Sin­ga­pore be­yond the the­atrics

Trump’s ‘raw man­li­ness’ wins the day, but the­atrics now de­fer to re­al­ity

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Suzanne Fields Suzanne Fields is a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times and is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.

Don­ald Trump and Kim Jong-un in­tro­duced a new kind of re­al­ity show when they met at Sin­ga­pore. It wasn’t a mat­ter of who would be fired, or voted off the is­land. The stakes were nu­clear, or to be pre­cise, “the com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean penin­sula.” This was the pow­er­ful aphro­disiac that lured the pres­i­dent to Sin­ga­pore.

Is Kim Jong-un singing the siren’s song? Or is he se­ri­ous? Was this re­al­ity TV or merely re­al­ity? These are the ques­tions that en­gaged us as we watched the pres­i­dent’s deal-mak­ing in Sin­ga­pore. The coverage was more a re­view of the­atrics than high-stakes ne­go­ti­a­tion, and framed as which man was the bet­ter ac­tor.

If Don­ald Trump en­tered from stage left and Kim Jong-un walked in from stage right, who dom­i­nated cen­ter stage?

“Lit­tle Rocket Man” and the “dotard,” as they once de­scribed each other, were watched for their body lan­guage in the spot­light to­gether. We tried to de­tect who dis­played dom­i­nance and who be­trayed weak­ness. What did a taut mouth, a down­ward gaze, a half-smile mean? Much of the coverage fo­cused on the spec­ta­cle as per­for­mance art. Per­for­mance art usu­ally works well on tele­vi­sion, but it wasn’t very il­lu­mi­nat­ing this time.

The cam­eras fol­lowed the two men sep­a­rately as they ar­rived. Once to­gether, cul­tural sig­nals came into play. The Korean leader, shorter of stature but look­ing slim­mer than usual in ablack but­toned-up jacket and squared off hair cut, could have been the taller man’s son, stand­ing next to the bar­rel-chested Amer­i­can pres­i­dent. The pres­i­dent’s loosely fit­ting dark suit, red tie and un­usu­ally tidy yel­low hair for the oc­ca­sion, showed a pa­ter­nal pres­ence.

“At times Kim seemed the more neu­tral, and even un­com­fort­able, while Trump ap­peared to be the one more at ease and in con­trol,” ob­served The South China Morn­ing Post of Hong Kong. Mr. Kim’s lack of eye con­tact and his ra­tioned smiles are ex­plained as cul­tural dic­tates rather than ex­pres­sive at­ti­tudes.

The pres­i­dent, ever the al­pha male, touches the Korean’s arm sev­eral times after an ex­tended hand­shake, as though he’s a prize fighter with a lighter touch than if he were ac­tu­ally in the ring. He was un­mis­tak­ably in con­trol. Western mores al­low for greater physical con­tact, which puts the Asian at a dis­ad­van­tage on the tele­vi­sion screen, but not be­hind the scene. We get the feel­ing that the Korean leader is more con­strained, hold­ing back, de­ter­mined not to lose face. Mr. Trump, al­ways play­ing for the re­ac­tion, is quick to show a play­ful aside, telling the pho­tog­ra­phers to make them look “hand­some and thin.” Very Western.

But all this attention to stage di­rec­tion, rather than plot, does not tell a lot about what ac­tu­ally hap­pened in Sin­ga­pore. That must play out on the larger stage, and over time. Sum­mits are short. In­ter­na­tional power plays are not.

“Maybe in a year you’ll be in­ter­view­ing and I’ll say I made a mis­take,” the pres­i­dent had told ABC’s Ge­orge Stephanopou­los as the play­ers gath­ered in Sin­ga­pore. “It’s pos­si­ble. We’re deal­ing at a very high level, a lot of things can change. A lot of things are pos­si­ble.”

Don­ald Trump won an Amer­i­can elec­tion be­cause he could read what his base wanted, and he plays it back to them in rough and tough vul­gar­ity. This stands in strong con­trast to what Barack Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton had to of­fer. He was show­ing off what Har­vard Prof. Har­vey Mans­field de­fines as the most el­e­men­tal kind of “man­li­ness,” a raw char­ac­ter that is rough, gross, even dis­cour­te­ous, and ex­udes animal strength.

That style usu­ally doesn’t work on the diplo­matic stage, so Mr. Trump showed a qui­eter, al­most boy­ish mas­culin­ity. He turned the en­counter with the Korean dic­ta­tor into some­thing that might be de­scribed as in­fat­u­a­tion. He says he “trusts” Kim Jong-un after be­ing alone with him for only 65 min­utes at a sum­mit that lasted less than five hours. That trust seems based more on what might be called the Trump fem­i­nine side, his in­tu­ition rather than his shrewder, more re­al­is­tic meth­ods of as­sess­ment: “I just feel strongly, my in­stinct, they want to make a deal.”

In the flush of in­fat­u­a­tion, re­ly­ing on in­stinct and in­tu­ition to de­ter­mine whether his Korean coun­ter­part is “per­son­ally com­mit­ted, ”he gave his newly beloved an ex­pen­sive en­gage­ment present, calling off joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with South Korea in ex­change for prom­ises that the North Kore­ans will start “im­me­di­ately” to “de-nuke.” Or at least soon.

The pres­i­dent had played down expectations for the sum­mit while an­tic­i­pat­ing “much more than a photo-op.” Now expectations de­mand clar­ity about how to ver­ify that trust, be­fore the next photo op can show a de­nu­cle­arized penin­sula. A lot of things can change. Or not.


Pres­i­dent Trump and Mar­shal Kim in Sin­ga­pore

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