Donald Trump opened his mouth (and twitter account) again recently and, predictably, out spilled another semi-coherent and provocative few sentences with few details. The subject this time was nuclear weapons production and proliferation.
On Thursday, December 22, Trump tweeted “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
Many took this to mean that he was advocating a new nuclear arms race. This flies in the face of decades of bipartisan support for reducing nuclear stockpiles and trying to stop other countries from attaining nuclear weapons.
Because of his tweet, Trump’s aides and spokespeople spent most of the day trying to spin just what he meant and insisted he was not talking about a new arms race, but merely advocating modernizing U.S. nuclear weapons (something which the Obama administration was already considering at a price tag of between $335 billion to $1.1 Trillion).
On Friday, December 23, however, Trump doubled-down on his insane position and clarified his intentions during an off-air discussion on MSNBC “Let it be an arms race … we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”
It’s easy to pass this off as “Trump is at it again.” He has of course based his whole career and successful presidential run on making these kinds of frightening, unclear, politically maverick, and dangerous comments. This ‘shooting-from-the-hip’ style is part his appeal to some in the U.S., but it is also likely the reason why more than half of the American public feels uncertain or pessimistic about his presidency. It is also one of the reasons (along with the fact that he publically brags about sexually assaulting women) why some believe the President-elect has a dangerous personality disorder.
So we know Trump is an insane, race-baiting, misogynist who has few coherent policy recommendations aside from a nearly impossible $40 Billion construction project on the US-Mexico border and a tax plan explicitly aimed at increasing the already startling income inequality in the U.S. So yes, there are already a lot of reasons he shouldn’t be president. So why is his cavalier attitude towards nuclear weapons the last straw?
To give a little background on my perspective, let me note that I study nuclear issues and the places that have been affected by radiation. I have walked the beaches of Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands where dozens of nuclear weapons have been detonated and where – even more than half a century since the last bomb went off – people still cannot live unless an additional quarter of a billion dollars is allocated for cleanup.
I have talked to parents in Fukushima who anxiously attempt to evaluate just what the dosages mean on the radiation monitors their children wear. I have visited and written about the sites of remembrance in Hiroshima, and made frequent visits to the Nevada Nuclear Test Site in the 1980s and 1990s when the U.S. regularly detonated nuclear bombs underground (but from which the radiation frequently leaked into the air anyway).
Most people know nuclear weapons are not to be toyed with, but many people do not fully appreciate just how damaging even one nuclear test or accident can be. When a nuclear bomb is detonated, or when an accident occurs, it effects a larger geographic area, and lasts longer, than any other disaster save for an asteroid strike.
When there is a nuclear mishap thousands of square miles are contaminated for decades (the area with elevated radiation levels in Fukushima for instance is roughly the size of Connecticut). The extent of the damage, the recovery time, and the costs all far exceed the largest earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes.
It should also be remembered that most of the nuclear weapons held by the U.S. and other major powers are no longer as small as the bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki (or the small ones North Korea has been testing recently). For instance, the U.S. bomb test “Bravo” on Bikini Atoll was so large that if just one bomb of that size was exploded (on purpose or on accident) near Washington D.C. – and the wind was coming from the southwest – the people in the cities of D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York would all be exposed to a lethal dose of radiation.
Furthermore, even when things don’t go wrong, nuclear production is responsible for contaminating thousands of square miles from where the uranium is mined, where the nuclear materials are processed and disposed of, and where the weapons are tested and stored. While the U.S. has a horrific history of nuclear bomb use, testing and accidents, the nuclear programs of Russia, China, India, Pakistan, France, the U.K. and many others have all produced their share of environmental catastrophe too.
The new nuclear arms race Trump is suggesting clearly increases the chances of nuclear war, nuclear testing, accidental nuclear detonation, and contamination from mishaps at the facilities that process and create the weapons. It will damage environments across the U.S. as well as in all the other countries that would be forced to ‘keep up’ with the new nuclear initiatives of the U.S. It will also mean there will be more political players in the world brandishing nuclear weapons. The risks of their use and a true global holocaust rise dramatically if Trump’s policy becomes real.
So what can be done to stop this maniac from sitting down in the Oval Office in January and having sole control over the use of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and the ability to start a new global nuclear arms race?
At this point we should be thinking along the lines of “by any means necessary:” General strikes, mass protests, movements to weaken Trump by shifting power to local communities, and political maneuvering of all kinds. This is no longer about partisanship, or liberal versus conservative policies. It is about our lives on Earth and the threat Donald Trump represents to humanity.
Maybe we can appeal to a politically powerful constituency out there that has been uneasy with Trump, but willing to accept his faults so far. Maybe there is a group that doesn’t really care about immigrant rights, racial equality, people living in poverty, or women’s lives; but that might care about their children and grandchildren growing up in a contaminated wasteland (Yes, I’m talking about the traditional leaders of the Republican Party). We should start appealing to everyone that will listen.
The consequences of removing Trump from power will not be easy to take. Trump supporters may revolt and even attempt an insurrection. It’s worth the risks. There may not be ‘smoking gun’ proof of Donald Trump’s dangerous insanity, but to quote George W. Bush “America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” Bush was of course talking about Saddam Hussein who didn’t actually have any nuclear weapons. Trump will have thousands on January 20th unless we can figure out how to stop him.
Sasha Davis is an organizer with the Free Community Alliance, an Assistant Professor of Geography at Keene State College and the author of Empires’ Edge: Militarization, Resistance and Transcending Hegemony in the Pacific.