There’s been a lot of speculation this week about what North Korea’s announced upcoming “Christmas gift” to the United States will be. Best guesses seem to be a satellite launch, a sophisticated long-range missile test, or another nuclear detonation.
After the Kim Jong-un–Donald Trump lovefest of the past couple years, it looks like the two are back to the personalized insults and games of nuclear chicken that characterized the first year of Trump’s presidency. This could go horribly wrong horribly quickly.
That’s one part of the Signal. Another part, which generated far less attention, was a deeply provocative long-range missile test that the United States carried out over the Pacific last week, to the dismay of arms-control advocates.
The missile test would have been banned under the terms of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty that the United States negotiated with the USSR in 1987 and continued with Russia. But the Trump administration pulled out of the INF treaty in August, claiming that Russian noncompliance had forced its hand; early this year, it began giving the same argument for letting START—the largest remaining treaty limiting nuclear arsenals and missile technology—expire in 2021. The rationale is, of course, a lie. Yes, Russia is cheating, as is America. But that should be an argument to strengthen arms-control enforcement mechanisms, not ditch them entirely. Instead, the Trump administration is rushing into a costly, and potentially apocalyptic, new arms race.
This has, of course, generated considerable media buzz, much of it unfavorable. A normal leader would tolerate the ups and downs of media coverage as being simply part of the job description. But instead, as news organizations criticize Trump’s methods, the president reacts with ever more Noise, creating a cacophony that is intended to drown out all serious discussion and debate. On Thursday, Trump tweeted and retweeted more than 100 times, beating his own record from just a few days earlier. He directed much venom at the media and at the Democrats conducting the impeachment inquiry and gearing up for a historic impeachment vote later this week. Other missives were personalized insults against teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg. On Saturday night, he made the extraordinary pronouncement that any news shows that were not supportive of him—including those on Fox—would “all die together.”
This isn’t democracy—it’s full-blown cultism, and the entire GOP is buying into it. But it’s not just the cultural norms of American democracy that are being shredded. Increasingly, it’s the voting infrastructure itself, as conservatives accelerate their efforts to constrict the franchise going into an election year.
On Friday, an elected judge in deep-red Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, ordered the State Elections Commission to purge more than 200,000 voters from the state voter rolls. These were all individuals who hadn’t responded to the commission’s requests to confirm their addresses. They will have plenty of time and opportunities to re-register, as the state allows election-day registration; that’s why voting rights advocates view the Wisconsin case as a softer purge than the ones that have happened in states such as Georgia and Ohio. But it’s very possible that several thousand of the disenrolled will simply cease to vote. Since Wisconsin went to Trump by only 23,000 votes in 2016, that’s a hugely significant number.
Stay tuned: There’s a lot of Signal to come during this historic impeachment week.