140 Characters from the Brink

Illustration By Oskar Zinnemann

Illustration By Oskar Zinnemann

“I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night," Donald Trump tweeted, "Asked him how 'Rocket Man' is doing. Long gas lines in North Korea. Too bad!”

No, this is not Alec Baldwin’s version of the President from Saturday Night Live, this is the actual elected leader of the free world. The “Rocket Man” he is referring to is Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea -- the same man who has recently been conducting missile tests over the Pacific Ocean. Kim Jong-un is also the same man who threatened retaliation against the United States before the release of the The Interview, a Seth Rogan comedy that viciously mocks the supreme leader and his regime. In a time of widespread anxiety, many people are naturally concerned about the potential consequences from President Trump's name-calling.

Belittling someone through name-calling is nothing new. School yard bullies typically use dehumanizing, uncreative nicknames to show their dominance over those they find inferior. Real American leaders, though, do not usually need to use this tactic. They are normally elected because of the eloquence of their words, not the intimidation behind them. This president’s past election is different in that the people who elected him were not looking for someone with flowery words or diplomacy. They elected Trump because they wanted someone who “spoke the truth,” who would not be so “politically correct,” and who would not be afraid to taunt an unhinged dictator obsessed with weapons of mass destruction.

The problem is that Trump is not making these tasteless statements in the school yard, he is broadcasting them from the Oval Office. If North Korea were to retaliate, the consequences would be far greater than someone getting a bloody nose and a trip to detention. After Trump publicized his "Rocket Man" gaffe, Jong-un lashed back with some words of his own in a statement released by the North Korean State News Agency. “I’d like to advise Trump to exercise prudence in selecting words and to be considerate of whom he speaks to when making a speech in front of the world,” the dictator said. “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”

What kind of a message does it send to regular citizens when the president stoops to such low brow name-calling? It gives credence to cyber bullies, especially internet trolls. Yet the days when sticks and stones were the only thing that could hurt you are over.

For the average person, there are consequences for everything we say. Everyone is at the mercy of the internet judges and juries. There are countless stories about people losing their jobs, being ostracized by society, or even getting death threats because of what they say online. Yet even with those consequences, cyber bullying has not diminished.

Trump does not seem to acknowledge that his words could have very real consequences, whether on a global level or with his own people on the home front. Is he really so oblivious or is there something else behind the rhetoric? There has been much speculation in the last year about how the president may use his outrageous Twitter messages to distract the public from the more nefarious activities in the White House. Paul Farhi from the Washington Post even called him the "Distractor in Chief" in a November 2016 article.

Whether Trump's tweets really will trigger World War III or are all merely a distraction from his legal issues, one thing is certain: some bullies do not learn their lesson until it is too late. Hopefully, the American people will not be the ones to suffer the consequences.