Trump's reality TV diplomacy
President Trump announced the date of his upcoming talks with Kim Jong Un of North Korea on Thursday as only he could, via Twitter, with no build-up and minimal details.
The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2018
Both the style and format of this announcement seem better suited to advertising an upcoming episode of a reality TV program featuring Miss Universe or inviting Don King or some other D-list celebrity crony to have his head dunked in freezing water on YouTube than to an international summit decades in the making. We've seen Trump Ties and Trump Vodka: This, I suppose, is Trump Korea. In a way it's brilliant.
Trump's refusal — or perhaps it is an inability — to distinguish between the vocabulary, syntax, and prose rhythm suitable for a ditzo marketing campaign and the grave language long thought proper to the conduct of diplomacy is one of the secrets of his bizarre appeal.
But the really striking thing about Trump's announcement is that the conference it heralded is taking place at all.
How the president manages to get anything done, much less to go in less than a year from threatening nuclear war to arranging an unheard-of meeting with an East Asian despot, is an absolute mystery. (Perhaps Mike Pompeo, if he ever learns Kim's last name, will explain it to us in his memoirs, as Dr. Kissinger did his and Nixon's lauded "opening" of China in those very long books no one has actually read.) Between the relentless persecution at the hands of our nation's highest paid kindergarten teacher and the legal consequences of his depraved past and the unhinged behavior of virtually every single person charged with extricating him from these difficulties one would think Trump's attentions would be elsewhere.
Calling the Trump administration a nest of vipers would be an unprecedented insult to snakes. The night before Trump announced the meeting with Kim it was reported that his former top adviser was the target of a plot by a gang of Qatari investors who dumped more than $7 million into a basketball league founded by the musical luminary behind AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted in the hope of securing access to the president. Stephen Bannon's successor, generally regarded as the most level-headed person in the West Wing, is in the headlines every other week for sniping at his boss.
Meanwhile, in Congress Trump's party is made up of in-fighting spittle-drenched lunatics led by once-and-future consultants and soccer dads who despise him. The opposition and its followers hate him with passion usually reserved for comic-book villains. His most devoted supporters are frat boys, Nazis, and blameless UAW pensioners in Middle America. Practically the only good thing Trump has going for him is the unthinking loyalty of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, which can only be expected to last so long.
Somehow amid this tumult, what Trump hears from afar is the voices of his moderate Republican ancestors Dwight Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush prophesying peace. It is too early to make even a very tame guess about the likelihood of success; indeed, what "success" would involve here is very much an open question. Is Trump seeking an end to Kim's nuclear program? Liberalization in Pyongyang? Reunification of the Korean Peninsula? Does he himself know? This is very much in doubt.
Still, it is something that this meeting really is taking place. Now, as some of his most persistent critics never tire of reminding us, the mere fact of a meeting between the president of the United States and the current head of the Kim dynasty is not in itself an achievement. This is certainly true, but one wonders then why it managed to elude so many of his predecessors.
No self-respecting journalist should ever be in the business of congratulating politicians for their schemes. Most of our elected officials barely understand the gibberish they read from teleprompters or recite with a quasi-mechanical felicity on cable television programs. The projects devised by members of their underpaid staff of 20-something former student council treasurers are almost uniformly ludicrous. When they come off it is usually a matter of luck.
One reason I dislike the president less than I do most politicians is that he does not shrink from any of these truths. His total lack of interest in policymaking and the almost total absence of facile improving talk in his public pronouncements recommend him to all fellow cynics. It is obvious that on trade, immigration, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, and now North Korea he is very much making it up as he goes along. It's just another ad-hoc advertising push.
Still, whatever his methods and intentions, if Trump somehow manages to improve the lives of millions of poor souls in North Korea without firing a single missile, he will be not only one of the luckiest men in recent history but also, perhaps accidentally, a decent one.