On Tuesday, Donald Trump addressed the United Nations on a variety of foreign policy matters, and unsurprisingly, the president described the state of world affairs like a disaster porn fanatic. “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime,” Trump said about dictator Kim Jong-un. He also threatened the current Venezuelan government, denounced Iranian leaders, and talked about driving out “radical Islamic terrorism.”
None of this, of course, is new. This is the guy who’s been tweeting about the “Rocket Man” insult for days (not to mention threatening Kim Jong-un for months), and his “America first” slogan sounds more like something out of the mouth of Agent Gibbs in an episode of NCIS than an actual government policy. We also can’t forget about Trump referring to apocalyptic “American carnage” in his inauguration speech and his other comments about ISIS “spreading like a cancer.”
This sort of obnoxious fire ‘n’ brimstone talk is a hallmark of Trump’s schtick. It’s loud, it’s over the top, and above all, it’s empty. We saw it on day one when he came riding down that stupid gold escalator to announce his presidential campaign back in 2015 (“They’re bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists,” he infamously said about Mexicans in that speech), and we saw it just last week when he couldn’t stop tweeting about “loser terrorists” (as if terrorists are easily upset by grade school bully name-calling.) Foreign policy aside, Trump even went so far this week as to retweet a GIF showing him hitting former presidential opponent Hillary Clinton in the head with a golf ball, something that was equal parts infuriating and business as usual at this point.
This sort of obnoxious fire ‘n’ brimstone talk is a hallmark of Trump’s schtick.
The worst part might be how common this has become. And as we slowly come up on the one-year anniversary of the fated election that got us into this mess, one thing remains certain: Living through the Trump era means being on the constant, simultaneous cusp of terror and boredom.
For over two years, the media has covered Trump’s “unpredictability” as both a candidate and a president. But if being unpredictable is your MO, that in itself becomes predictable. And in the case of Trump, this predictable unpredictability is both terrible and yawn-inducing. There’s nothing original about the Trump cycle because it runs like clockwork: Tweet something absurd and/or offensive, pick the worst policy option available, have White House staff race to back it up, watch the media eat it up every time, tweet more, repeat.
In the context of this UN speech, it’s horrifying to watch the leader of your country, especially one you didn’t vote for, illustrate how okay he is with escalating to nuclear warfare, especially when there are other policy options on the table. At the same time, Trump’s used this threatening rhetoric with North Korea for months with no change. You can’t get too comfortable with what’ll come next, but at the same time, nothing new really ever comes.
This terror-boredom cocktail also leads to a new problem for Americans: Living in a country with so much to be angry at, it’s hard to know where to focus that physical and mental energy. People remind each other not to normalize Donald Trump all the time, but they often forget that normalization is partly a coping mechanism. Should we, for example, spend our emotional (and tweeting) capacities on Trump’s dumb “rocket man” insults, when in reality, his administration continues to waffle on their policies in North Korea and other places abroad? Or, should we place the emotional burden on more pressing matters closer to home, like Trump’s legislative and verbal attacks on immigrants and his lack of denouncement against white supremacy? It’s impossible to say one thing matters most at a time when everything matters and every freedom is on the line.
Living in a country with so much to be angry at, it’s hard to know where to focus that physical and mental energy.
This UN speech is a perfect example of how confusing the current administration is to process, not just in terms of deciphering actual events but also how to feel about it; it’s ongoing political vertigo. Trump, for instance, brought up his “radical Islamic terrorism” messaging again, something that sent people up in arms months ago but is barely getting airtime about now; we’ve moved on to other problems. Forget Venezuela or Iran; most people in the U.S. don’t even know what’s happening in either country, and unfortunately, they probably won’t start caring now. And by the time I’m writing this, people have shifted their focus back to Republicans’ final attempt at an Obamacare repeal, making the absurdities of Trump’s speech just a few hours prior seem like they happened six months ago.
What’s a busy, angry, worried, politically engaged person to do? It’s important that we all keep talking — yelling, in fact. There’s a tendency for people to tap out and pretend their personal lives are more pressing than reading the news, calling a representative, or attending a rally. And yes, we can’t spend all of our emotional capital on a single micro-event; there’s far too many of them, and you can’t live life outraged at an 11 on a scale of one to 10. But we can’t let our terror or our boredom get the best of us. After all, that’s what Donald Trump and his crew of highly unqualified bandits are banking on, and there’s no way in hell we’re giving that to them.