If you lived through any part of the Cold War, you know this to be true: The looming possibility of nuclear war, its lived potentiality, is a horrible thing. But nuclear nightmares are worse. They come when you least expect them, when you’re absolutely not ready. Which may be brutal, but is also fitting. If the end ever comes, that’s how it will happen. Not as something we get to game out for months or years in advance but with an immediacy that forces us to deal, that refuses us the leisure to turn away…
When I was a child I had nightmares about nuclear war, more than I can count, more than I can even remember. Charged with confusion and fear, littered with loved ones, celebrities, and strangers, fleeting safety and last-second countdowns the wars in my head never made sense. They just sort of happened. Oh, there was usually some idyllic ground situation—something about happiness, belonging, or love—but by the time things really got going there was no rhyme to it, no cause spelled out, no sides defined. The dream-thoughts were as base as “I’m going to die, and there’s nothing I can do about it”. Fortunately, I always woke up. The fear was still there even when I was awake, though. (How else could it have gotten into my dreams?) But it wasn’t as strong. When I was awake the world made more sense. Sometimes only a little more.
Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) was what they called it back then. They still do actually. MAD is the idea that if both sides know they’re going to be destroyed by a nuclear war, that will be enough to dissuade them from engaging in one. I won’t belabor the point, but the only time MAD makes any sort of sense is when you look at it as an alternative to the end of the world, to everyone and everything you’ve ever known dying in some combination of fiery rain and endless winter. And, then…well, then, it makes plenty of sense. When you put it like that, MAD seems downright sane.
The trouble with MAD—one of many—is that it relies on rough symmetry both in the potential to incur damage and the ability to inflict it. It counts on the ability to know who the combatants are, their relative sanity, and a certain desire for self-preservation. MAD falls apart if any of these fail on either side. That’s just what’s happening, though, as you sit reading this. As nuclear weapons proliferate, pass first into the hands of smaller countries, then all countries, then extra-national operators, the idea of MAD loses its value. Maybe it already has. Maybe MAD has already become the bankrupt ideology it was always destined to be. That’s not necessarily a good thing, though. Remember, the alternative may well be the end of the world.
I haven’t had any nuclear nightmares in a long time, but I have a feeling they may start again, soon. Yes, it’s true I can’t control them, so I don’t know precisely when they’ll come. They’re not something I want to have anyway. But that doesn’t make me immune. Far from it.
America and the world are moving, changing in ways that have me thinking more and more of the nuclear, not only in a military sense; but politically. The idea of the endless chain reaction of competing extremisms seems to echo yesterday’s Mutual Assured Destruction. Like symbiotic vampires Left and Right feed off each other, each grow more powerful in opposition to the other. They grow more powerful and less predictable, and those nuclear nightmares of my childhood begin to seem more and more like a possible reality.
The Trip to Ground Zero: A Scenario
In spite of Hillary Clinton’s imposing leads in polling, financing, and endorsements Bernie Sanders pulls off one political miracle after another. A tie in Iowa, a win in New Hampshire, another strong showing in Nevada. South Carolina is a close call for Clinton, far closer than people expected. The same with the other SEC primaries on March 1. By the end of March, Bernie is the frontrunner, his support solid among minorities, working people, and younger voters. As Senior Advisor Tad Devine jokingly refers to them, “The three legs of Bernie’s electoral stool.”
Bernie continues building momentum, wins all the major states—Texas and Michigan; Florida and Illinois; Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania—on his way to a sort of coronation Californian-style. Sporting a floral laurel and Foster Grants for his victory speech, Bernie beams beneficently as he flashes twin V’s, dueling peace signs underscoring just how different, just how positive, his campaign has been. Sure, maybe Bernie has gone a little Hollywood, but in a good way; a way that says he’s doing it all for us. And the important thing is that he’s sure he’s won. So is everyone else. As the headline of the LA Times reads the next morning, “PRESIDENT BERNIE: THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!!!”
Alas, once the DNC’s team of actuarial and accounting mercenaries are deployed to “calculate” “the calculations,” to “do the math”, it becomes clear that in spite of Bernie’s lead in delegates, he doesn’t have enough to secure the nomination. Clinton holds out, tries every trick. She’s a fighter who, not surprisingly, seems to want to fight. With Bill growing more vicious by the day, proportional representation, and those pesky, establishment superdelegates in her back pocket Hillary makes a thing of it. She out and out refuses to #feelthebern.
Hillary’s campaign and Super-PACS may be bone dry, but she deploys her massive personal fortune to hire legions of attorneys, theoretical logicians, and rogue mathematicians, to send the Democratic nomination process into an absolute tizzy. MSNBC can’t believe its luck, Joe Scarborough going so far as to pleasure himself on-air. Footage emerges of Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell drunk in a bar, kicking the crap out of a Hillary piñata as they cackle madly.
