In poring over the Trump-Woodward tapes and parsing through all the damning material contained therein, the story of Donald Trump’s fascination with Kim Jong-Un, and how Kim played him like a fiddle, laughing all the way, stands out. As Johnathan Last at The Bulwark puts it, “After the Woodward tapes, anyone still deluding themselves about the authoritarian danger Trump poses to America is, finally, all out of excuses.” Trump loves dictators. He loves their praise and moreover, he believes it. He thinks it makes him one of them and there’s nothing he wants more. Washington Post:
“Rage” includes the first reported excerpts of letters Trump exchanged with Kim, and quotes Trump in his interviews with Woodward using expletives to defend their pen-pal relationship. Even as U.S. intelligence chiefs warn that North Korea is unlikely to ever surrender its nuclear weapons and that Trump’s approach is ineffective, the president told Woodward that he is determined to stay the course and dismissively says the CIA has “no idea” how to handle North Korea.
And Trump does? This is a level of delusion that I suspect the mental health community will be discussing for quite some time to come. This kind of fantasy-world thought would be unhealthy in anybody, but in the case of an elected official, much less a president, it is beyond description how dangerous this is.
“I met. Big fucking deal,” Trump told Woodward, waving off criticism of his three face-to-face meetings with Kim. “It takes me two days. I met. I gave up nothing.”
Foreign affairs experts say Trump gave up much — including by postponing and then scaling back the U.S. joint military exercises with South Korea that had long angered North Korea, as well as by granting Kim the international stature and legitimacy the North Korean regime has long craved.
Kim used Trump for a photo op and for propaganda. That’s it. And Trump can’t grasp that. He thinks that he’s the one with the intuition and the insight as to what went on.
Trump told Woodward that he evaluates Kim and his nuclear arsenal like a real estate target: “It’s really like, you know, somebody that’s in love with a house and they just can’t sell it.”
Yeah, it’s somebody that’s in love with a plan to blow up the neighborhood and the homeowner’s association has a problem with that. What do you know?
Kim welcomed Trump’s overtures with over-the-top prose in letters. Kim wrote that he wanted “another historic meeting between myself and Your Excellency reminiscent of a scene from a fantasy film.” And he said his meetings with Trump were a “precious memory” that underscored how the “deep and special friendship between us will work as a magical force.”
In another letter, Kim wrote to Trump, “I feel pleased to have formed good ties with such a powerful and preeminent statesman as Your Excellency.” And in yet another, Kim reflected on “that moment of history when I firmly held Your Excellency’s hand at the beautiful and sacred location as the whole world watched with great interest and hope to relive the honor of that day.”
I am not going to declare that I know the mind of Kim Jong-Un. But I think it’s safe to say that Kim got Trump’s number early on and realized that flattery would get him everywhere. That’s what “such a powerful and preeminent statesman as Your Excellency” is about. Kim is no idiot. He knows Trump is a fringe television performer, just as well as the rest of the world does. And Woodward writes about it that way.
Trump was taken with Kim’s flattery, Woodward writes, telling the author pridefully that Kim had addressed him as “Excellency.” Trump remarked that he was awestruck meeting Kim for the first time in 2018 in Singapore, thinking to himself, “Holy shit,” and finding Kim to be “far beyond smart.” Trump also boasted to Woodward that Kim “tells me everything,” including a graphic account of Kim having his uncle killed.
Trump did not share his letters to Kim — “Those are so top secret,” the president said — but Woodward obtained them independently. He writes that Trump sent Kim a copy of the New York Times featuring a picture of the two men on the front page. “Chairman, great picture of you, big time,” Trump wrote on the paper in marker. (Trump falsely boasted to Woodward: “He never smiled before. I’m the only one he smiles with.”)
Trump reflected on his relationships with authoritarian leaders generally, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “It’s funny, the relationships I have, the tougher and meaner they are, the better I get along with them,” he told Woodward. “You know? Explain that to me someday, okay?”
We can explain it right now. They’re sick, murderous mofos, without a shred of human decency, and so are you. With respect to Kim Jong-Un particularly, he was the horror of the world for many years. Then Trump came on the scene, and for the first time, Kim actually seemed reasonable, in comparison. At least he was the more reasonable of the two. Let that sink in.