Trump feed­ing and fed by re­sent­ful, un­trust­ing US

Otago Daily Times - - OPINION - Chris Trot­ter is a po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor.

THE note of sur­prise in the voices of the talk­ing heads on CNN was un­mis­tak­able. How could this be hap­pen­ing? How could these two men — both of them rou­tinely ridiculed by those claim­ing ex­per­tise in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions — have got even this far?

The lead­ers of United States and the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of Korea ex­chang­ing warm hand­shakes across the table. The ec­cen­tri­cally coiffed and gen­er­ously fleshed scion of the re­doubtable Kim dy­nasty, Kim Jong­un, of­fer­ing up to the world the amaz­ing sound­bite: ‘‘the old prej­u­dices and prac­tices worked as ob­sta­cles, but we have over­come them and we are here to­day’’. How was any of this pos­si­ble?

One might as well ask — how was the 1972 meet­ing be­tween Mao Ze­dong and Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon pos­si­ble? Amer­i­can GIs and the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army had been in a shoot­ing war barely 20 years be­fore that his­toric sum­mit in Beijing. For quar­ter of a cen­tury the US Pa­cific Fleet had shielded the Na­tion­al­ist regime on Tai­wan from the Peo­ple’s

Re­pub­lic’s wrath. And yet, it hap­pened.

In Oliver Stone’s movie Nixon there is a mem­o­rable scene in which Chair­man Mao, through his in­ter­preter, asks Nixon: ‘‘Is peace all you are in­ter­ested in? The real war is in us. His­tory is a symp­tom of our dis­ease.’’ The di­a­logue is, of course, the work of the film’s screen­writ­ers: Stephen J. Riv­elle, Christo­pher Wilkin­son and Stone him­self; but it suc­cinctly cap­tures an es­sen­tial truth about such ex­tra­or­di­nary po­lit­i­cal fig­ures as Mao Ze­dong, Kim Jong­un, Richard Nixon and Don­ald Trump.

Some po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are con­tent to be guided by their ad­vis­ers — like Ge­orge ‘‘Dub­bya’’ Bush. For oth­ers, it is the events in which they are caught up that pro­vide the op­por­tu­ni­ties for ex­tra­or­di­nary dis­plays of lead­er­ship. Think Winston Churchill in World War 2, or Lyn­don John­son and the strug­gle for black civil rights in 1964­65.

Then there are the lead­ers who, for a whole host of rea­sons, be­come the au­thors of events to which all these other, lesser, states­men must re­spond. Grandil­o­quent and nar­cis­sis­tic, often para­noid, they are prey to deep ex­is­ten­tial fears and driven by in­ner demons of un­re­lent­ing ferocity. This kind of leader has the power to project the tur­moil and tu­mult of their own psy­ches on to the world around them. The abil­ity to, in Stone’s mem­o­rable for­mu­la­tion, make His­tory a symp­tom of their dis­ease.

The rest of hu­man­ity has ev­ery rea­son to fear such in­di­vid­u­als. Who in their right mind would cast them­selves as a play­thing in some­one else’s para­noid fan­tasy? Democ­ra­cies, in par­tic­u­lar, should re­ject such in­di­vid­u­als, in whose char­ac­ter there is much more of the em­peror and dic­ta­tor than there is the cit­i­zens’ hum­ble rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

Ex­cept, of course, His­tory has a way of in­fect­ing in­di­vid­u­als with the dis­eases whose mor­bid symp­toms they will sub­se­quently cause it to dis­play. A na­tion rent by anx­i­eties and re­sent­ments can hardly avoid throw­ing up the ex­cep­tional in­di­vid­ual in whom those anx­i­eties and re­sent­ments have not only been dis­tilled to an un­com­mon pu­rity, but who is also able to ex­press them with ex­tra­or­di­nary clar­ity and force.

Democ­ra­cies in de­cay are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to such in­di­vid­u­als. The causes of a na­tion’s in­ner cor­rup­tion, when given in­di­vid­ual po­lit­i­cal ex­pres­sion, be­come ac­cen­tu­ated and the process of de­com­po­si­tion is speeded up. A ma­lign feed­back loop emerges by which the neu­roses of the na­tion are both fed by — and feed — the per­son it has made its own. Be it Julius Cae­sar, Adolf Hitler or Don­ald Trump, the peo­ple’s ‘‘drum­mer’’ ren­ders a dou­ble ser­vice: he is both the per­son who beats — and the per­son who is beaten.

Is it re­ally so un­be­liev­able, then, that the Amer­ica which has grown so deeply re­sent­ful and un­trust­ing of its po­lit­i­cal elites should be will­ingon the pres­i­dent who has so openly de­fied them? That the more the ex­perts de­plore Trump’s ig­no­rance and de­nounce his un­will­ing­ness to be guided, the more his sup­port­ers thrill to his in­sou­ciance.

‘‘It’s about at­ti­tude. It’s about will­ing­ness to get things done’’, de­clared the Pres­i­dent, who went on to claim that he would know within the first minute of their meet­ing whether Kim Jong­un was se­ri­ous about reach­ing a deal. When asked how, he replied sim­ply: ‘‘My touch, my feel — that’s what I do.’’

En­coun­ter­ing this phe­nom­e­non, it is hardly sur­pris­ing that Kim, a gen­uine em­peror, could be­lieve that all the old prej­u­dices, prac­tices and ob­sta­cles might — just — be over­come.

❛ Some po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are con­tent to be guided by their ad­vis­ers . . . For oth­ers, it is the events in which they are caught up that pro­vide the op­por­tu­ni­ties for ex­tra­or­di­nary dis­plays of




US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong­un in Sin­ga­pore ear­lier this week.


For­mer US pres­i­dent Richard Nixon and Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China chair­man Mao Ze­dong meet dur­ing Nixon’s visit to China in 1972.

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