Unpacking the Trump-Kim meeting
How to unpack the Trump-Kim Summit
If you’re past 12 years of age, and own a device connected to the internet, chances are you witnessed live the moment where Donald Trump and Kim Jung-Un met for the first time. If you take any interest in the magnitude of this event, you might have seen them eating lunch together, cracking a few jokes, and exchanging pats on the back (or haircut tips).
Their press conference ended with a hearty handshake and friendly remarks. Trump talked about installing condos on North Korean beaches, and Dennis Rodman, the controversial ex-NBA player, was in tears on CNN. If you had just been teleported from 2014, you would be convinced the world transformed into a Stanley Kubrick classic. What are we truly to make of this?
One thing is for certain: a denuclearized North Korea is good news for everybody. Much could go wrong with an unchecked autocratic dictator who claims to be a deity owning nuclear weapons. The threat of a nuclear attack is heaviest on South Korea, the North’s next-door neighbor, which has suffered vastly from the North’s past aggressions. But objectively, any country has cause for concern with an armed and dangerous unchecked state. Whether across the Pacific ocean or just separated by the 38thparallel, Kim and his goons should scare the heck out of you.
But if you are like me, a hopeless classical liberal and democratic romancer, President’s Trump friendly remarks towards the Chairman of the “people’s republic” of North Korea left a bitter and sour taste in your mouth. Yes, we all want peace, but is downplaying the horrific crimes of this dictator the best way to go about it? Must de-nuclearization mean softening of this government’s past and current crimes?
Are we expected to forget the fate of Otto Warmbier, the American student who died upon his return to the US, after his stay in the North Korean torture chambers for the sole crime of wanting to take home a propaganda poster? His father noticed upon his’ son return: “it looked like someone rearranged his bottom teeth with a plier.”What about the countless human rights abuses on North Korean themselves, currently living in a police state that would make Orwell’s 1984 seem unimaginative?
A 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry reports that systematic, widespread crimes committed by the government on its own people included murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortion, and other sexual violence. A defected North Korean military officer, who fled with his family to China, testified that the state’s collectivist attitudes towards food and resources has led to widespread micro-famines reminiscent of the one in the 1990’s, resulting in widespread cannibalism in some regions, sometimes in the form of parents killing their own children for consumption.
North Korea seldom hesitates in participating in activities such as the manufacture and sale of illegal drugs and counterfeit goods, human trafficking, counterfeiting currency and terrorism. The fact that these practices are directed and sanctioned by the highest level of government has led to North Korea being referred to as a “criminal sovereignty” by experts such as Paul Rexton Kan and Bruce Bechtol. Since 2017, the nation was relisted as a terrorist state in response to the murder of Kim Jong-Nam, its dubious role in the Syrian civil war, its close ties with Iran and its backing of Islamist organizations such as Hamas.
It is undeniable that president Trump scored points by making this historic summit happen, and that if handled correctly and taken seriously, it could yield significant positive results for the region’s future. Trump rightfully capitalized on his outsider’s approach to diplomacy and philosophy of bypassing bureaucracy, “letting go of the past” as he put it. For once it seemed his hands-on and outcast approach, arguably what attracted so many voters, was paying off on the international stage.
We have however, now seen the price of having a politically illiterate man as the leader of the free world. One who does not seem to particularly care about the human rights of others. Principles of freedom, humanism and individualism seem to have been bargained out of the negotiating table in favor of political victories at home. Would a reader of Orwell, Rousseau or Voltaire behave the same way in the face of Fascism? Would they pat a brutal dictator on the back and talk about how nice their beaches were at home? Once more, President Trump’s lack of basic appreciation for core principles of human dignity is evident.
We are fooling ourselves if we do not believe that the United States and its president set a precedent for the behavior of the rest of the world. So, when Trump refers to President Duterte of the Philippines has doing “an excellent job” inciting his population to lawful murder, when Sisi’s Egyptian government is lauded as “fantastic” for censoring public debate, using lethal force against protesters, and harassing journalists, or when Turkey’s Erdogan and Russia’s Putin get congratulated for holding sham and bogus re-e-elections by G. Washington’s successor, it makes me sourely miss a reader in the White House.