Back in the USA and tracking the news on Interstate 40: North Korea? Where?

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DonKirk3By Donald Kirk,

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas ― North Korea’s top gun will have to try harder if he expects his threats of another nuclear test will win serious consideration in a U.S. presidential election year.

Driving through the American heartland, you hear hardly a thing about the latest threats from Pyongyang.

Such are American priorities that even a fifth or sixth North Korean nuclear test might not attract that much attention. Yes, there’d be headlines for two or three days. The candidates would break into their usual messages, mostly “Let’s Make America Great Again,” and issue dire warnings about what they’d do if elected. Then, as the news from the only country to conduct a nuclear test in this century receded from the headlines, they’d be back to the usual harangues and promises.

USpoliticsDonald Trump captures the most publicity for his bombast. None of the other candidates can approach him for mingling bully-boy rhetoric with assurances of all the good things he would bestow if given half a chance. Forgetting the encouragement he heaps on his stooges to drown out or beat up protesters, I’m amazed by his vow to “build that wall” ― the one that’s going to keep thousands of “illegal immigrants” from sneaking into the U.S.

Sure, but I have yet to hear Trump or anyone else address the issue of The Wall when it comes to buying up the land along the Mexican border, winning approvals from local authorities, getting Congress to pay the billions it would cost and authorizing maintenance fees and troops to guard it.

Oh, that’s right, I forgot: Trump says he’s going to get Mexico to pay the bill. Will he please stop it? There’s no way, none, Mexico will ever, ever pick up the multi-billion-dollar cost for building a huge wall, replete with watchtowers, electronic devices, barracks for guards and all the rest, from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, to keep its own citizens from sneaking into the U.S. Who does Trump think he’s kidding?’

Actually, that last question is easy to answer. He’s kidding millions of Americans who turn up at rallies, cheering him on as if he were an evangelical preacher, a rabble-rouser, a Hollywood superstar, all in one. He puts on a show that’s at once mesmerizing and more than a little frightening. What if he gets elected? OMG!

But let’s be fair. All the other candidates are also guilty of making promises they’ll never keep if elected president.

How about Bernie Sanders? No, he doesn’t sound like a neighborhood bad boy or a caricature of a big mouth. He just says stuff that can’t happen. Universal medical care for all? Fine, but who’s gonna pay for it? Free university education for anyone who wants it? Great.

Again, that nagging question: who’s gonna pick up the tab when the U.S. budget is in perpetual huge deficit and nobody wants to pay more taxes?

Oh, that’s right. Sanders would soak the rich, get the Wall Street fat cats to pay even higher taxes. Another fine idea ― milk them for all they’ve got.

Trouble is, Congress won’t approve a hefty tax increase for the richest Americans, and you might not get most of them to pay up anyway. They’d surely find ways to get around what they’d see as another annoyance.

Other ideas you hear in this election year are more fatuous: cutting taxes, drastically, imposing a flat tax ― that is, the same tax level for everyone ― all while building up the armed forces against enemies from North Korea to the Middle East? These promises do have a certain morbid fascination.

Mostly I’m fascinated by how presidential candidates get away with it. Who do they think they’re kidding? Right, millions of their “fellow Americans.”

When it comes to foreign policy, if you hear anything much, it’s about the dangers of free trade agreements, of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Congress obviously doesn’t want to approve. The issues are America’s yawning trade deficit and the exodus of jobs to countries where labor is cheap.

Trump’s got another stupid ― that’s the only word for it ― solution. He’d make the Chinese, and others too, pay huge surcharges or tariffs on exports to the U.S. Talk about suicidal ideas. What would happen to U.S. exports? What if the world descended into protectionism? The tariff walls worldwide would be far more formidable than any wall along the Mexican border.

In the cacophony of campaign rhetoric, what you don’t hear about is North Korea.

Are the candidates at all aware of the annual U.S.-South Korea war games under way? Do they have any ideas on what to do about North Korean threats? Until or unless something “happens,”

Korea is a topic American voters don’t care about. That’s something on which all the candidates, from left to right, can agree.

Donald Kirk currently in the U.S., has been covering war and peace in Asia for decades. He’s at