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?