When Launching Nukes Isn’t Really About Launching Nukes

The results of a recent poll showing that large percentages of voters think that Trump will use a nuclear weapon and default on the nation’s debt have been raising eyebrows, and rightly so. About half the country doesn’t just think that Trump is crazy. They think he’s crazy enough to destroy the world’s economy and potentially annihilate the human race. That’s kind of a big deal.

But what’s even more interesting is how many of Trump’s own supporters agree. A full 22% of Trump supporters think he would launch a first strike nuclear attack. Think about that. More than 1 in 5 Trump voters think he would launch a nuke first–and they support him, anyway.

Now, it’s entirely possible that there are some nuts out there who believe this and actually think it’s a good idea–that somehow everyone else in the world is so subhuman and weak, and Trump so tough, that America could launch nukes at an enemy and come out the better for it somehow. I’m sure those people exist, but it’s not one tenth of America. It’s not that 30 million American citizens actually believe this.

No, what’s going on here is just another facet of what Martin Longman already put so eloquently a few days ago in regard to birtherism and why Trump isn’t suffering anger from his own base for rejecting it:

There’s more truth in this than I’d like to admit, but the key is that few people took Birtherism seriously on its merits. They just liked that it was a big middle finger to the president and that it made the liberals go nuts. They knew what Trump was up to, in other words, so they don’t judge him now on his truthfulness.

What Birtherism has in common with other Trump gambits is disrespect for people in power and authority. So, going after the Bush family or McCain or the senators and governors Trump ran against in the primaries, these are all part of the same phenomenon, they have the same appeal, and they are judged with the same lack of concern for factual accuracy. If you saw how these people turned Trayvon Martin into a thug and George Zimmerman into a well-funded hero, none of this should shock you. Because it’s not just giving a big F.U. to the political and media establishments. It’s also about fighting back against a culture that suddenly cares about black lives, that insists on the legitimacy of gay relationships, that celebrates people who won’t stand for the national anthem.

It’s not that Trump supporters really think that launching a first strike nuclear attack is such a great idea. It’s not so much that they think he would actually do it.

What they know is that Trump is just crazy enough to do it, and that the eggheads who supposedly run America would be shocked and appalled by the consequences both moral and geopolitical. That makes Trump supporters happy. They feel so rejected and left behind by the modern world that their one political goal is to make the sort of people who read the Washington Monthly fearful and uncomfortable. The more we “tsk tsk” them and call them deplorable, the more they smile. They thrive on our condescension, and live to shock us.

Ttrump’s supporters have lost so much faith and trust in the establishment that they don’t believe there’s any shock to the deep state apparatus and to the cultural or financial elite of the country that would be worse than continuing to let them run the show. Trump and his supporters’ bigotry and unbridled belligerent glee is now its own reward just to see the looks on our faces–the racism is less for its own sake than it is a form of shock-value rebellion, much like a teenager getting a lip piercing and tattoo just to annoy Daddy.

That, more than the actual bigotry itself, is the most dangerous aspect of our current political moment. These people have lost faith that anything any “serious” person says matters at all, even if it’s that we maybe shouldn’t launch nukes as a first resort–much less that we should cooperate with international partners on climate change.

On one hand, it’s appalling and dangerous. On the other hand, it’s hard to blame them too much given how poorly elites have performed over the last few decades. The left isn’t too far behind the right in its contempt on that front, and for some pretty good reasons.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.