Sunday, April 1, 2018

Donald Trump’s Nuclear Uncle

Physicist John Trump, in a high-voltage research lab at M.I.T.
Photo: Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

The New Yorker
by Amy Davidson Sorkin

In September, 1936, a reporter for the Associated Press watched the unveiling of a new kind of X-ray machine, said to be able to generate a million volts of power. The scientist operating the device was John G. Trump, a professor of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Trump was working the controls and explaining how high-speed electrons ran along a porcelain tube to a “water-cooled gold target,” when suddenly “two of the high-voltage sparks hit him squarely on the nose.” And yet, according to the A.P. account, the direct strike caused him only “slight discomfort.” Professor Trump told the reporter, “That’s an advantage of this machine. It’s completely grounded and those sparks can’t kill you.”

If only the same could be said of the Presidential campaign run by Professor Trump’s nephew, Donald J. Trump. He is still uncomfortably close to victory, which is why there have been, lately, more serious attempts to figure out what he might do if, say, he had access to nuclear weapons. In his answers, he seldom sounds as ungrounded as when he invokes Professor Trump, the younger brother of his father, Fred. “My uncle used to tell me about nuclear before nuclear was nuclear,” Trump said in one interview, “before nuclear” referring, perhaps, to the development of hydrogen bombs, rather than basic atomic bombs (which occurred when Donald was about six years old), or perhaps just to that netherworld where things wait until Trump judges them to be fashionable or flashy enough to exist. He mentions his uncle so often, and in such extravagant terms—“brilliant,” “one of the top, top professors at M.I.T.”—that it seems worth asking what the professor and his arcane knowledge mean to him. There are two different sets of answers, which might be put into the category of foreign and domestic. Continue reading at The New Yorker

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