On Tuesday, Trump warned that “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” adding: “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
On Thursday. Trump said he might not have gone far enough two days before. “If anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough and we are backed by 100% by our military, we are backed by everybody and we are backed by many other leader,” he said.
Then, on Friday morning, Trump took to Twitter to up the ante with North Korea yet again: “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”
“Fire and fury.”
“Locked and loaded.”
What Trump has made clear – again – over the last four days is how much of what he does (and thinks) has to do with projecting strength. With never letting someone have the last word. With using purposefully provocative language to antagonize.
This is what Trump did throughout the 2016 campaign. Consider:
“Low energy Jeb.”
“I like people that weren’t captured.”
“They’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.”
“Blood coming out of her wherever.”
“Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?”
“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
“I’m afraid the election’s going to be rigged, I have to be honest.”
“She was the winner and she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem.”
“Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted and should be in jail.”
I could, obviously, go on. But you get the point.
Donald Trump is, at heart a provocateur. He says things he knows will be controversial and will provoke reactions. Then, he reacts to the reaction – always calculating what the next best move is for the Trump brand.
As a private citizen, that approach made him famous. Saying provocative things – particularly when you live in New York City and are extremely wealthy – tends to have that effect.
There was an expectation in the early days of his presidential candidacy that if he ever got anywhere near the White House – which seemed totally crazy at the start – that he would adjust his behavior to fit the office.
“After I beat them, I’m going to be so presidential, you’re going to be so bored, you’re going to say, this is the most boring human being I’ve ever interviewed,” Trump assured Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity in an April 2016 interview.
That boast – whether Trump meant it or not – never came to pass.
As President, Trump has served as the provocateur-in-chief – whether that provocation has been directed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or Kim Jong Un’s North Korea.
This is who he is. It’s the only way of interacting with people he knows how to do. The idea that Trump will adjust that approach is a fantasy. He believes deeply that that approach is the reason he has succeeded so wildly in business and politics. (Say whatever you want about Trump, but it is a remarkable feat to be elected president in your first political race.)
He is a “locked and loaded” President. And he ain’t changing. So, buckle up.