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Time to stop laughing

| Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
People walk by a TV screen showing a local news program with an image of President Donald Trump at the Seoul Train Station in South Korea. North Korea and the United States traded escalating threats, with Trump threatening Pyongyang 'with fire and fury like the world has never seen' and the North's military claiming Wednesday it was examining its plans for attacking Guam. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
People walk by a TV screen showing a local news program with an image of President Donald Trump at the Seoul Train Station in South Korea. North Korea and the United States traded escalating threats, with Trump threatening Pyongyang 'with fire and fury like the world has never seen' and the North's military claiming Wednesday it was examining its plans for attacking Guam. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

In the weeks following Donald Trump's election, after working their way through the stages of grief, some “Never Trumpers” resolved to make the best of a bad situation.

If they could find a little humor in Trump's behavior and the antics of his administration, a “not ready for prime time” ensemble, they could survive Trump. Trump's Twitter storms alone, likely to make a thumb-challenged teenager jealous, have usually been good for a laugh or two.

It was a decent strategy, as long as no one got hurt.

But lately, there is little to laugh about.

Candidate Trump claimed early on, “There will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.” Now president, he has been obsessed with repealing ObamaCare. If he had succeeded, between 16 million and 30 million Americans would have lost their coverage.

And last week, with the news that North Korea could couple a miniaturized nuclear warhead to a missile capable of reaching the United States, Trump's over-the-top response put the whole world at risk.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

His response sucked all the air out of many rooms. Trump was thinking about the unthinkable: a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, sure to annihilate millions and destroy the world's economy.

Trump may have been following his real estate developer instincts, which sometimes call for brinkmanship and doomsday posturing.

But this is not a Manhattan real estate deal.

Or, since he has been vacationing at his Bedminster, N.J., golf club, he may be feeling expansive.

He is king there, unfettered by the collar of democracy, with all its checks and balances, against which he famously chafes. There, he can speak freely.

But in its best light, his response might be a purposeful tactic, a version of Richard Nixon's “madman” theory of foreign policy.

Nixon liked it when hostile foreign leaders believed that he was a total nutcase, capable of blowing up the world on a whim.

H.R. Haldeman, in his book “The Ends of Power,” used Nixon's own words to describe how the president used the “madman” approach to get North Vietnam to negotiate for peace.

“We'll just slip the word to them that, ‘for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry — and he has his hand on the nuclear button' — and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.”

It can be a successful tactic, but only if the guy on the other side is rational.

If you threaten a madman with madman actions, your threat is sure to backfire.

Kim Jong Un, North Korea's supreme leader, heard Trump's threat, and he upped the rhetorical ante. Calling Trump's bluff, his military threatened to annihilate Guam and “turn the U.S. mainland into the theater of a nuclear war.”

So, as it turns out, laughter has its limits. It can lighten our load and help us cope with the small aggravations of life, but it cannot be used to avoid hard truths.

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (joemistick.com).

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