It was painfully obvious that the whole #MAGA thing was rife with some doe-eyed nostalgia for the mid-20th century.

But a return of duck-and-cover drills would be a bit much.

President Donald Trump exposed his utter lack of strategic depth and responsibility on Tuesday, appearing to threaten North Korea with a thermonuclear strike if the rogue dictatorship kept pursuing its nuclear ambitions. Trump's terrifying comment from Bedminster, New Jersey, came after The Washington Post reported that Kim Jong-un's regime had successfully miniaturized a fusion device, thus making it capable of being strapped onto a ballistic missile.

"They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before," Trump quipped, arms folded like a kid sitting outside the principal's office.

The world spent the rest of Tuesday scratching its collective head about what looked to be a threat of nuclear strike. Trump cleared up any doubts Wednesday about his intent in an early morning Twitter rant about the supremacy of U.S. nuclear power. 

The man is dreaming of warheads. 

And it all comes from someone who probably couldn't explain the difference between fission and fusion. He did, after all, display a shocking level of ignorance last year when a debate moderator asked him what the nuclear triad was. Since taking office, there's been no indication that Trump suddenly became curious about the world outside of himself. His own aides have griped to the press about his complete lack of interest in daily briefings unless they find ways to insert his name at random into various graphs.

On Tuesday, Trump fell into a political trap avoided by his predecessors. The regime in North Korea has long baited U.S. presidents. Historically, the taunts -- intended as a display of power within the oppressive country's borders -- were met with a sober, measured response from the White House.

But not Trump, a man whose entire shtick depends on never being one-upped. That would be bad for ratings. Plus, diplomacy's for wimps. Real men issue threats, in this case, of the rarefied nuclear hellfire variety. 

In so doing, Trump boxed himself in, leaving few options when North Korea again provokes the West with continued missile tests. Either Trump mirrors Barack Obama's "red line" gaffe and shows his words to be meaningless. Or he does something much worse. 

And Trump did it all with nary a thought about the regional and global implications of such heated rhetoric. 

In one passing moment, Trump exposed himself as a legitimate danger. He showed himself as a glib, small carnival barker with unfounded confidence in his own ability to make "deals." There are no good options when grappling with North Korea's nuclear ambitions, almost all experts say. But inflaming tensions has almost universally proved catastrophic. That truth is why diplomats exist in the first place. 

So, now, the U.S. president faces plunging poll numbers. The investigation into potential links between his campaign and the Kremlin is in full swing. He's a man under pressure, the most dangerous kind.

Trump's apologists keep telling us that he's an amateur. He has to grow into the job, they say. 

But the president's flippant comments on Tuesday and Wednesday showed an indefensible level of unseriousness, regardless of political pedigree. And he did so while discussing the most serious of topics, one that dominated much of the past 70 years.

Trump's whole movement is predicated on a whitewashed narrative about the good ol' days. But, unlike what existed during that allegedly glorious past, the U.S. lacks a sober, thoughtful president with an appreciation for the gravity of his words and actions. 

Jon Alexander is editorial page editor at the Quad-City Times. He can be reached at


Editorial Page Editor, Quad-City Times