Transpartisan Note #97
by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner
How, then, can one understand the Singapore Summit? It brought two circus performers, Kim and Trump, together, proclaiming a new era in the relationship. A result. Democrats attacked Trump’s Republican supporters for doing precisely what those Republican would have eviscerated any Democrat for doing.
Now, different from the past, Democrats preach the caution common from Republicans, when they criticized ‘weak’ Democratic foreign policy. Critics cautioned how ‘vulnerable’ Singapore made Trump. They argued he just made up the positive—even transformative—Summit results. Nothing, they said, had really changed.
In Note #85 we argued that North Korea’s isolation prior to Trump’s interactions with Kim dangerously fueled Kim’s apparent psychosis. The most important antidote was to start interacting with him, bring him out of the shadows. We could equally say Kim’s warlike rhetoric dangerously fueled Trump’s belligerence.
Then the Olympics. Pageantry, Korea North and South marching together. Kim’s charismatic sister. US VP Pence scowling. These helped bring Kim and his country into the open. Public dialogue followed about negotiations first with the South and then with Trump, leading to Singapore.
Only a Pence / Muammar al-Gaddafi misstep caused a bump, but only a bump, in the road to Singapore. Pence’s gaff cast a light on Kim. He has fear. Gaddafi danced with the West for years; gave up his nuclear weapons; then died in a culvert beaten by former subjects. It was as if Pence said surrender Kim or die like a dog.
Trump the Unpredictable avoids rigidly following established behavior patterns. He stepped around the gaff. Republicans, Democrats, supporters, and critics, now respond to him, while he responds to our times’ shaping forces, in various rigid ways. This strategy takes them all out of creative participation in a fluid environment.
The deep forces shaping contemporary society move all parties. For the moment only Trump seems able to exploit these forces. Each side is trying to ‘keep up’ often changing positions to sustain conflict. In doing so they miss transpartisan opportunities on both foreign and domestic issues.
David Ignatius, of The Washington Post, summed up a grudging side of a Trump alienated media saying, ‘Diplomacy isn’t always pretty. Dubious people sometimes do very good things. So let’s celebrate Trump’s success in Singapore and hope someone can translate President Ronald Reagan’s injunction to “trust but verify” into Korean.’
Today mainstream political conflict looks reflexive and empty of meaning. Ignatius’ comment suggests that the media could play a more creative role than they often do. They might open dialogue to new ideas while continuing to fan the flames of conflict. Conflict feeds their business model. Creative dialogue feeds democracy.
(Photo from White House archives.)