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After he co-signed that vague little paper-for-show with President Trump, Kim Jong Un had his North Korean government tell the people back home that their leader had enjoyed a most successful meeting with the American president.

Kim did not stress that he had committed to working toward disarming the country's nuclear arsenal--"completely," as the statement said. Instead he heralded a development not in the statement, but that the American president had given him separately, individually and unilaterally.

It was that he had extracted a concession from the American president that the annual United States-South Korean military drills in South Korea--war games--would be discontinued because North Korea saw them as provocative and insisted on their cessation.

South Korea didn't know that was in the offing. The Pentagon may not have, either. But that's the point with Trump. He prefers to act in a kind of authoritarian way to get deals done in his own artful image.

He could do that on this occasion in a private tête-à-tête with Kim. He can't do that in Washington with all that government openness and representative democracy getting in the way.

So Kim essentially committed the same transgression as that of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau days before. After his summit, he described events for his domestic audience in terms spun advantageously to his domestic interest.

Trudeau had said Canadians would not accept punitive tariffs without retaliating. Trump had blown up over that and called Trudeau highly insulting names.

Kim said his summit's big development was that the Americans conceded on that war-games point. Trump, otherwise telling people that Kim's nuclear disarmament could well take place any minute now, said nothing in response to that.

Trump merely kept extolling the talented man that he found Kim to be and remarking on how good his "chemistry" with him had been.

One difference was that the North Koreans praised Trump in their statement. If Trudeau had amended his remarks to take note that the American president had large hands, he'd probably have been all right.

The greater difference is that, with Trump, the deal comes down less to what the deal is than to how the attempts at deal-making appear on television.

More to the point, it comes down to how his ego feels about his portrayal in that prevailing public view.

Trump thought Trudeau might come away looking tougher than he unless he took to Twitter to call the Canadian highly insulting names and thoroughly blow up a G-7 summit that he'd made a bust anyway.

Trump believes he is seen more favorably by his vital base back home if he engages in combat rather than cooperation with Trudeau and other traditional European allies, almost all more liberal than he, and most wishing they had Barack Obama to work with. So, there's a bit of a chip on the Trumpian shoulder as well in the matter of European relations.

With Kim, Trump looks good if he appears to have made unprecedented personal presidential progress with a North Korean leader on nuclear disarmament. Thus, he dares not object when Kim drops the impression back home that he out-negotiated the big American. That would destroy ... not the deal, because there isn't one to destroy, but the appearance of the deal, sufficiently favorable to Trump at this early juncture that the ravenous ego stands adequately nourished.

Trudeau and Kim were doing what domestic political leaders do. They were tending to their domestic knitting. Neither statement was detrimental to a decent eventual outcome of negotiations. In fact, the statements were obligatory steps toward a possibly decent outcome.

Canadians needed to be placated for Trudeau to negotiate on trade. And North Koreans needed to be told that the war games next door would end well before anyone tried to tell them they might be giving up the nuclear weapons they've been told for decades provided their only lifeblood.

Trump has his own domestic political considerations that compel him to challenge Trudeau and charm Kim. But it's his personal ego consideration that directs him to go further--to belittle a democratic neighbor and flatter a remote strongman.

Trump seems to respect strongmen more than democratic leaders. He seems to care more about winning over an enemy or rival than being true to a friendship or alliance.

No one can say what will possibly come of our trade policies with our traditional allies and with the world regarding North Korea's nuclear threat. There are troubling signs on trade and encouraging ones on North Korea, by Trump's fault on trade and to his credit on North Korea. But these are signs only.

Trump said Tuesday he'd find a way to make excuses if he turns out to be wrong in placing confidence in Kim.

That's because, whatever else happens, what matters first to Trump will always be Trump.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 06/14/2018

Print Headline: It's all about the ego

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  • mozarky2
    June 14, 2018 at 4:32 a.m.

    Happy birthday, President Trump!

  • RBear
    June 14, 2018 at 6:48 a.m.

