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An ongoing crisis summary to keep you informed, active, and sane. Written from a center-left perspective, focused on removing the threat of Trumpian autocracy. By Francis Hwang.

Day 202.

In U.S. and North Korea, Trump and Kim raise the stakes

An escalating war of words has increased tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, as Donald Trump issued vague threats and was immediately called on his bluff.

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that North Korea has successfully produced a nuclear warhead small enough to fit inside a missile. This innovation does not yet present an immediate threat to the continental U.S., but it certainly moves that threat closer, and indicates that the country's arms program is moving much more quickly than previously predicted by many experts.

Speaking from his golf course in New Jersey, Trump promised "fire and fury like the world has ever seen" if North Korea continued to threaten the United States. A few hours later, North Korea's official news agency reported the North Korean government was calling his bluff with a threat to attack Guam.

What the world faces now is a war of words between two leaders who, although they are not conventional leaders by the terms of open democratic states, can be understood to be acting out of amoral self-interest. Kim Jong Un's desires are to survive and stay in power, regardless of the suffering inflicted upon the people of his country. Donald Trump's desires are similar: He wants to stay powerful, rich, and out of jail, regardless of the damage he does to democracy, the rule of law, or the lives of marginalized people.

On our side, one saving grace is that we are still somewhat a democracy. In spite of Trump's deficiencies, my guess is that he understands that if he is to start a war that kills millions and survive it politically, he needs support from other politicians first.

So the reactions of Congressional Republicans will be key here. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was one of the first to speak on the issue today, trying to clarify and reinforce Trump's actions: "He’ll never allow North Korea to have an ICBM missile that can hit America with a nuclear weapon on top." If this hawkish position becomes the Republican consensus, this may embolden Trump to push us closer to the brink of war.

What is the left to do? For one thing, we need to recognize that North Korea represents a greater political challenge than Obamacare in some ways, because the status quo wasn't stable regardless. Even if Trump were to tone down his threats, North Korean arms development would likely continue, presenting a genuine threat to its neighbors.

What we can demand are some general operating principles: More diplomacy, more careful use of language, and genuine strategic and moral leadership. If we can't get it from the White House or the State Department, perhaps we can demand it from our slightly more rational Congress, in the form of oversight.

And if you are not familiar with the problems of North Korea, the time to educate yourself would be now. We will be dealing with this problem for some time. We can't count on our government to solve it for us.

Progress

Donald Trump's approval ratings continue to find new lows, touching 36.6% approval according to FiveThirtyEight's aggregated rating.

Setbacks

According to a draft governmental report on climate change, the average temperature in the U.S. has risen rapidly since 1980. This report was leaked to the New York Times amid fears it would be silenced by the Trump administration. Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture has asked staff to stop using the term "climate change" at all.

Developing

The White House is considering a plan to privatize much of the war in Afghanistan, handing a massive contract to Blackwater founder Erik Prince. But several current and former Trump administration officials tell the Daily Beast that the plan is a non-starter.

The Washington Post reports that in July, FBI agents working with special counsel Robert Mueller raided the home of Trump's ex-campaign chair Paul Manafort. No details were given regarding which documents were retrieved.