Saturday 16 June 2018

The Symptom … And The Cure?

The Art Of The Deal: “[T]he old prejudices and practices worked as obstacles, but we have overcome them and we are here today.” North Korea's Kim Jong Un responds to President Donald Trump's introductory remarks at their historic summit-meeting in Singapore on Tuesday, 12 June 2018.

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 gotten even this far? The leaders of USA and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, meeting in Singapore on Tuesday, 12 June 2018 and exchanging warm handshakes across the table. The eccentrically-coiffed and generously-fleshed scion of the redoubtable Kim dynasty, Kim Jong Un, 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 Jong Un, 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 II, or, Lyndon Johnson and the struggle for Black civil rights 1964-65.

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 onto 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 willing-on 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 Jong Un 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.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 15 June 2018.


Polly. said...

To put it mildly the meeting was sensational.
I just hope that détente ensues and that North Korean ordinary people and North Korea can get freedom.
President Trump should be praised.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Trump is supported by those who see their power waning, and those who consider minority groups as unworthy recipients of special treatment. Those to whom any effort at establishing equality becomes discrimination against THEM. And of course the evangelical right, who have abandoned their demands that presidents are moral entities – which they usually only applied to Democrats anyway – in an effort to stack the Supreme Court with political judges and abolish Roe versus Wade. In their own way they are just as brainwashed as Kim's supporters. Both tend to live in their own bubbles. One self-imposed, one imposed by the government. Different approaches perhaps, but the result is the same. I do have some optimism though given that America's system of government creaky though it is, does have enough safeguards against Trump's authoritarianism (almost called it fascism except he's not organised enough) and enough activists to pull the levers which will safeguard American democracy. Not totally confident, but a little more confident than about some of those European countries which appear to be going the same authoritarian way.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The Kim family have been running rings around the rest of the world for years now. It just goes to show that if you show you don't give a fuck about what other people think, you can get away with – murder. I think the present Kim has decided that Trump is such a eejit that he can be easily manipulated into giving him whatever he wants. And I think he's not wrong.

Nick J said...

Meijer on and Kunstler on his blog today called foul on the mendacity of the mainstream media, the WaPo and NYT echo chamber.

With no real or reliable reporting of what Trump does, good nor bad we have no basis for judgement. It appears to me that Trump got a result with Kim, yet we will never know a reasonable report from the echo chamber. Consequently starved of reliable news those who voted for Trump have decided in the absence of reliable contrary evidence that their vote was not astray.

I'm not sure of Chris theorem, I suspect Trump is just doing what he does best, identifying a deal and making it. I'm rather inclined toward Forrest Gump and perhaps Being There.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"I suspect Trump is just doing what he does best, identifying a deal and making it."

FFS the man lost money running casinos! According to some, if he just left his money in the bank – or rather his father's money – he'd be richer now than he is after having actively managed it. Let's stop believing the bullshit about Trump being a businessman. He is actually a conman.

jh said...

s the woman says in this TED Talk: When I becomes We (Us against Them)
Trump turned that around and it was man to man. Afterall maybe NK can see it is up a dead end street. Look what SK has achieved: Samsung built the worlds highest buildings. Trump is querky enough to relate to Kim: he talks about Condo's on those beaches. Maybe NK can reverse it's way out of that dead end street?

Geoff Fischer said...

Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump went into the summit looking to come out with a non-aggression pact. and it would seem that that has been achieved. However the interests of the their respective states are still highly divergent. Trump sees a non-aggression pact with the DPRK as a way to tighten his grip around China, while Kim sees it as a way to pressure China into doing more to support the DPRK economy. This state of limbo can only be resolved by either a full military alliance between the DPRK and the US (unlikely, but not impossible) or a return to open conflict when the pact ceases to serve US strategic interests. Although a nuclear power and current focus of global attention, the DPRK remains a minor issue on the world stage. The real power struggle is between the US and the PRC.
As I have suggested elsewhere "the problem for Western propagandists is that ... they may have to carry out at least one, probably two, handbrake turns over the DPRK" as the non-aggression pact is first forged and then broken. Initially some effort will be made to portray the DPRK more sympathetically and to place it in the broader context of Asian and specifically Korean history and culture (Korea was after all the "hermit kingdom" centuries before the latest dynasty was founded by Kim Il Sung). But we should be wary of how western propaganda responds to a pact which may be nothing more than the prelude to war with China.

Nick J said...

Did Trump lose money running casinos? Dr Google to the rescue....

That from the New York Times, primary amongst anti Trump echo chambers.

What it shouts to me is the Trump is a superior businessman, he games the system, makes the dosh. Does the deal. Compared to you and me he is probably on another planet in terms of financial success.

That said, can't say its something I admire or laud, there's trickery and underhandedness. He may be crooked, who knows. He lives in what I would describe as a business swamp full of gators and snakes.

So if we are going to damn him we can look like idiots and become useful fools by denying what he is..and objecting to any good results he gets. That just plays directly into his hands, and Trump supporters will look at the Left and laugh at our own one eyed bigotry.

