“Presidents come and Presidents go,” I said to a young friend who was in despair about the choices she faced heading to the polls for the first time. We didn’t know what we would be facing on November 9 back then, and the truth is we still don’t really know how The Donald will govern come January, but it doesn’t look good.
Still, Presidents come and Presidents go—the nation survived the venality of Reagan and his heartless trickle down economics; even the suffering we inflicted on others was somewhat limited (speaking as one who does not forget the contras and Grenada, but it could have been and has since been so much worse.) The nation survived Richard Nixon who, in his last months, was as unstable and dangerous as anything we’ve seen from The Trumpman so far. Right-wingers feel they have survived Clinton and Obama.
Presidents come and Presidents go. It is fair to ask, though, whether Donald Trump will take us with him when he goes.
I’ve spent my last twenty-five years working to eliminate nuclear weapons and the incomprehensible threat they pose to all of us and not just us but the planet. They pose an existential risk as real and even more imminent than climate change. People don’t like to think about it, so they don’t think about it. They bury the thought of utter and complete annihilation under a thick blanket of “It won’t happen. No one is that deranged.”
Please, though, for the sake of the future if not yourself, lift the blanket and consider these four pieces of the reality we live in.
- It did happen, twice, to the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One study of the effects of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima concluded, “Such a weapon has the power to make everything into nothing.” Today’s weapons are much, much bigger.
- The US has 1,500 thermonuclear warheads deployed around the globe, most of them on hair-trigger alert. Russia has as many, most of them aimed at us. All told there are more than 4,000 nuclear weapons at the ready, distributed among nine countries. And 10,000 more kept in “reserve” by the US and Russia.
- Tensions with Russia are worse now than they have been in at least thirty years. Vladimir Putin is a man who poisons his rivals and has journalists murdered. He invaded a neighboring country and suppresses the free exchange of ideas. He is governed far too often by his massive ego. Does that last part sound familiar? If you don’t find the prospect of a Trump/Putin face-off terrifying, you aren’t thinking straight.
- Despite the calls of such defense hawks as Henry Kissinger, William Perry, George Shultz, Lee Butler, James Cartwright, Sam Nunn and more for the United States to take concrete steps to abolish our nuclear arsenal, the US, under President Barack Obama, is actually investing billions of dollars in modernizing the nuclear stockpile, building new bomb plants, ordering new missiles and jets, upgrading and “life-extending” every warhead and bomb in the stockpile. There is a new global nuclear arms race that you haven’t read about in the paper, and the US is leading the way. Over the next 30 years, the modernization will cost more than a trillion dollars.
Of course it is insane, if that means defying rational thought. There is no “win” associated with nuclear weapons, not in their production, not in their deployment, not in the threat to use them, and not in their eventual use. They are suicide weapons as surely as a vest strapped around the chest of a terrorist. They don’t make us secure—that’s what drove Kissinger and his pals into the disarmament camp; they actually make us less secure.
The money we are spending on them is robbing us of funds we could and should be spending on things that would make us truly secure—education, health care, housing, infrastructure (jobs)…
Since the dawn of the nuclear age, the weaponeers and defense contractors and the elected officials they have bought have succeeded in persuading the public that nuclear policy is too complicated for mere mortals to understand. It’s not, of course. What seems crazy to you is crazy. The solution is also not rocket science—we have to get rid of the bombs. Kissinger and Nunn and those boys are convinced we can do it. But that’s not the direction we are heading.
So we have to turn things around—that challenge is big, and it’s really no bigger with Trump in the oval office; Hillary has been a committed supporter of nuclear weapons spending all her career. It seems more urgent, and probably is, because Donald Trump is dangerously unstable.
The bottom line is this: the clock is running out on how long we can afford to gamble that “it won’t happen.” Putin, North Korea, Trump—leaders who have nuclear weapons are not leading the world toward peace and cooperation.
Please don’t drop the blanket over your concerns. Get educated about the threat, because you ignore it at your peril. Think seriously about your responsibility to the future. And do something. Pick any two:
- Support groups working for nuclear abolition (not “reducing the danger,” but really for abolition). Write a serious check to a group today, and make it the first of a sustained commitment. I work for one of those groups; we’re trying to stop the next new bomb plant—the $15 billion Uranium Processing Facility—from being built in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Our options are limited by limited funds. We can’t hire more staff if we don’t know we can pay them.
- Demand accountability of your elected officials who are signing off on billion dollar nuke budgets. Neither conservatives (wasting tax dollars!) or liberals (moving us toward Armageddon!) should support the trillion dollar modernization.
- Do what you can to reawaken the faith communities—nuclear weapons are a threat to creation; they are immoral.
- Do what you can to educate your neighbors and community—a letter to the editor, multiplied by letters across the country, can reignite the debate about nuclear weapons.
- Be brave. If you think protecting the future is important, consider taking one step outside your comfort zone. Give more than you can. Speak to a stranger. Schedule a speaker in your community. Do what comes easiest to you and then do one more thing.
Starting in January, we are going to be living in a strange world for four years. We have to start preparing now.