While the Anti-Trump Mandarins of the Commentariat (ATMC, for short) are busy untwisting their knickers after the President’s historic summit meeting with the Tubby Tyrant of North Korea, I have an important real-estate tip to pass along: beach-front property in North Korea. Keep your eye on it. As Trump said yesterday in his wide-ranging press conference following his meeting with Kim Jong-un, that stretch of land between China and South Korea would be an ideal spot for luxury hotels and condos, if only Kim would stop shooting off cannons there.
“If only.” Bear that in mind, as Donald Trump assuredly will, as you chuckle over the incongruity of “beach-front property” in close proximity to the words “North Korea.”
Observation One: President Trump has a sly and inviting sense of humour. This is not widely appreciated, but it should be. The ATMC are too busy screaming themselves hoarse to notice. It was amusing of Trump, a bona-fide real estate tycoon, to mention condos and hotels at his press conference. “Think of it,” he said, “from a real-estate perspective.” It was amusing for Trump, who has had a histrionically contentious relationship with the press, to begin his press conference by commenting on the large number of media people in the audience and say that it made him very uncomfortable. It was funny when he asked the reporter from Time, which used to be a magazine, whether it was going to put him on the cover again. And so on. What we saw yesterday was a calm, confident, and articulate man who answered a battery of questions as clearly as the process that he just initiated allowed and who, moreover, was quietly and appropriately amusing as well. He also used the subjunctive correctly. And remember that he hadn’t slept in twenty-four hours. It was a sprightly and reassuring diplomatic performance — no, that’s too restrained: it was an amazing performance.
Observation Two: you wouldn’t have any idea how sprightly or reassuring or amazing it was if you got your news solely from the ATMC. Their common mantra (over the obligato of “Trump is an evil racist-sexist moron”) was that Trump had been “hoodwinked” and “outmaneuvered” by Kim who offered nothing of substance in exchange for major concessions by the United States.
The media response to Trump’s bold diplomatic initiative with the hideous regime of North Korea has shuttled between outrage that he should deign to appear on the same stage with the murderous muppet Kim Jong-un and knowing contempt that Trump should be so naive as to think that Kim would keep his word. After all, the North Koreans have been double-crossing U.S. Presidents at least since Bill was sharing his cigars with Monica Lewinsky.
At yesterday’s press conference, these thoughts were in the background and the questions revolved around two concerns: human rights abuses in North Korea and verifiability.
Let me stipulate that to describe what Kim has done to the people of North Korea as “human rights abuses” is a gross understatement. Guess what: Donald Trump knows this. Remember Ji Seong-ho, the North Korean defector who sat in the First Lady’s box at Trump’s State of the Union address and wowed the audience by waving his crutches in the air? Donald Trump knows what a nasty piece of work Kim Jong-un is just as Ronald Reagan knew that the Soviet Union was an “evil empire.”
Fun fact: Trump’s presser yesterday, June 12, was the anniversary of Reagan’s famous “tear-down-this-wall” speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Coincidence? Design? Providence? In any event, that was in 1987. In 1988, on May 31, Reagan delivered one of his most magnificent speeches at Moscow State University. There was no talk of evil empires this time. Instead, Reagan’s theme was freedom and the opportunities it offered.
That was a theme Donald Trump sounded in Singapore, too, both in his discussion with Kim and in the brief video he had made for Kim. The video starkly outlines two very different futures for North Korea. The blighted black-and-white past of tyranny and deprivation, on the one hand, or the technicolor future of innovation, freedom, and prosperity.
It’s a cheesy piece of work, no doubt. The media frothed that the video looked like propaganda from the DPRK. They have a point. But I think the miss the significance. The video does look a bit like some of the propaganda videos emitted by North Korea. But what if that was the point? What if that is just the sort of thing that Kim likes or is likely to respond to?
The bizarre thing about the anti-Trump response to the Singapore summit is how simple-minded it is in its sophistication. Donald Trump clearly understands the tentative exploratory nature of his diplomatic initiative. He understands that the diplomacy might not work. But the possibility of effecting the denuclearisation of North Korea is too great an opportunity to pass up. It is a possibility, which means that it might fail. That’s one reason Trump is maintaining the tough sanctions that are imposed against North Korea. His strategy of maximum pressure brought Kim to the bargaining table. Let’s see what else it can do.
Notwithstanding the cavils of the ATMC, Trump won major concessions from Kim. The agreement they signed calls for the rapid, complete, and verifiable denuclearisation of the country. In a late addition to the agreement, it also calls for the destruction of a major missile test site. Kim also agreed to return the remains of some 6000 American dead to their families.
Will all of this happen? Stay tuned. Two final thoughts. One, this is what bold diplomacy looks like. It is two parts theatre, one part substantive agreement. You don’t get the result you want instantly. It is, to use a word Trump deployed a week or two before the summit, a “process.” You don’t get a reformation of human rights and McDonald’s and the beach-front condos all at once. You don’t even get all the military concessions all at once. But you start the ball rolling. You say nice things about Kim. You tell the world that he is “talented,” that only “one in ten-thousand” young men would have been able to step into the role and maintain power as he has. You flatter him. “Do you see Kim Jong-un as an equal?” one reporter asked. “I’ll do whatever it takes to make the world a safer place,” Trump responded, even share a stage with him. Who is the bigger man, the clucking reporter or Donald Trump?
Finally, it’s difficult to appreciate the fact that one is living through an historic moment as it unfolds. You get up, boil the egg and butter the toast. You’re absorbed in the daily round of your life. But sometimes big things are happening around you. I believe that what Donald Trump inaugurated yesterday in North Korea may be one such event. There are no guarantees. There never are on the field of international relations. But you’d think that the Left, which is always going on about the importance of dialogue, would champion Donald Trump’s efforts. They don’t, partly because they despise the messenger, partly because his success only underscores their own irrelevance. That in itself has its comic aspects, also its pathetic ones. I think that this is what Hegel called a world-historical moment. If so, I will also note that the dialectic, as the anti-Trump Chihuahuas are about to discover, is a remorseless engine of change. Yesterday people listened to you. Tomorrow, you have a million Twitter followers but no one cares what you say.