The Korea Summit

Transpartisan Note #96

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

‘Sometimes overlapping theatrical objectives can create strange transpartisan bedfellows.  What’s next?  Don’t be surprised if at some point Kim is watching basketball at Madison Square Garden.’  These words ended our February 12, 2018, Note #85, ‘Korea and the Olympics: Moral, Therapeutic & Transpartisan Values.’

Today, four months later, we find ourselves several steps closer to Kim at the Garden. Korea, Kim, and Trump exhibit one exasperating feature of today’s political debate.  Under this President untethered political positions seem to have replaced traditional ‘orderly’ positions on both ‘left’ and ‘right.’

The past debate structure seemed relatively stable. ‘Conservative strong defense’ interacting with ‘progressive engagement’ reassured public and participants.  Everyone knew how a Democratic or Republican President would act on issues from trade to war to foreign policy.  For 65 years the cold Korean War simmered.

Extra-political forces, technology, population, climate, etc., roil this comfortable structure.  Donald Trump masterfully exploits this radically upended stability and predictability.  He consciously—even theatrically—goes out of his way to be unpredictable.  He routinely violates traditional Republican Presidential positions.

Trump explicitly uses, perhaps consciously, uncertainty as a leadership principle.  He called Kim Jong Un ‘Rocket Man’ when he fired test missiles and boasted that his atomic and hydrogen bombs could hit the U.S. mainland.  Trump called him smart, committed, and loved after the Singapore agreement.

It is a scary, crazy, exciting (pick your adjective) time, when serious people commonly say an atomic conflict with North Korea poses the greatest threat to world peace and then attack the “agreement” to denuclearize the Korean peninsula as dangerous.  Ditto when The Washington Post reports Dennis Rodman as a commentator.

‘If Trump wants the credit, he can take all the credit.  He can have it all.  I just want them to talk,’ Rodman said on ‘Good Morning, America,’ . . . he appeared . . . wearing dark sunglasses, a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat and a T-shirt promoting a cryptocurrency company that sponsored his trips to Singapore and North Korea.

Kim at the Garden seems a few steps closer as deep forces drive humanity down a transpartisan road toward a crazy, exciting future.

(Photo from White House archives.)

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