You may very well hate us. After all, you were rejected by a margin of nearly 5 million votes in the three states on the West Coast mainland, where more than 1 in 7 Americans live. We are the reason you lost the national popular vote by such a historic margin. Since you’ve been president, you’ve never set foot in our time zone.
But now our very existence is in your hands. Look at a map, that circle from North Korea outward. There’s Guam, a U.S. territory, threatened this week with a pre-emptive strike, at 2,100 miles. Then comes Alaska, which is closer to the nuclear-armed hermit nation, at just over 3,000 miles, than it is to Washington, D.C.
Farther out, Seattle; Portland, Oregon; San Francisco and Los Angeles may all be within range of missiles that North Korea tested last month. It looks as if the North could fit a nuclear bomb the size of a garbage can to one of those missiles, though whether it could survive re-entry is another matter.
Are we scared? Unnerved? Well, yes, a little. I’ll let Leon Panetta, the wisest of West Coasters and former secretary of defense, speak for us:
“You’ve got two bullies chiding each other with outrageous comments,” he told Politico this week. He worried that the bully in Bedminster may feel that the bully in Pyongyang is “attacking his manhood,” an age-old trigger for war. The similarities between the two of you are unavoidable: the preening, the insecurity, the pathological narcissism, the chronic lying, the bad haircuts.
Of course, you never had your uncle executed or ordered the assassination of a half-brother, as Kim Jong Un did. But we sometimes can’t tell the statements between the two of you apart. Was it Kim or your magnificence who said you would turn the other’s capital city into a “sea of fire”? Or force the other’s country to suffer “fire and fury like the world has never seen?”
It doesn’t make for an easier night’s sleep here on the humidity-free West Coast that one of your top advisers, Sebastian Gorka, has been trying to sound like you, ratcheting up the my-nukes-are-bigger-than-yours brinkmanship. “We are not just the superpower,” he said. “We are now a hyperpower.” If only he were talking about a Marvel Comics character.
And it’s equally unsettling that your evangelical adviser, the Texas pastor Robert Jeffress, is now giving you cover from the Bible. “God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil,” he said, speaking for God.
This is not “The Celebrity Apprentice.” The huff-and-puffing could easily escalate into the slaughter of millions of people. Seoul, with a metro population of 26 million, is as close to its enemy in the north as Washington is to Baltimore.
When President Barack Obama kidded you at the White House Correspondents’ dinner in 2011 for having to make a decision after your steakhouse team failed to impress, he said: “You fired Gary Busey. And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night. Well handled, sir.”
At the time, Obama had just authorized the raid, after dutiful and reasoned deliberation, to take out Osama bin Laden. At that same dinner, he ended on a serious note, asking everyone to “remember our neighbors in Alabama,” recently devastated by storms.
That would be the Alabama where Obama got barely 39 percent of the vote in 2008 — about the same percent you received in Washington and Oregon. Once the election is over, as he and nearly every occupant of the White House has learned, you are the president of all the people.
Your default mode is to threaten and sue and demean and lie — as you’ve done your entire career. You even sue comedians, as you did Bill Maher after he compared you to an orangutan’s spawn. And this week, your first major statement after threatening nuclear war was to lie about how you had upgraded our nuclear arsenal.
We West Coasters can’t go our separate way on nukes, as we’re doing on climate change, vowing to adhere to the Paris accord even as you turn your back on the rest of the world. We don’t have a shield. We don’t control the nuclear code.
Sanctions, like those just approved by the United Nations, are a good deterrence. You need to work with China. It will take more than “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake,” more than calling President Xi Jinping of China a good guy one day, a bad guy the next. Diplomacy is hard. But it beats the alternative.
I know you don’t read. But somebody on your staff — perhaps the well-read defense secretary, James Mattis — could summarize “The Guns of August,” by Barbara W. Tuchman. She details the missteps, the idiocy of powerful men with powerful weapons, leading the world into a war that would kill 17 million people. The path to destruction, to mass murder, to horror is there. So is the way out.
Timothy Egan worked for 18 years as a writer for The New York Times, first as the Pacific Northwest correspondent, then as a national enterprise reporter.