    You have to ask the question if Obama had been in the same shoes (yea, some whadaboutism) how the right wingers would have reacted to a) meeting with Kim without any prior concessions (criticism from the past), b) issued such a vague statement that really provides no details or tangible promises (we've had more concrete agreements in the past that NK broke), or c) discontinued war games without Congressional approval or coordination with the other partner in the games.
    You have to ask the question how blind Trump's minions are to real diplomacy as long as their feckless leader looks good on TV. You have to ask the question how serious they are about truly getting "complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization" or if just seeing Trump with Kim is all they need to get their warm fuzzy for the night.
    You have to ask how much they really care about having cooperative relations in the world with other nations or if Trump's MAGA really means isolationism. You have to ask if they really understand how protecting dairy farmers can be about "national security" when that's one of the tariffs Trump lists when tweeting about Canada.
    You just have to ask when they'll finally start digging in and doing some research instead of remaining the most issue illiterate demographic in recent history.

  • mozarky2
    June 14, 2018 at 6:59 a.m.

    I think you're onto something, RB.
    Criticize the Trump demographic as stupid and out of touch. Don't forget racist and misogynistic.
    Your party will take back Congress for sure!

  • Rightside
    June 14, 2018 at 7 a.m.

    Results what count.
    Consumer spending strong, unemployment record low, consumer confidence strong, unemployment rate for black Americans dropped to just 6.8 percent, which is the lowest ever recorded, hispanic unemployment rate remains at a near record low. 304,000 manufacturing jobs have been created since President Trump took office, 337,000 construction jobs have been created since President Trump took office, confidence in the American economy, with confidence among both consumers and businesses reaching historic highs. Trump has worked with international allies to decimate ISIS. President has launched a nationwide effort to fight the opioid crisis, which has devastated communities across America.

    Complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a long process it's just beginning, why critize the man trying to get it done. When it comes to trade why do people pull for Canada, China and the EU aganist their own country?
    The annual United States-South Korean military drills in South Korea are not till next spring, training with South Korea military will continue.
    President uses praise and criticism on friends and foes. Results what count. What matters first to Trump will always be the country. Happy Birthday U.S. Army and President Trump.

  • WGT
    June 14, 2018 at 7:15 a.m.

    Taking back Congress coming right up. Real normal on the way. The convoluted concept that right leaning extremism is normal is a delusion suffered but too many.

  • WGT
    June 14, 2018 at 7:17 a.m.

    By too many. Spellcheck. Oops.

  • 23cal
    June 14, 2018 at 7:28 a.m.

    "Trump seems to respect strongmen more than democratic leaders."
    That would be because he acts like one and wants to be one in fact. He can't get along with our allies, but he just adores Putin, Duterte, Erdogan, and the like.

  • RBear
    June 14, 2018 at 7:31 a.m.

    Rightside drinking that Kool-Aid by the gallon, I see. "Trump has worked with international allies to decimate ISIS." Do the research, ISIS is still strong throughout the region. ISIS is like Al-Qaida. It's like playing Whac-A-Mole. You drank Kool-Aid there.
    The economy and unemployment were on trends upward and downward. Once again, these improvements didn't just start when Trump took office. Maybe the right wing calendar only begins Jan. 20th, 2017. The rest of us know the truth and see the trend lines.
    "When it comes to trade why do people pull for Canada, China and the EU aganist their own country?" Trade wars have winners and losers. With each story of success, there have been stories of job losses due to the tariffs. We are in a world of global trade and economies need to adapt to it. Most right wingers expect things to look like they did 20-30 years ago. The world moves on.
    "President has launched a nationwide effort to fight the opioid crisis, which has devastated communities across America." I'm all for this and glad he did. It was needed so much by our nation and hopefully we'll see people's lives rebuild and grow, as well as the suffering of families end.

  • mozarky2
    June 14, 2018 at 7:59 a.m.

    If Brummett had one-hundredth of the accomplishments of President Trump, maybe he'd have a justification for his own tremendous ego.

  • hah406
    June 14, 2018 at 8:11 a.m.

    Moz, JB will never go bankrupt three times, including with a casino, nor will he stiff people he has contracted to pay for services. The NK stuff may work out, and if it does kudos to Trump. But history tells us that they will not honor any of the promises supposedly made over the summit. Also, you are committing a prime mistake this morning in defining a big section of the Trump demographic yourself instead of making someone else do it.
    My big question is how the Trump demographic doesn't understand that billions of dollars of goods and services flow back and forth across the Canadian border, and it is mutually beneficial. Economics 101 says that U.S. citizens will be hurt far worse by a trade war with Canada than the Canadians will. Same with the E.U. How do you all not get that?