Monday, June 25, 2018

Ironies of American History

It has been two weeks now since the historic meeting between DJT and Kim Jong-un in Singapore. You likely heard/saw much about that at the time. What can we say now about that meeting, which is surely one of the ironies of American history? (“Irony” as used here means “a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects.")
The Irony of American History
The noted theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (about whom I wrote in a June 2017 article) gave two lectures at Westminster College in Missouri in May 1949. Those talks became the basis of his book The Irony of American History (1952).
Rather than try to summarize Niebuhr’s book here (which cannot be done briefly), let me just refer to “What You Can Learn from Reinhold Niebuhr,” a review article that appeared in the March 26, 2009, issue of The New York Review of Books.
This article is about two events that have happened since Niebuhr’s book was published. It is, however, partly about two countries that have embraced Communism, the focus of Niebuhr’s reflections.
Nixon’s Visit to China
Richard Nixon, the only POTUS to resign, is primarily known for two things: the Watergate affair that led to his resignation and his visit to China leading to the normalizing of relations between the U.S. and that country.
Nixon’s strategic visit to China was twenty years after Niebuhr’s book was published, but that visit is surely one of the ironies of American history. Nixon was chosen to run as Eisenhower’s Vice-President partly because of his strong anti-Communism stance.
Nixon, though, became the first U.S. President to visit the People’s Republic of China, and that visit ended 25 years of no diplomatic ties between the two counties.
For several reasons, Nixon can be seen as one of the worst Presidents in U. S. history. But his visit to China was a highly important strategic and diplomatic achievement—and part of the irony is that if Humphrey had been elected in 1968, he likely would not have been able to pull off that feat.
It is also ironic that that successful political action occurred just four months before the Watergate break-in, which, of course, led to Nixon’s resignation.
The Trump-Kim Meeting
So, what about the historic meeting of the current POTUS and Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea?
One ironic aspect of that June 11/12 meeting comes from the saber-rattling rhetoric and derogatory language used by both leaders against each other just a few months earlier.
Trump publicly called Kim “Little Rocket Man” and in private with his aides referred to Kim as “a crazy guy.” Kim, in turn, has called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” At the Singapore Summit, however, Trump and Kim appeared to be bosom buddies. 
As was widely reported, Trump “gushed with praise” of the North Korean dictator. But that was not highly regarded by some Americans, including David A. Graham who wrote a June 12 article for The Atlantic titled “Trump’s Effusive, Unsettling Flattery of Kim Jong Un”.
But others lauded DJT. On June 14, Deroy Murdock wrote in the National Review (here), “President Trump’s extraordinary Tuesday-morning Singapore summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was an encounter that eluded every American president from Eisenhower to Obama.”
Who’d have thought that the President who last year threatened “fire and fury” and early this year bragged to Kim, “My nuclear button is bigger than yours,” would be the one to meet with the Supreme Leader of North Korea and come away claiming that there is no longer any threat of nuclear confrontation?
Ironic indeed!


  1. Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago is the first to send comments on today's article:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your observations.

    "It is too early to tell if the summit in Singapore will result in something positive. It depends on Mr. Kim, who is brutal and unpredictable. Is he genuinely committed to a denuclearized Korea? Or will he, as did his father and grandfather, use delaying tactics to avoid any substantive move toward denuclearization.

    "If another hardliner had been elected as president of South Korea, instead of Moon Jae-in, the summit would probably have not happened. Note also that our own president is unpredictable (and at times seemingly incompetent) and may inadvertently sabotage any success.

    "James Corden once observed that of Kim Jong-un, Donald Trump, and Dennis Rodman, Rodman is the least crazy of the three. Not very reassuring."

    1. Thanks, Eric, for your comments.

      I think that your comments that DJT is "unpredictable (and at times seemingly incompetent)" may be an understatement.

