I'm going to start by saying, "I called it." Yesterday, I posted this about how Trump getting distracted by Charlottesville would give the North Korea situation a chance to calm down. And it did. The North Koreans announced that they won't be shooting that missile at Guam after all. Vox posted this after the North Koreans backed down, making much the same argument, but... I saw it coming before it happened, and posted before the fact. So... yeah. Keep reading this blog! Profane and obscure, but basically right! (Except when I'm wrong, but even then, I have cool music, right?)
Anywho, speaking of obscure, post hoc ergo propter hoc. Latin for, "after this, therefore because of this." It is one of the most important logical fallacies to understand because it is so tempting. It is also one of the most common logical fallacies to plague the thinking of the great, unwashed masses.
That's not how causation works. Time order is an important condition for causation, but just because A happened before B, that doesn't mean A caused B. If you want to understand why this is so important, just think about those damned anti-vaxxers. My kid got a vaccination, and then developed symptoms of autism. Post hoc ergo propter hoc! Of course, that vile fucking piece of shit, Andrew Wakefield had a lot to do with this. He falsified some data, and published an article in Lancet, which they had to retract, but that still led to a lot of kids dying unnecessarily, and at the core of his bullshit was the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.
Don't fall prey to post hoc ergo propter hoc.
Trump warned of "fire and fury," and then talked about being "locked and loaded." Then, just yesterday, North Korea announced that it wouldn't fire at Guam. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.
Trump quit talking about North Korea because he was distracted by Charlottesville and the criticism he was taking from the media. North Korea then announced that it wouldn't fire at Guam. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.
You see the problem.
Obviously, the first version will be more appealing to Trump because it will make him look like a "winner," and he can brag about being bigly, and oooh, look at how bigly his hands are!
Of course, yesterday morning, I explained that the distraction of Charlottesville would end the situation, before North Korea backed away from its missile threats.
In social science terms, how do we distinguish between these two stories?
Well, the first version has a problem in that it omits some intervening events, and I'm going to claim some credit for pointing out the sequence as it was happening. I think that gives me a bit more credibility here, but that leads to the next point. Watch the Trump administration's behavior!
Trump's impulse would normally be to brag, and try to rub Kim Jong Un's face in having backed down. Why? Because Trump treated the whole situation as a show of dominance. However, Tillerson, Mattis, Kelly and the grown-ups probably look at it my way, and understand that if Trump goes back to taunting Kim Jong Un, tensions get ratcheted up again. They need him to keep his fuckin' mouth shut about North Korea for a while. As long as he stays distracted by Charlottesville, or anything else so that real negotiations can happen, they're happy. Or, at least, less upset. With Trump, it's all relative. But, if Trump tries to do some dominance display and brag about "winning" with North Korea, he undercuts the process.
Yesterday, Trump decided to backtrack from his second Charlottesville statement. He's going full racist again, and basically avoiding the subject of North Korea. Wasn't Kelly supposed to try to impose some discipline here?
John Kelly is basically OK with this. Would he rather Trump not talk like David Duke? Yes, but that ain't gonna happen, so he'll settle for Trump just focusing on Charlottesville. Why? Because while this is a public relations disaster for Trump, it is better to de-escalate North Korea, even if the cost is another incident of Trump being obviously an idiot racist. There's nothing new about Trump being a loud-mouthed racist. That will blow over. His party will issue their half-hearted condemnations, then Trump will beat them back into submission. See my previous comments on the Mika Brzezinski incident.
And within a week or two, Trump will do something else outrageously stupid and vile, and this will be off the headlines. Within a month, people will have forgotten about Trump's reaction to Charlottesville because Trump will have done so many stupid and vile things that this just fades into the din. He's just Trump. But, North Korea will have been resolved because Trump let himself get distracted. He chose self-immolation rather than world-immolation. Again, I say yay(?)