Days like these, I often stare at my blank computer screen, unable to zero-in on a topic to cover. Clearly there are way too many tantalizing bombshells bursting forth from the ongoing fire-hose of news. As a political writer, I’ll never complain about an overly abundant news cycle — as long as the news doesn’t involve nuclear brinksmanship or stupefying catastrophes.
It’s always possible in the Trump era for otherwise innocuous news to build toward such a catastrophe, but with North Korea, the stakes are automatically stratospheric considering there are nuclear weapons at issue, along with an incompetent doofus with the launch-code “biscuit” in his disgusting pants pocket.
Frankly, if we were out of imminent danger, I’d enjoy my job a lot more these days. Today alone, we watched as the GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee not only determined that Russia attacked our election with the goal of helping the Trump campaign, but the panel also concluded that the National Rifle Association facilitated genuine, real-life collusion between the Kremlin and Trump.
Simultaneously, we also read further confirmation that Donald Trump, Jr. took a meeting with a handful of Russians at Trump Tower with the aim of receiving stolen documents linked to Hillary Clinton. On top of all that, Junior made a previously undisclosed phone call after the meeting to a blocked phone number, which is speculated to have been Donald Trump himself.
As if that wasn’t enough, Trump appears to be surrounded by accusations of receiving obvious bribes from both China and, during the campaign, Qatar, which served as a go-between with Russia and Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn. The Qatar deal is reported to be linked to the sale of a 19 percent share in the Russian state oil company Rosneft. Trump is exploiting the office for a frantic cash-grab and Cohen was one of the grabbers.
Trump is seriously fucked, but my adulation has been tempered by other news. On a day like today, it’d be much more satisfying to spend time wallowing in Trump-Russia schadenfreude. North Korea, however, along with Trump’s spastic fuckups regarding the same, collectively renders it nearly impossible to savor an otherwise disastrous day for the cartoon supervillain in the Oval Office.
A little more than two months ago, a delegation of South Korean officials met with Trump at the White House and, out of nowhere, announced that seconds earlier Trump had agreed to a summit meeting with Kim Jong Un. Over the subsequent weeks, new events transpired on that front including then-outgoing CIA director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s secret trip to Pyongyang where he met with Kim and was photographed with the leader. Likewise, both Trump and his Red Hat army began clearing space in the Oval Office for Trump’s inevitable Nobel Peace Prize. The Olympics in Pyongchang were held somewhere in there, too. Eventually, the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, and Kim Jong Un officially shook hands during a photo-op at the demilitarized zone between the north and south. And finally, Kim freed three hostages, giving Trump another photo-op to go along with his soon-to-be Nobel Prize.
When the first word of a possible summit emerged from that awkwardly impromptu press gaggle with the South Koreans at the White House, many of us who’ve been covering Trump for some time immediately knew exactly how this’d play out. In particular, I knew there was no chance this new North Korea narrative would play out the way the Trumpers wanted it to.
But there were more than a few observers on both sides of aisle who thought Trump and Kim would finally deliver peace to the world and a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. So, they preached hope. Clearly, these cup-half-full voices forgot which despots they were dealing with here. I hate to be that guy, but we tried to tell you — the warning signs were crystal clear.
For one, Trump always makes things worse for Trump. Based on that rule, I thought at the time, Trump would absolutely screw the pooch (safe home, Tom Wolfe) and ruin the whole thing. Either that or Kim and his benefactor, President Xi of China, were just playing Trump like the easily manipulated sucker/doofus he is.
Turns out, both observations were accurate. Shocker.
Of course Trump stupidly heightened the stakes of the summit to the end-game of denuclearization, as if Kim had already pledged such a thing. Trump also prematurely defined the mere possibility of a meeting as a success in and of itself, not realizing that previous presidents could’ve met with Kim but refused because of a long list of reasons beginning and ending with exactly the quicksand pit Trump has stupidly fallen into. Trump’s fellow Republicans, both on the Hill and in the conservative entertainment complex, didn’t help either, nattering on and on about Nobel Prizes. Taken as a whole, Trump spiked the nuclear football on the 20 yard line.
And now, Kim has not only pulled out of talks with South Korea due to annual military exercises (a flimsy excuse, but Kim doesn’t need a better one). Likewise, Kim is insisting that any summit with Trump will not include talk of denuclearization — the specific goal Trump idiotically established in the press and among his supporters as the end all be all of the summit. Simply put, Trump played right into Kim’s hands and the world remains under the threat of a nuke-capable Kim, partly due to the obvious nincompoopery of the Trump White House.
Back to the cup-half-full people. Did they honestly believe Trump would stumble into brokering denuclearization via Gump-like happenstance? Sure. They also believed Kim was sincere about all this even though his ulterior motive was to paint Trump into a corner and to make it seem as if Kim’s nuclear technology and bellicose threats successfully brought the imperialist Americans, lead by dotard Trump, to their knees.
At long last, can we please stop over-estimating Trump?
The lesson here is for the true-believers on both sides to stop making asses of themselves by routinely thinking Trump will either pivot to being presidential or to suddenly grow some functioning gray matter, Flowers For Algernon-style, enough to successfully handle one of the most difficult and nuanced jobs in the world. Don’t forget: we’re dealing with a white-collar criminal who doesn’t realize how truly awful he is at being a white-collar criminal. He can’t even break the law in a way that doesn’t explode in his face. He’s never once deserved the benefit of the doubt. If you disagree, name one case. His “successes” are generally the result of deeds done by other people (thanks, Obama) and never, ever achieved through his own chaotic, improvised bullshit process.
Nevertheless, we should always embrace this rule and we’ll never go wrong: Trump always makes things worse for Trump. And in this case as with so many others, Trump is a national security threat and his every decision makes the world less safe.
I wish I could lean back and smile at the epic failure of Trump to handle talks with North Korea. But the stakes haven’t changed. We’re still dealing with two erratic despots, Trump and Kim, who each have the capability to annihilate millions and millions of people.
Oh, and the voice is obviously saying “Laurel,” not “Yanny.” Duh.