Bernie sues over the superdelegates. Hillary counter-sues over the fact that she’s going to lose. Debbie Wasserman Schultz counter-counter-sues over the fact that she’s not going to be the first Jewish-American President. The constitutionality of superdelegates heads to SCOTUS for judicial review. Unfortunately, SCOTUS is still down a justice and already busy puzzling over the increasingly complex issue of VP nominee Ted Cruz’s citizenship status.
Various theories have surfaced as to Cruz’s origins. The New York Times breaks a story that he was actually born in Kenya while his father was doing missionary work there. At the age of seventeen days, he immigrated to Canada. Is he Kenyan? Canadian? American? Kenyan-Canadian-American? There are other theories, though. Is he the alien from Alien? The spawn of Satan and an ill-tempered sea lion? Some sort of evil, advanced Neanderthal who time traveled here from prehistory? A werelizard hatched in the swamps of East Texas, an unshakeable case of eczema responsible for his foul humor and perpetual oiliness? Obama’s Bizarro twin arrived from some alternate dimension, the Christianization of America his only goal? Fearing all the conjecture may damage the opinion that Trump himself is the most fearsome creature in American politics, he drops Cruz from the ticket, renaming him Ted Lose.
As the Democratic convention nears, SCOTUS issues its ruling that the party’s use of superdelegates is absolutely constitutional. By that point, though, the superdelegates in question have grown tired of the rancorous obstructionism of the Clinton camp. They begin switching their votes just as they did to Obama eight years earlier. Soon, Bernie has enough delegates to give him the nomination causing Tad Devine to crow, “I told you he was exactly like Obama.”
Clinton concedes before the convention. Rather than agreeing to campaign for Bernie as she had for Obama years earlier, both she and her husband decide to skip the convention, to retire into private life. As do the millions of middle-aged women who supported her. (The skipping, not the retiring. Come on, this is America, who has money for retirement?) President Obama bypasses the convention, too; now convinced that a win for Bernie may mean the destruction of Obamacare. Vice President Biden agrees to headline but comes down with alcohol poisoning the first night and is unable to give his keynote address. Killer Mike subs in, establishing himself as a political force for years to come.
With the two major parties having had their conventions and fielded their candidates, third party action begins to come hot and heavy. In addition to perennial two-percenter, the Green Party’s Dr. Jill Stein, two more formidable (and paranormal) third partiers emerge. Leveraging disappointment that Trump isn’t really a Nazi and Bernie isn’t really a Marxist, Baby Hitler’s Ghost (BHG) and the Risen Specter of Karl Marx (TRSOKM) throw their metaphorical metaphysical hats in the ring. Soon, BHG and TRSOKM are polling in high single digits. Still, for obvious reasons, the networks refuse to open up the debates. Rabid multi-party-system activists protest to no avail.
There are two Presidential debates, another between the VP candidates (academic/activist Dr. Cornel West squares off against Mountain Dew’s diabolical Super Bowl advertising creation, puppymonkeybaby (who has replaced Cruz)). While Dr. West uses his signature blend of theology, philosophy, and the occasional rhyme to torch Mountain Dew’s celebrity spokescreature in a strict “debating” sense—puppymonkeybaby, it turns out, really is only able to say “puppymonkeybaby”—voters seem to identity with puppymonkeybaby’s creepy cuteness and charmingly limited way with words, likening the situation to the times they elected George W. Bush President. All in, the Vice Presidential debate is its usual electoral non-factor though sales of Race Matters, Democracy Matters, and Mountain Dew Code Red Special puppymonkeybaby Edition do spike.
Going into the third presidential debate on October 19, Realclearpolitics.com shows national polling averages of Trump 38.7%, Sanders 37.5%, 11% each for Baby Hitler’s Ghost and the Risen Specter of Karl Marx, and 1.8% for Dr. Jill Stein.
And, so, on a bracing evening in late October, Senator Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump meet for their third and final debate…
“Polls show you and Senator Sanders neck and neck, Mr. Trump,” says Megyn Kelly, big, heavily-mascaraed eyes narrowing to set the play.
Trump nods in response, his face a rusty mass of judiciously jowly constipation.
Megyn continues, “As to the campaign’s central issue of foreign policy, does Russia’s so-called ‘friendly’ invasion of Poland require a military response?”
“Thank you for that question, Megyn. And I just want to say how glad I am you’ve learned a little respect over these last few months. By the way, you’re looking lovely, absolutely, humongously beautiful.”
“Uh, uh, Megyn,” interjects Bernie, waving his index finger for an unseen waiter. “Trump is not answering the question. He’s flattering you, using flattery to distract you I mean.”
“Hey, shut up, Bern Out. Can’t you see I’m talking to the lady? Go back to playing with your Josef Stalin action figures over there in the corner, OK, loser?”
Sanders looks expectantly to Kelly and her co-moderator Rush Limbaugh. No luck. The primaries over, Trump’s all they’ve got and the Republicans are sticking to him.
