‘THE SPEC­TA­CLE IT­SELF’

For Trump and Kim, maybe the meet­ing is what truly counted

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ted An­thony AP Na­tional Writer

NEW YORK » Put aside the “de­liv­er­ables” and the “out­comes” and the “take­aways.” Put aside, for ar­gu­ment’s sake, the ques­tion of what was ac­tu­ally ac­com­plished, at least in the way that we usu­ally use the word. Put aside your pol­i­tics, even — if only for a mo­ment.

The sum­mit that brought Don­ald Trump of Washington and Kim Jong Un of Pyongyang to­gether for grip­ping, grin­ning and talk­ing Tues­day is be­ing vig­or­ously de­bated across the planet for what it did, what it didn’t do and who emerged on top.

Strip away the spec­ta­cle and look for the sub­stance, the pundits in­sist. But what if that’s

not the whole point? What if, on a sunny trop­i­cal morn­ing in Sin­ga­pore, the spec­ta­cle it­self was the most sub­stan­tial thing of all?

“Peo­ple thought this could never take place. It is now tak­ing place,” Trump said af­ter the meet­ing. And in that he is ut­terly cor­rect. A decade ago, a year ago and cer­tainly six months ago, the no­tion of these two sit­ting down to­gether — “Lit­tle Rocket Man” and the “de­ranged U.S. dotard,” as they de­ri­sively called each other — seemed un­fath­omable.

This is not a med­i­ta­tion on whether it was right for Trump to meet with Kim, or whether by do­ing so he le­git­imized a despot. That’s up to you to de-

cide. In­stead, let’s ex­am­ine whether, in a mod­ern me­dia age when we do so many things re­motely and then move on with light­ning speed, an old-fash­ioned tete-a-tete — no mat­ter how high-pro­file or tabloidy — is still im­por­tant of its own ac­cord.

First of all, the no­tion of per­sonal re­la­tion­ships — of ac­tu­ally look­ing some­one in the eye — is of great im­por­tance in East Asia. No mat­ter how heart­felt the let­ter, no mat­ter how big the en­ve­lope, cor­re­spon­dence can eas­ily fall short. Faceto-face in­ter­ac­tion is far su­pe­rior to any other form of contact — a ver­sion of what Ge­orge W. Bush, re­fer­ring years ago to Vladimir Putin,

called the abil­ity to “get a sense of his soul.”

Peo­ple who seem in­tran­si­gent or even sullen in writ­ing or on the phone can bloom with gen­eros­ity if you sit down to­gether with a cup of tea or a glass of soju, Korea’s clear and po­tent liquor. So what might be con­sid­ered a con­ces­sion by some is, in much of East Asia, sim­ply ta­ble stakes.

But what ac­tu­ally HAP­PENED at the sum­mit be­yond the spec­ta­cle, you ask? What is re­ally go­ing to come out of this other than words? Isn’t the act of meet­ing with Kim noth­ing more than a mis­cue that le­git­imizes his regime?

What hap­pened was that they talked and shook hands and breathed the same air and walked away, by all ap­pear­ances, in rea­son­ably good moods. What hap­pened was that 70 years

of con­flict were sup­planted for a his­tor­i­cal mi­cro­mo­ment with a few hours of col­le­gial­ity, at least on the sur­face.

What hap­pened was that South Korean me­dia no­ticed that Trump wasn’t dom­i­neer­ing in his ap­proach to Kim as he has been with some Euro­pean lead­ers. What hap­pened was that Kim ap­peared to hold his own in the spotlight — and that some peo­ple could thus con­clude that the “her­mit king­dom,” a hor­ri­bly in­sult­ing moniker, might not ap­ply quite as much any­more. That has po­ten­tial im­pli­ca­tions for North Korea and for ev­ery­body else.

In the end, the very ques­tions — What ac­tu­ally hap­pened? How did it end? Who was the win­ner and who was the loser? — are very Amer­i­can things to

ask.

Amer­i­cans have a rich his­tory of be­ing an ei­theror na­tion, a coun­try of out­sized bi­na­ries that have been en­cour­aged by the way we’ve made our films and our TV shows for so long. For Amer­i­cans, am­bi­gu­ity — even in en­ter­tain­ment — is still a rel­a­tively rare phe­nom­e­non. We’re black and white, big and small, yes and no, good guys and bad guys, and Hol­ly­wood end­ings to wrap it all up. Re­al­ity, how­ever, can be messier.

Above all else, Amer­i­cans are a na­tion of spec­ta­cle and big sto­ries. And Pyongyang? Pyongyang has prac­ti­cally made a doc­trine out of spec­ta­cle in ev­ery­thing from its care­fully co­or­di­nated ral­lies to the over-the-top rhetoric it wields against any­one who dares to nip at its an­kles.

So for two na­tions and two lead­ers so cap­ti­vated by spec­ta­cle, could it be that spec­ta­cle is not just the means but also the end?

A gen­er­a­tion or two ago, the philoso­pher and me­dia scholar Marshall McLuhan of­fered us the no­tion that “the medium is the mes­sage.” His quote has been used and overused for a half-cen­tury, a tired trope that nev­er­the­less is rel­e­vant once again.

The medium was Kim Jong Un and Don­ald Trump, two men cer­tain of the pri­macy of their na­tions and them­selves, en­coun­ter­ing each other face to face in a neu­tral and con­trolled lo­ca­tion with the high­est of stakes be­tween them.

The mes­sage — whether you agree with it or not, and there’s ev­i­dence on both sides — was that be­yond the lac­er­at­ing vol­leys of words and the threat­ened vol­leys of mis­siles that have hung over the two na­tions for decades, some­thing might be pos­si­ble.

Per­haps some­thing concrete will be con­structed from this par­tic­u­lar event. Per­haps not. But what­ever hap­pens, Tues­day’s spec­ta­cle in Sin­ga­pore was, like so few other things, Amer­i­can and North Korean all at once. Is that in it­self an out­come, a de­liv­er­able, a take­away? In light of 70 years of un­set­tling and vi­o­lent his­tory, it might very well be. Ted An­thony, di­rec­tor of dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion for The As­so­ci­ated Press, was the news co­op­er­a­tive’s di­rec­tor of Asia-Pa­cific news from 2014 to 2018 and over­saw cov­er­age of North Korea. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @an­tho­nyted.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump holds up the doc­u­ment that he and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un just signed at the Capella re­sort on Sen­tosa Is­land Tues­day in Sin­ga­pore. The most tan­gi­ble out­come of the sum­mit be­tween Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seems to be a com­mit­ment to re­cover the re­mains of U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel miss­ing in ac­tion and pre­sumed dead from the Korean War. In a joint state­ment signed by the lead­ers Tues­day, the coun­tries com­mit­ted to the recovery of the re­mains and the im­me­di­ate repa­tri­a­tion of those al­ready iden­ti­fied.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, right, reaches to shakes hands with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella re­sort on Sen­tosa Is­land Tues­day in Sin­ga­pore.

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