Much has been made in recent months of the way in which Donald Trump’s ‘presidency’ is playing out in an even more maniacal, despotic way than the fictional presidency of one Francis J. Underwood, of the American House of Cards (HoC). The comparison is a little forced in places, and although Kevin Spacey’s Underwood is a murderous psychopath, he is far more likeable than Trump. I know who I’d rather have in charge.
But this week, the comparison between the fictional and factual presidents became eerily prescient. When Donald Trump declared that North Korean warhead-rattling would, if it continued, be met “with fire and fury, the like of which the world has never seen”, I couldn’t help but think of one of Underwood’s lines from Series (not Season) 4 of HoC: “That’s right. We don’t submit to terror. We make the terror.”
This declaration is the underscore for Underwood’s strategy to cling on to power in the face of an unloving American public and his rival for the presidency, the dashing, square-jawed ex-soldier, Will Conway. Underwood’s strategy is Machiavellian in conception. Play up the external threat (in this case, an organisation named ICO, which is modelled on ISIS), then pursue an uncompromising approach towards dealing with ICO (no diplomacy, just all-out-war).
In so doing, prove that only Frank Underwood can keep America safe from a threat which could be terminal to its very existence. If it weren’t so close to reality, it would be highly entertaining. The idea of smashing a threat like ICO or ISIS to smithereens is highly satisfying. It’s also something which would only be achieved through methodical – though forceful – strategic application. Not by dramatically escalating rhetoric and convincing the American public that the end is nigh if total war is not embarked upon.
Now, it’s true that North Korea represents a potentially existential threat to Western civilisation. Any paranoid, inhumane, anti-Western regime with a nuclear programme would represent such a threat. It’s true also that North Korea has been deliberately ramping up the rhetoric in order to extract influence and attention for its aims. Obviously, the North Koreans know only too well that Trump will go along with the escalation, for the reasons given.
So, North Korea’s status as a threat to our way of life and our very existence is not in doubt. It’s real, if still relatively unlikely. What is not explicit, however, is why Donald Trump is happily playing up the idea of nuclear war. But we know why – if we study him honestly. He is dividing and ruling on a global scale. Chaos is all part of the plan. It is what got him elected and the only thing that will keep him in power.
It is hard to conceive of a world without dramatic change after four years of Trump. I hope he doesn’t make it that far, but he probably will. Quite what he will do next is unclear, but whatever he does, he has painted himself into a corner with North Korea now. The terrifying truth is that a man like Trump, so obsessed with own sense of masculinity, has left himself no choice other than to double down on the deadly rhetoric he has already deployed. And in the end, that rhetoric could lead to the worst possible outcome.
They said Trump would never get nominated. He did. They said he would never become president. He did. They say that mutually assured destruction means a nuclear war will never come to pass. I hope, for once, they’re right.