti and Norway? C’mon.
When the seemingly honest (if careless) mistake occurred in Hawaii and citizens across the state believed they were under a missile attack, we discovered how quickly the environment can shift from tranquil to terrifying. Headlines proclaimed: Panic in Paradise. Fortunately, though the communication system was exposed for being woefully inadequate, no one died. But, how do we measure the collective trauma wrought by this incident? And what role did the President’s ongoing racist comments play in this event?
Some 30 years ago, I wrote a play, Let Me Fluff Your Pillow, that was performed in community theatres and colleges in New York and New Jersey (and is currently under consideration for a revival). A central conceit in the play was the announcement of an incoming nuclear strike, ultimately proven to be a false alarm, which revealed an implosion in relationships among family members present during the announcement. A frequent critique of the play: the premise is too unrealistic. Don’t tell the people of Hawaii.
What do we take from this? First, we can be grateful that circumstances did not further conspire upon those involved, causing a knee-jerk retaliation and a violent outcome. Second, in our interrelated world, we cannot divorce events in Hawaii from comments emanating from the White House. A President’s misguided pique or unadulterated racism can lead to permanent, far-reaching consequences. His tweets and tantrums must be controlled. They are not sufficient reason for hostile exchanges between nations and should never be a contributing factor in exacerbating the possibility of an accidental war.