      In contrast to what I wrote in the last paragraph--and in contrast to DJT tweeting on June 13, "Sleep well tonight!"--the Washington Post reported on Friday that the POTUS cited an "unusual and extraordinary threat" to U.S.national security as he acted Friday to maintain long-standing economic restrictions on North Korea, including the freezing of any assets in the United States."

      This doesn't sound as if DJT puts much stock in the achievements of the Singapore Summit.

  2. The second Thinking Friend to send comments this morning is Andrew Bolton in England. Here is what he writes:

    "Good article on the recent North Korea peace. I appreciated the two articles that you referenced that evaluated the outcome of the Singapore meeting from different perspectives. I think you are right to ask will this be a permanent agreement that increases peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula or not. Premier Kim’s human rights record is appalling. Does this agreement open cooperative commercial arrangements with North and South Korea?

    "It is worrying that President Trump gets on better with dictators than elected democratic leaders. His petulant withdrawal from the G7 Summit Agreement because of what Prime Minister Trudeau said is autocratic.

    "Thank you for today’s blog!"

    1. Andrew, sorry to be so late to respond, but it is always good to hear from you from across the pond, as they say.

      That is part of the irony of this situation, on consecutive days DJT insulted Trudeau and praised Kim.

  3. Here, now, are comments from Thinking Friend Ron Kraybill in Maryland:

    "Several previous American presidents also had promising breakthroughs with the North Koreans that then turned sour.

    "I think the public got manipulated by Trump into an exaggerated view of what happened due to how he polarized things and then reversed course. Any president, Trump or not, who succeeds in establishing stable rapprochement with NK deserves credit, including perhaps a Nobel. But we just don't know yet how this will play out and it's way too early to be discussing laurels."

  4. Ron, it was good to hear from you again, and I fully agree with your comments. I think both Trump and Kim used each other for their own political aggrandizement. While I would like to think that the Singapore Summit was a great step forward toward denuclearization in North Korea--and beyond, I am afraid the the end result was much more show than substance.

  5. Then here are brief comments from my newest Thinking Friend, Will Compton who is a college student in Illinois and serving this summer as an intern at Rainbow Mennonite Church, where June and I are members:

    "I enjoyed your newest blog post - I'm pretty skeptical of the summit myself, and DJT seems to have a history of messing things up, and then stepping in to 'fix' it and appear to be a hero."

  6. Two brief comments by local Thinking Friend Ed Chasteen:

    "I hope it was more than I think it was."

    "No way should he get any prize."

  7. Another local Thinking Friends makes these negative comments (about DJT, not about the article):

    "I’ll go with your 'irony' claim, but 'delusional' might be a better fit for DJT. His utterances of 'peace' are clearly aimed at the Nobel governors. In no other policy venue (immigration, congress, news outlets,
    the restaurant, mid-term elections) does he ever call for a positive approach or conclusion."

    1. While I am in basic agreement with these comments, in my email response to this TF I replied,

      I'm not sure "delusional" is the proper word, for I seriously doubt that DJT thinks the situation has been changed significantly. I think his words would be better characterized as "misleading," "calculating," or "devious," for my guess is that the main thing he expected to get out of the meeting is what he got from a wide range of people: praise, accolades, and positive press across the political spectrum. Of course, he was incensed with the negative pieces that appeared in the "fake news" sources, such as the Washington Post which had many stories that questioned the significance of the Summit agreement.

  8. Too early to tell, but since GOD is in control and All things work for the Good: Romans 8:28; we should Pray that things will work out for the Better of the people in both Korea`s.

  9. If North Korea becomes a normal nation, Peace relations with US and other nations, reconciliation, exchanges and open trades, all three deserve Nobel, for Korean peninsula has been a very tough issue to solve. Kim Jong Un took the initiative by sending his sister to Pyongchang Olympic with an official letter to Moon Jae In, who responded N-S peace move then promoted Kim-Trump summit. Trump was scared by the N.Korean success of nuclear weapons and the height of rocket testing which was viewed reaching Washington DC. Kim had developed the N. weapon enough to scare Trump but knew that he had no use of it. Thus his decision was denuclearization and peace with the world. Only one thing, i am afraid is Trump's instability. However I believe, God is working in this development and I am hopeful that two Koreas will achieve peace, reconciliation and prosperity.

