Nothing is more dangerous or in greater need of avoidance than nuclear war. And this avoidance absolutely must be a top priority for any world leader, especially the leader of a country that has nuclear capabilities. So it worried me the other day when I heard President Trump say the following in such a glib manner:
“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea,” he said. “Absolutely.”
One one level his comments are innocuous, mostly because of the word could. On another level, they're dangerous. Have you ever heard a woman say she "ended up" pregnant, for example? What's going on here? Well, the problem is Trump's use of end up.
End up is the term people use when the result of a process is unexpected, and usually in situation that is less severe than annihilation.
"I wanted a beer, but I ended up drinking a margarita."
"We wanted to go to Hawaii on vacation but ended up staying home."
"I studied medicine but ended up a writer."
There is, however, nothing unexpected or glib about a war with North Korea. Trump's policies could be moving us toward one. After all, he also recently said:
“This is a real threat to the world, whether we want to talk about it or not. North Korea is a big world problem and it's a problem that we have to finally solve. People put blindfolds on for decades and now it's time to solve the problem."
I can honestly imagine him one day tweeting, "I tried to solve the North Korea problem, but ended up with nuclear annihilation. Sad." (Of course this would mean that Twitter and Trump survived the holocaust. Metaphor crushed.)
Back to his quote. The phrasal verb end up is being used less to designate a surprise and more as a passive, being that it is so weak and without agency, the type of agency a president ought to have when maneuvering the world away from a Third World War. It actually reminds me of George W. Bush--and other politicians--saying "Mistakes were made." These are ways to signal that one has eschewed responsibility and agency. In a linguistic construction like "Mistakes were made"--the passive voice--the subject and object switch positions in the sentence relative to the verb. Then the subject is put into what is called an oblique, which in English is a prepositional phrase. But guess what? Prepositional phrases are not obligatory, and so the subject--and instigator of the verb--is gone. Poof. End up is sort of the lexical version of the passive construction. Sort of. It has the same effect, nonetheless, that of a powerful man taking taking the sum of all fears with an oh-well! attitude.
These linguistic trivialities that Trump produces are insight into his thinking. I would rather have heard, "Unfortunately there is a chance of war with North Korea." But he seems to think it's finally due and he's a little too glib about it for my taste. And if you think I'm being picky, remember the shit Obama took for using the world folks? I do.
TL;DR Trump is too glib in his rhetoric towards nuclear war with North Korea, and this glibness appears as a lack of agency or responsibility.