The Day After: Three Reflections on Smallness and Appeasement
Moon Jae-in’s smiling, hugging, champagne glass-clinking lovefest with Kim Jong-un was one of the most shameful moments in modern Korean history. It was also an indication for all the world that Korea’s future is now in very dangerous hands. Donald Trump, always adept at sensing popular weaknesses to exploit for his own benefit, has pounced to cash in on South Korea’s left turn.
Moon is the Republic of Korea’s Obama Moment, just as Justin Trudeau is Canada’s. A deep-seated, lifelong progressive, he won the presidency, as progressives typically do, partly by appealing to the hearts of ignorant and inexperienced youth who are easily swept into collective, unreflective enthusiasm by feel-good promises of “new ideas” and immediate benefits to themselves. Raising the minimum wage, opening the debate on liberalizing the abortion laws, and embracing the trendy progressive language of gender equality, Moon, who lost a close race to Park Geun-hye in 2012, had the party infrastructure and name recognition to take advantage of the early special election in the aftermath of Park’s impeachment.
As a former chief of staff to Roh Moo-hyun, the socialist president who popularized the “sunshine policy” toward North Korea, Moon, himself a former student activist, is ideologically sympathetic to the Marxist North, and therefore more sanguine about getting along with the Kim regime than most other South Korean leaders have been — decades of aggression, murder, and oppression of his fellow Koreans be damned.
Korea, after a year of non-stop media propaganda against Park Geun-hye and near-unanimous popular support for her impeachment (particularly among the young, who are not aware that every Korean presidency since democratization has ended in scandal — including Roh’s, which actually led him to commit suicide), ran to Moon with open arms and closed eyes. His economic attitudes threaten to undermine Korea’s remarkable success story, his social positions will accelerate the nation’s moral decay, particularly among the younger generations, and his predictably progressive willingness to appease and accommodate the Kim regime will indeed, if pursued consistently along its current trajectory, bring the two halves of Korea closer together on all fronts, to the detriment and demoralization of the South.
Trump, seeing the Moon administration’s willingness to sign absolutely any agreement with the North and call it “progress,” has leapt at the chance to do just that — sign anything and claim it as a feather in his cap. And so he has signed off on reducing the depth of his defensive alliance with the South, not in the name of American national interests, but in deference to Kim Jong-un’s demands that he be protected against the South. He has cancelled U.S. participation in joint military drills with the South, not because it “saves money” — the typically moronic addendum he threw in at the end of his explanation of this act of moral cowardice — but in deference to Kim’s objection to this “provocative” activity.
And worst of all, seeing Moon’s Marxist-influenced “new attitude” toward the dictatorship that has claimed the lives of untold thousands of Koreans, including many South Koreans even within the current Kim’s reign, Trump has jumped at the chance to normalize relations with the North and thereby legitimize Kim’s rule — something even hardcore leftists like Madeleine Albright and Barack Obama never dared to propose — in the name of avoiding a problem, rather than trying to solve it.
As I have explained over the past twenty-four hours, and as I had been predicting for weeks, Trump fell for Kim’s gambit, allowing him to parlay his recent nuclear successes into global acceptance and U.S. assurances — exactly the goal of North Korea’s nuclear program all along. Kim played chicken with the U.S., and he timed it perfectly, recognizing Trump’s susceptibility to conceding anything and everything in the name of his self-aggrandizement, which in Trump’s case means the protection of his fragile ego.
I have seen several people online trying to defend Trump’s act of blind concession by comparing his summit with Kim to Reagan’s with Gorbachev. Apparently (and predictably), Sean Hannity had the gall to make the comparison on Fox News. This analogy warrants a little analysis.
I will not try to explain how Trump is in no way comparable to Reagan, since the very idea that he might be runs so thoroughly in defiance of rational discourse that it is not worth the effort to engage with it at all. But what about the comparison of North Korea to the Soviet Union, or of Kim to Gorbachev?
In the mid-1980s, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union began the process of scaling back the hostilities, the Soviet Union, the world’s largest geopolitical entity, was America’s only rival superpower, possessing the second-biggest nuclear arsenal in the world, a stockpile capable of wiping out life on the entire planet, and much of it aimed directly at heavily populated U.S. targets. At this moment, by contrast, North Korea has, at best, a tiny handful (a Trump handful, let us say) of nuclear devices, and no certain method of delivering them anywhere with any likelihood of hitting the target.