    1. I appreciate good optimism in God.

  10. Thinking Friend Truett Baker in Arizona shares a brief comment (with which I tend to agree):

    "Excuse my pessimism but how can we believe what either one of these leaders say. Pure and unadulterated smoke and mirrors."

    1. I appreciate good cynicism about politicians.

  11. I was also happy to receive the following comments from Thinking Friend, and old friend from years ago in Japan, Norm Doeden in Iowa:

    "Regarding Trump and North Korea. It seems to me that they were/are interested in the talks with Trump because if they praise him, his ego will help them achieve deals that have always thought impossible with any other rational thinking POTUS. Also, if they praise him enough he will not listen to any rational criticism from anyone but, I’m afraid, make deals that are very bad for the USA. I hope I’m wrong."

  12. Local Thinking Friend Larry Guillot shares these thoughtful comments:

    "This is the historical equivalent of the expression 'I don't know what I think until I see what I say,' the historical situation being, 'we don't know the significance until we see what happens' over a certain period of time.

    "I certainly am glad for the lowering of bombastic rhetoric, but have been informed by numerous nothing has changed in terms of N Korea dismantling nuclear preparations or current weaponry nor the US reducing its military capabilities so far.

    "The surprise is the opening made possible by Kim. I applaud the initiatives of the president of S. Korea in all this. Trump is opportunistic and illogical. He sounds and wants to look conciliatory re N Korea at the same time as he is wrecking the nuclear agreement with Iran and withdrawing from historically stabilizing agreements on climate change and trade, antagonizing our best allies. He labels Canadian iron production a threat to our national security!

    "Wait 6 months or a year before putting words that will stand on what is the significance of what could be a detente."

  13. What I hope we are seeing is the American realization that North Korea is a bonafide nuclear power, and that it is too late to try to stop them. If so, then Trump is getting what PR he can get out of it, and hopefully we will inch in the direction of detente. What I fear is that this is just smoke and mirrors, and that the horror show could resume at any time. As, for instance, has just happened in the Supreme Court, where Justice Kennedy has announced his retirement, and the world awaits Trump's next Gorsuch. I am getting increasingly apocalyptic in my view of the entire GOP government, not just of Trump.

  14. Here are comments received yesterday from Canadian Thinking Friend Glen Davis:

    "I just want to say a word from the perspective of one who has been to North Korea 3 times over the past 30 years and one who has watched the Korea situation for many years. Simply this: Trump has been conned by Kim. He hailed his meeting with Kim as a great accomplishment that no other president would or could do.

    "What he accomplished was to give Kim exactly what he and his father and grandfather have tried to get for over 60 years: a private meeting with the president of the US without any of the other parties to the Korean conflict present. He thus gained a huge boost to his stature as a legitimate leader in the eyes of the world - one who is to be taken seriously and who is on an equal footing with other world leaders (like Trump).

    "What did he give up? Nothing! Their joint communique, or 'agreement' commits Kim to nothing. The only card Kim has to play is the deterrent of nuclear arms and he will NOT disarm no matter what Trump claims.

    "Trump is being used and manipulated by a very clever and cruel dictator. And Putin is is doing the same thing. Trump is not in the same league. All 3 of them have oversized egos but the difference is that Trump will say and do anything to boost his self importance. His narcissistic personality disorder seems to be getting worse by the day.

    "We fear for the future of the world with this man wielding such unchecked power, and we pray for our progressive and justice seeking friends like you in the US. Please, please find a way to wrest the senate from Republican control in the midterm elections.

    "The prayers of Canadian Christian sisters and brothers are with you."