John Bolton
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

This moment in history would read as an absurd farce if the consequences weren’t deadly serious.

As we speak, the United States teeters on an armed conflict with Iran. The consequences of yet another forever war in the Middle East—this time with one of the proudest and most powerful nations in the region—would be ruinous in ways that dwarf even the monumental catastrophes of Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet only 10 minutes separated the president of the United States from calling off an airstrike that would have reportedly killed roughly 150 Iranians. President Trump was egged on to launch the strike by most of his foreign policy advisers, including and especially National Security Advisor John Bolton, a warmonger so obscene that even the Bush-Cheney administration was forced to jettison him.

Why did he stop it? Apparently, because he saw Tucker Carlson argue against it on his Fox News show. During the broadcast, Carlson called Bolton a “bureaucratic tapeworm.”

So here we are: the fate of the world depends on a battle for the whimsical favor of an incurious commander-in-chief–waged between Fox News’s favorite racist, protectionist buffoon and the neoconservative Republican old guard’s favorite blood-soaked imperialist hawk.

How did we get here? The story almost defies belief. A bigoted real estate tycoon with a reality TV show and a flailing brand who needed a visibility boost successfully tapped into a surging torrent of white male resentment. A revanchist swell of prejudiced anger against pluralistic modernity swept through certain parts of the country alongside a generic anti-establishment backlash, accentuated at a time of middle-class economic decline. That created the conditions for Trump to actually become president, even against all his own expectations. And since ascending the White House, he’s proved that he hates America’s first African-American president so much, that he’ll do just about anything, no matter how irrational, to undo all of Obama’s accomplishments and destroy everything he had built.

One of those things was a hard-fought nuclear deal with Iran, which he scuttled for no other reason than that his predecessor had achieved it.

Trump always acts first, worries about the consequences later or not at all, and wrongly believes that every act of aggression on his part leads inevitably to capitulation by his opponents. (Apparently, no one in the New York social or real estate scene ever had the guts or means to put him in his place over the course of his decades of malfeasance, a fact that says much more about the well-heeled New York social scene and the world of real estate investors generally than it does about Trump’s supposed talents.)

So not once did it apparently occur to Trump that Iran might escalate his provocations to the point of armed conflict. It surely occurred to his neoconservative advisers, however, who were only too happy to steer the Mad King into a war he never saw coming. He apparently would have initiated that confrontation, until the intervention of one of his favorite TV hosts.

It’s a farce, all right. But a deadly and depressing one in which we are not the audience but unwilling background actors looking on as the lead actors set fire to the stage.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. 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.