They said that only Nixon could go to China.
But where Nixon could work toward rapprochement with a traditional enemy because of his hardline stance of defending American interests and the fundamentals of western democracy, it is a distasteful corollary that only Trump could go to North Korea, for exactly the opposite reason, namely his indifference to principle.
Donald Trump believes in a Story of an American Empire, sure. But it’s an Empire that he feels has the right to act with impunity because of its might. Its great moments in the 20th century, defending democratic principles during the the World Wars and the Cold War, were - to his eyes - no more than acts of noblesse oblige. He has shown his preference for power over principle time and again, and the principle that ‘might is right’ is something that Kim Jong-un recognizes, in all likelihood, instinctively.
Kim Jong-un is, after all, a young prince who has come to his throne early. He has had to fight off the pretenders to his throne with efficient brutality. This is something that obviously appeals to Trump. In Trump’s story they are both Kings and thus, on some level, brothers. Their bond, as royalty, is more important than the people they rule over, and if it happens that Kim has been using nuclear weapons as just another bargaining chip in the political struggles within the kingdom of North Korea, well it’s something he’s done himself.
In this meeting, Trump has given Kim political capital to play within his Kingdom, he has after all forced a meeting with the leader of the Great Evil Empire - and that’s got to play well back home. In return, Kim has given Trump the ceremonial recognition that he so desires, has always desired - for Trump likes the trappings of power much more than the responsibility of it. There are very few things that Trump would enjoy more than getting a Nobel Peace Prize to wave in Obama’s face.
So Donny and Kim offer each other accolades (and tours of fancy cars) in exchange for talk of peace. Neither is particularly concerned whether this peace is truly acheived or maintained, but rather in the story they can tell of their greatness.
No wonder then, that Trump loathes Trudeau and the rest of the G7, leaders who see Trump and the USA as just another country - in doing this, they call to question the story that Trump wants to believe. Sure, G7 leaders recognize that the USA is the world’s most powerful economy, but not one that must be given any especial consideration or respect beyond that simple fact. They are a trading partner - Trump’s not a king, and they are not vassals offering tribute or taxes. Trudeau knows that he’s sharing a bed with an elephant, and that he needs to be careful, but he’s not afraid. None of them are - the USA is just another member of the G7, of the OECD, of NATO. They may be dominant, but they don’t have, and are not treated as though they have special rights. Must drive Donny crazy.
Oddly though, this narrative between Donny and Kim might actually be the recipe for success, after all, at least they’re talking (for now). The Trump Narrative, the one that guides his foreign policy (as opposed to the Obama Doctrine, which was based on realpolitik, not a monarchist drama) is one that meshes with North Korea’s own delusions. One can only hope that they are able to tell a story of peace.
But I ain’t holding my breath.
4 weeks ago