Gorbachev was the leader of a veto-carrying permanent member of the UN Security Council, a man who rose to power through the ranks of his historically important, culturally advanced nation’s communist hierarchy, and a man who as general secretary of the communist party spoke extensively of his hopes of achieving a new openness (glasnost) within the Soviet empire. Kim, by contrast, is the two-bit strongman of a tiny, marginalized, ignorant nation — an overgrown baby who admires Dennis Rodman (and perhaps Donald Trump), who inherited power from his lunatic father, and whose regime has depended entirely for its survival and nuclear progress on the protection and largesse of actual global powers, China and Russia.
And this last point reminds us of one more consideration worth noting about this inapt analogy. Thirty-two years after the famous Iceland summit between Reagan and Gorbachev, Russia is ruled by a de facto president for life, an oligarchical KGB thug who murders critics and political opponents, who has increasingly shown signs of wishing to rebuild the Soviet empire, who still has control of (at least) the world’s second largest arsenal of usable nuclear weapons, and who continues in earnest the old Soviet-KGB policy of influencing and undermining the political and social climate of the U.S. and the rest of the so-called free world through propaganda and subterfuge.
Perhaps this isn’t the analogy the Trump defenders ought to be using here — even if it wasn’t so absurd on its face.
Since 2016, I have argued that Trump’s pre-candidacy life of glorified bribery, flattery, and sycophancy aimed at progressive politicians from whom he wanted favors, cannot be defended on the grounds (Trump’s own grounds) that “That’s what businessmen do,” without the defender morally bankrupting himself.
But how, even from the point of view of a diehard cultist and apologist, can the following remarks, spoken about a sex-slave-owning, population-starving, fratricidal communist dictator, be defended?
His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.
And then there was this lovely observation:
I learned he’s a very talented man and I also learned he loves his country very much.
And from Trump’s post-game interview with his valet, Sean Hannity:
“He’s got a very good personality, he’s funny, and he’s very, very smart,” Trump said of Kim in the interview that aired Tuesday night. “He’s a great negotiator, and he’s a very strategic kind of a guy.”
The president said he and Kim “got along very well” from “the beginning” of the summit.
Go ahead, cultists — tell us “This is what a businessman has to do.” In other words, Trump doesn’t really think Kim Jong-un is a great guy with a lovely personality, and with whom he has formed a special bond. No, no, this is just what he has to say to move the negotiations forward. He has to flatter and overpraise his rival, but the flattery is fake, because of course Trump understands that a totalitarian killer cannot have “a great personality” and “love his country very much.”
First of all, of course it is fake, in the sense that all flattery and sycophancy are fake — fakery is part of their essence. So insincerity is no defense here.
More to the point, the idea that this flattery and praise for a communist tyrant is just “what a businessman does” is an outrageous insult to every businessman in the world who chooses to pursue his profits without selling his mother’s soul to Satan for a “strategic advantage.” I know a few businessmen, including some extremely successful ones. I sincerely believe that they would never lower themselves this way, even in a private commercial deal. But to behave this way as the official spokesman for one’s nation — that is, to debase your entire country before a depraved tyrant — reaches a level of shame that transcends mere personal weakness.
A man who cannot walk away from a business deal or any other negotiation with his basic human dignity and spiritual core intact has debased himself to a subhuman level of existence for mere material gain. That is not business; it is self-annihilation. But to pursue one’s own spiritual demise — to become a slavering flatterer and toady — in the name of one’s material profit, is one thing; to become a slavering flatterer and toady to a mass murderer, in the name of acquiescing to the murderer’s every demand, while calling it a “peace process,” is quite another.
Furthermore, we all know Trump’s fawning and flattery of Kim actually is sincere, at least to the extent that fakery can be sincere. For Trump has a long history of admiring and praising thugs and tyrants. And he admires them on exactly the grounds that he offered for admiring Kim on June 12th: “His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.”
This, in a nutshell, is Trump’s measure of success — the adulation of the little people, i.e., faceless crowds of the meek and idolatrous — “the viewing public.” The gaining of such submissive “love,” after all, was Trump’s own motive for seeking the presidency, and the stirring of such contrived “fervor” his chief means of winning it. He understands and appreciates Kim well, just as he admires and defends Vladimir Putin.