If our past two weeks of reality TV diplomacy were being rushed into a quickie paperback, the conventional wisdom of my fellow pundits might be summed up by a New Yorky rewriter who sleeps with his fedora on his bedpost and admires the face he sees in his bathroom mirror as the next Runyon, Mailer or Breslin:
“Donald digs despots. But democracy’s allies? Fuggedaboutit.”
But we’ve got a different, in-depth plan for today’s column: We’ll start by agreeing with the talking heads who are dissing Donald Trump’s tantrum at Canada’sG-7 summit — and the dismissing as naive the lack of details produced by Trump’s Wednesday denuclearization summit with North Korea’s supreme despot, Kim Jong Un.
But then — (shock-prevention health alert!) — we’ll be serving up a bit of admittedly unconventional wisdom. We’ll consider the possibility that, just as it took hardliner Richard Nixon to forge a new opening with then-Red China, maybe it will take a despot-digging reality-TV mind to finally get through to a North Korean despot who digs Dennis Rodman.
This much is certain: Mere punditry cannot fully explain the bizarre reality the world just witnessed in President Donald Trump’s back-to-back summits of June 2018, with the G7 sophisticates and then with North Korea’s Kim.
First, in Canada, Trump transformed a normally dreary G-7 economic confab into a G-1 vs. G-6 food-fight — by slapping on tariffs and triggering fears of a trade-war.
Second, while flying halfway around the world to Singapore, Trump made things worse by tweeting sandbox insults at Canada’sJustin Trudeau, prime minister of America’s most loyal ally, whose troops have long been the first to share our foxholes.
Then, in Singapore, Trump transformed his uncertain nuclear summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un into a made-for-TV bromance of two new best buds. Who knew?
But their day of summitry produced a brief communique that promised to work toward “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula. But it provided no details about what that means, how it will happen — and how the world can verify North Korea kept its promise. After all, we know North Korea made and broke other noble no-nukes promises in 1994 and 2005. So what’s different in 2018?
Well, we’ve never had a president like Trump and he says he’s convinced Kim Jong Un, just 34, is unlike his dad or granddad were. Trump praises Kim as a strong leader. Apparently because U.S. officials say Kim ordered murdered 140 senior officials to consolidate his strength. Asked about that, Trump shamefully repeats his old refrain that others (translation: the U.S. government) have done bad things too. So objectionable.
But on the prospects for a de-nuked Korean peninsula, Trump chose a unique way of appealing to Kim — and wound up being scoffed at for it at by U.S. pundits. During a meeting, Trump produced an iPad and showed him a super-slick Hollywood quality, made-for-Kim movie. It was a coming attraction trailer, of sorts, complete with soaring music and narrator’s baritone:
“Destiny Pictures presents a new story of OPPORTUNITY … Two leaders. One opportunity. …Will this leader choose to advance his country? Be part of this new world? … The hero of his people? …And enjoy prosperity like he has never seen in his life? (The screen flashed from scenes of North Korea’s poverty to the glitter of towering Miami Beach hotels.) …Featuring President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un — in a meeting to remake history!”
Pundits ridiculed Trump’s film gambit. Some went further: On MSNBC TV, when the control room ran a clip of Trump’s flick, pundits dissolved into guffaws.
Time out! Let’s rewind and rethink. Movies were big in Kim’s life. His father, Kim Jong Il, was a master propagandist who loved American movies — “Gone With the Wind” and especially “Titanic.” Wanting to be a director, he ordered the 1978 kidnapping of a South Korean actress and her director husband and had them make North Korean films. Results included a North Korean remake of “Titanic.”
Fast-forward to Kim Jong Un. He digs movies, basketball, and for some reason, the heavily pierced Rodman. He’s also espoused transforming North Korea into a place of prosperity. That’s why the ex-star of reality TV’s “Apprentice” ordered up a movie trailer he personally loves — and proudly showed it to Kim. If it is reviewed as “Boffo!” by its intended audience of one, who cares what we pundits think?
Someday, hopefully, we’ll see those two oddball best buds sharing a last laugh at me and my pundit pals — and then walking away together, through the fog of Pyongyang’s airport, to begin a beautiful friendship in a newly denuclearized peninsula.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at [email protected].