Why a Man Like Donald Trump Should Never Control the Nuclear Launch Codes
You hear a lot of commentary about how American Presidents are consistently prone to stretch the bounds of their constitutional power. But we tend to forget that everyday the President of the United States controls the most awesome power ever invested in a single human being in the history of humanity: the power to launch a nuclear attack that could conceivably destroy much of humanity.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963, America came perilously close to cataclysmic nuclear exchange that would have killed tens of millions.During that confrontation between President John Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the world was spared disaster by the creative diplomacy of Kennedy – and his steadfast refusal to follow the advice of generals who recommended who recommended actions that would have lead to a nuclear exchange.
Kennedy’s cool, deliberate temperament – his commitment to progressive values – and his personal unwillingness to respond impulsively to provocation saved humanity from catastrophe.
Imagine Donald Trump in the same situation.
My wife, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, and I just returned from the Wroclaw Global Forum -- a conference in Wroclaw, Poland sponsored by the Atlantic Council. The conference included European and American national security officials, diplomats, journalists and foreign policy experts – from all sides of the political spectrum.
Two things were striking. First, the overwhelming majority of those in attendance were alarmed by the prospect of a Trump presidency. In fact, a Twitter poll of attendees found 74% favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.
Of course many Europeans still remember what happened when leaders like Trump rose to power on their continent 70 years ago using the same scapegoating of minorities, the same xenophobic appeal to “make their countries great again.” It frightens them.But frankly, many of these experts were just getting their heads around how dangerous a Trump presidency could actually be. On the sidelines of the conference there was talk about how the checks and balances of American government and the American foreign policy establishment could limit the damage that Trump might inflict. But when you remind some of these people that Trump would control the nuclear launch codes, they turned white.
Remember that one study showed that a single 1-megaton bomb exploded above the city of Detroit would cause up to 630,000 deaths and injuries from blast alone. And many of those who escaped death initially would ultimately suffer horrific deaths from the effects of nuclear fallout or burns.
America has 7,100 warheads in its nuclear arsenal -- 450 on hair-trigger alert atop missiles prepared to launch on a moment’s notice. Many more are deployed on bombers, or submarines or in reserve. Of these, many are tactical nuclear weapons that are designed for use in “limited engagements” on a battlefield. It is perhaps this last group of “tactical” nuclear weapons that Trump would find most tempting to use.
The fact is that the President of the United States has ultimate authority to deploy the power of the American military – including a nuclear arsenal that is powerful enough to destroy much of the world’s population several times over. And remember that any first use of nuclear weapons would almost certainly lead to a retaliatory nuclear attack on the United States.
For the last year –and for many years before– Americans have had the opportunity to see up close the temperament of Donald Trump.
Is there any question that Trump is a thin-skinned egomaniac?
When he is attacked politically he just can’t help himself – he lashes out with outrageous counter attacks. He uses his Twitter account to fire off insults like they were salvos in a firefight.
As Hillary Clinton said the other day, what if Trump were sitting in the Situation Room with more than his Twitter account to settle scores and return insults? What if he had control of the massive arsenal of American military power?Trump has already made it clear that he believes a President should be “unpredictable” because it puts him in a better bargaining position with his adversaries.
That might work fine when you negotiate real estate or golf course deals. But no one dies if a golf course deal blows up. That’s not true when the stakes involve millions of human lives.
The most dangerous element in international relations is miscalculation -- when one side misunderstands the motives or potential actions of another. Unpredictability is the last thing you want in international relations if you want to have a peaceful world. In fact, most of the horrific armed conflicts in human history have resulted from the miscalculation of one side about the other side’s needs, motives, intentions or capabilities.
What’s more, this is a guy who thinks that the most important currency of power is his own bluster. How exactly does Donald Trump intend to make Mexico – a sovereign government – pay for his great Mexican Wall? By demanding it ever more loudly?
What precisely does he think Muslims around the world will do if he is elected President? Quietly accommodate themselves to being banned from the United States?
Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric empowers the small minority of Muslim extremists. Trump’s biggest cheerleaders are the leaders of ISIS. For them, he would be a recruiting bonanza as President. Nothing like insulting all Muslims to prove their narrative that the West is corrupt and evil and must be destroyed.
And what will the world community think of “American values” if Trump goes through with his threats to inflict collective punishment on the families of terrorists who may not themselves be the least bit sympathetic to the radical ideas of their sons and daughters?
I met a Muslim businessman in Khartoum, Sudan last year who was terrified because his teenage daughter had sneaked out of the house one night and run off to join ISIS. He feared he may never see her again. No doubt Trump should punish them – that’ll show ‘em.
Trump says he’d bring back torture. That would make us all proud. Remember how we all stood a little taller after Abu Grebe.President Obama just returned from Hiroshima, Japan where he paid homage to the hundreds of thousands who were killed when America used the awesome power of these weapons to end World War II. He pledged to continue his campaign to rid the world of nuclear weapons, because the longer we have them, and the more fingers that are on the nuclear trigger, the greater the odds they will be used -- the greater the odds someone could use them to destroy humanity.
For over four decades most of the world community has fought hard to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Not Donald Trump. He thinks it would be just fine if Japan, or South Korea, or Saudi Arabia had nuclear weapons – the more the better, apparently.
America just negotiated an historic deal with Iran that used diplomacy – to prevent it from obtaining nuclear arms. It was an important example of the success of President Obama’s multilateral approach to foreign policy – and his uses of American “convening power” -- to address critical problems and head off another war.
Iran won’t abide by that deal very long if its arch rival Saudi Arabia gets the Bomb. Of course, who knows if Trump has ever even thought about that?
It’s not just his thin-skinned impulsiveness or tendency to shoot from the hip that would make him dangerous as president. It’s not just his willingness to sling insults – to call Mexicans rapists, or write off all Muslims. It’s not just his intention to return to the unilateralist, “bull in the china closet” approach to foreign policy that served America so well when it resulted in the War in Iraq.
It is his lack of knowledge, experience or curiosity about other countries – other cultures – or international politics. He doesn’t have a clue. In fact, he doesn’t know enough to know what he doesn’t know.
Trump actually said that he knew about Russia, because he produced a Miss Universe pageant there. Really?
Apparently, though, he knows enough about Russia to know what he likes: Vladimir Putin. For good reason: based on what he’s said so far during the campaign, he aspires to be an American Putin – a strong man who ignores the constitutional limits on his power and gets what he wants through whatever means.
So far, Trump has been very short on policy specifics – and very long on attitude. But one thing is very clear. Trump has one guiding policy principle that he never abandons: whatever is good for Donald Trump. Trump is out for himself and it’s not clear he truly believes in anything else.
He avoids paying taxes when he can get away with it. He defrauds retirees of their money to enroll in phony real estate seminars. He roots for the collapse of the housing market so he can make millions of dollars – too bad that millions of people lost their homes and life savings.
Trump says he is “the great negotiator” who will “guarantee” he will hire the smartest people to help him run the country. Trump says he will “make America great again.” “Trust me,” he says -- he knows how to lead: “just see how rich I am!”
There is no doubt that Donald Trump has made a lot of money as a great huckster – a great self-promoter – though the longer he refuses to release his tax returns, the greater the odds he has massively exaggerated how much he is in fact actually worth, the same way he exaggerates everything else.
In fact, Donald Trump is a fraud who is only out for himself. But he is more than that. He is a dangerous fraud that could lead America and the world into unimaginable catastrophe.
Luckily, we have the power to do stop him – but only if we vote November 8th.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.