Trump is embarrassing himself with his bluster.
In between rounds of golf, Donald Trump issued a shocking threat of “fire and fury” to North Korea earlier this week. North Korea promptly called his bluff, saying Trump is “bereft of reason” — and even mocking his excessive golfing.
So on Thursday, Trump tried once more to sound tough.
Asked to respond to the North Koreans’ dismissal of Trump’s earlier threat as “nonsense,” Trump issued yet more nonsense.
“Well, I don’t think they mean that,” he said, “and I think it’s the first time they’ve heard it like they heard it, and frankly, the people who were questioning that the statement wasn’t too tough, maybe it wasn’t tough enough.”
The problem for Trump is that no one is questioning whether his instantly infamous statement — “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” — was sufficiently tough-sounding. The New York Times compared it to “the apocalyptic taunts often used by his target, Kim Jong-un.”
The problem is that Trump has no understanding of the politics and need for diplomacy between the two nations and no understanding of the significance of his own words, which are no longer merely the tweets of a reality TV star but the statements of the president of the United States.
Because Trump is accustomed to using outrageous and hyperbolic language, he was clearly unaware, or uninterested, in how North Korea and the world would interpret his ad-libbed threat and its significance.
Trump’s cabinet, aides, and advisers have been struggling to explain and de-escalate that statement ever since. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to assure anxious Americans, saying they should be able to “sleep well at night.”
It’s possible that Trump’s team hasn’t had time to fully brief him on North Korea and explain to him why he should not give the appearance of provoking North Korea into attacking the United States. Trump has had a mostly empty schedule all week, and while his press office continues to refuse to confirm what he’s doing with all of his free time, he was exposed Wednesday by a “friend” who shared, and then deleted, a picture of the two of them on the golf course.
Trump’s latest threat, also probably not vetted by his new chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly, or any of his other advisers, is not likely to make the tense relations with North Korea any better. Instead, Trump is all but inviting North Korea to again call his bluff, attack his “senility” and lack of comprehension, and perhaps even get in another dig about his “working vacation.