“I love Putin. He’s a great guy. And we can work with him, no question. So, no, a military response won’t be necessary.”
“All right, Mr. Trump, what if, for example, Russia were to move into Germany next. President Obama has already drawn a bright red line across the German border. And Senator Sanders has agreed.”
Bernie nods, raises an index finger once again, waves it frenetically as Trump continues talking.
“OK, now that, Megyn, there you’re right. I can guarantee Putin wouldn’t invade Germany if he was dealing with a President Trump. No way. President Commie over there, who can be sure?” Trump hooks a thumb in Bernie’s direction, exhales dramatically, and glares briefly at the ceiling.
“But if he did…”
“If he did, all options would be on the table.”
“Yes, nuclear. What part of me being the most militaristic candidate ever haven’t you understood?”
Finally grown tired of motioning for service, Bernie busts in. “So, let me get this straight, Megyn, because I think…I think what we’ve got here is Trump saying…Is he really saying he’d use nuclear weapons against—?”
“Listen, Mr. Conscientious Objector…Listen and shut up. I’m going to talk to the guy, work things out. I’ll offer him some sort of split, back like we had in the Cold War. Things were good then, stable. So we give him a slice of Germany, call it a day.”
Bernie: “What if he doesn’t go along, nuclear war?”
“Maybe on a limited basis. But probably not. More likely, I’d invade Mexico.”
Megyn: “Senator Sanders?”
“Mexico? So, Trump is saying he’s going to annex Mexico? I thought your wall was designed to keep all the Mexicans out, Mr. Big Shot.”
“Listen, Bernie, I said invade Mexico. Try listening for a change. We’re going to put up the wall. It’s going to be an excellent wall—the most, best, biggest, highest wall—but walls have doors, right, genius?”
Trump continues, “We’re going to open the door and send fifteen, twenty massive columns of tanks through.”
“So, again, annex Mexico…”
“No, no, NO. And I’m not talking any old columns of tanks here. I’m talking Trump columns, Roman columns of tanks, but better. Tanks painted gold as far as the eye can see, sprinkled with rhinestones, tanks that come with their own PA systems that blast Wagner for miles. It’s going to be the classiest invasion anyone’s ever seen. We’ll sell tickets to come watch it in the screening room at the White House, make a killing. We’ll give the money to the Lead Water Kids up in Michigan. Once we’re in, we’ll secure the oil fields, then we’ll take the oil as payment for the wall and whatever else. Then we get out. Simple. None of this protracted war crappola. Exit strategy. Plus we’ve got my wall up by then so they couldn’t do anything anyway.”
Rush: “Mr. Trump, I understand you’ve decided to call it the Great Wall of Trump?”
“Not a bad name, Rush. But that’s not really for me to say.”
“I’ll leave that to the people in charge of monuments, whoever that is?”
Megyn: “Actually, that would be you, Mr. Trump.”
“Are you getting snippy, Megyn? Don’t make me bring Erin Burnett out here again.”
Megyn scowls. “And the Russians?”
“What is it with this obsession for the Russians? You sure you don’t just want a date with Putin?”
“You still haven’t told us what you’d do other than…other than invade Mexico.”
“We do a split like I said. We negotiate. And if that doesn’t work out, who needs sausages and BMW’s? We can make our own over here.”
“Turning to another foreign policy question: Senator Sanders, you said on several occasions during the campaign you see North Korea as the greatest threat to world peace. Do you still feel that way today, in light of Poland?”
“Actually, Megyn, yes, I do. This Kim is a wild dictator and he’s working on nuclear weapons. You have to look at people with nuclear weapons on another scale. It’s a different level of threat.”
“Kim Schmim. Wait until ISIS has a nuclear weapon then you’ll see what real fear can be.”
“And what would you do if they got one?”
“Let the Israelis or Putin take care of it of course, no sense depleting our arsenal. Everybody knows if we wanted to we could destroy the entire world including ourselves many times over. And that ability’s just going to increase tremendously with Trump as President. We’re going to be more powerful than you ever dreamed.”
“So, no response?”
“Again, what aren’t you understanding? Of course I’d respond. I’d probably attack, I don’t know, Venezuela maybe. They’ve got a lot of oil.”
Bernie: “Trump says invade Venezuela but the Venezuelans are a peace-loving Socialist people. They give free heating oil to Joe Kennedy’s People’s Energy Program. How can we in good conscience invade Venezuela?”
Donald Trump: “I wasn’t talking about conscience. I was talking about oil.”
Bernie: “And nuclear war. You were also talking about nuclear war.”
Trump: “So were you. But let me tell you something, if Trump starts a nuclear war, it’s going to be a great nuclear war, the most fiery, fallout-heavy, centuries-long-nuclear-winterish war anyone could imagine. And if that war happens you can bet we’re going to win. We’re going to win so well, it’ll feel like we’ve won twice, maybe even three times.”