Alternatively we could get to grips with the real issues and present a positive alternative that might have electoral appeal.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

On the other hand.

greywarbler said...

Bravo Nick J
Every time there is a Tump put-down - "He's a rotten businessman, look at his bankruptcy/s" - I say hey, that shows how good he is. He has been there and is still rich, he knows how to play the system. The business laws that are brought in to keep businesses under control, they are necessary to limit conniving criminal action, but are an interesting, intellectual challenge to business people, financiers, accountants and auditors at the high level. And even small fry find it a good game to rort people.

Honest business people are treasures, but they have to make a profit to stay afloat, particularly these days with competition being the flavour of the month and the most useful flavour being a popular one that can be synthesised to keep the cost down. Anything real probably costs too much and has built-in rates of decline as do all living things.

Business people like Trump are probably akin to synthesised flavours.
So his use-by date may extend and he would be up for age prevention with synthetic CRSPRs or whatever the mad scientists in the genetics playground come up with. They have to go where the money is and those into power and narrow self-satisfaction, and too wealthy to care about failing, are good at amassing synthetic assets like money, in which they are engrossed and 'bond' with well.

That said, he is a survivor, he has looked at the dysfunctional ways in which USA has been stuck for so long, and he has taken each spoken gripe and panacea thought by the people and voiced it. He is a game changer, but when he is making up the rules as he goes along, where is he leading us this 'Pied Piper of Hamelin'. First the rats, then the children and then, who next?

Tom Lehrer sings about another source of instability - Who's Next.

We may have to learn to be like The Town Musicians of Bremen and form unlikely alliances to face the big world problems. And look at fairy tales like the ones I have just mentioned to see what is the hidden meaning, the core of the fable. A change of viewpoint, an ability to cast the mind widely, discuss widely, and bring back from that new approaches to problems, perhaps based on old wisdom that can be served up again, with a twist.

Nick J said...

The Time article seems to illustrate my point that Trump knows what he is doing in business, putting aside any moral judgement or his fairly obvious character flaws.

Yet Trump’s success seems to have been derived far more from the underlying circumstances and market conditions than from any specific business acumen exercised by Trump.
So Trump played the market. Did the journalist, or you and I? I'd wager he showed enough acumen to be there and do it, took a risk that we did not and made more than we did.

Trump did not invent or discover anything new; he just went into the established family business and got lucky.

Yes luck helps, you still have to do the right thing in business. Sounds like the jealousy of a poor journalist who wished he had Trumps "luck" and operating skills.

The value of Trump’s real estate assets did indeed increase dramatically. But it is difficult to attribute this wealth to anything specific about Trump.

So picture this. You have the could sit back and take no risk, play safe. Or you could invest which is always a deals in a swamp of alligators which is a bigger risk, and play for high stakes. Lots like Trump succeed, lots more fail. There's the Pareto principle, in business 90% tend to be on the wrong side, so on that basis Trumps top 10 percent.

I'd say we can establish that Trump has business skills, very successful indeed. Whether that makes him desirable is entirely another matter. Whilst Trump was making money for himself probably peacefully, Hillary as Secretary of State bombed and wrecked Libya, promoting thousands of deaths in what is now an Islamist death hole. Nice deal making there, not.

I'd suggest again that until we can look for something better than these two flawed individuals we deserve them. A good place to start is a fair appraisal of both their good and bad points.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Or you could invest which is always a risk."
And there are those who claim that if he had just played it safe and kept the money in some sort of fund or in a bank even, he would be richer than he is now. I don't think that article supports you at all.
In fact we don't know anything much about his personal wealth, except that he probably owes over $1 billion in debt to various people, (maybe $1.8 billion) including Russians. That may or may not be a problem, but we simply don't know in one sense, that he refuses to release his tax returns, and his finances are deliberately made complex. He also hasn't given a proper summary of his assets or properly removed himself from them. I suppose you could regard that is a good business idea.
One thing we can agree on though, as you said – his ethics are crap. And I'm pretty sure that by the time he's finished being president, his debt will have been substantially reduced because he is using the office to make himself and his family richer.

Nick J said...

Lovely analogy Grey, Trump certainly does act like the Pied Piper, at what cost who knows.

I was never lucky enough to have a secure tenured job in a bureaucracy government or otherwise. The requirements didn't suit my mindset so I spent my working life in business always judged by what I returned to the bottom line in profit. Doing business is a form of warfare, second place pays nothing, success and rewards self evident. I know many very ethical successful business people, I also know a lot of ratbags. Most corporate and government CEOs I have little time for, they have no risk, merely reward for understanding the psychopathy of large organizations.

I don't admire Trump as a person or politician; as a businessman I'd suggest his style is extremely high risk, and consequently high reward. I have seen his type and they make things happen, change tack at Will, leave lots of damage. The paradox is that people buy from people, transactional success requires trust. I see this behavior in all of Trumps politics. It's about doing the deal with a person.

Perhaps what people really don't like about Trump is that he like the Pied Piper makes things happen. He disturbs the stasis and upsets convention. I'd never criticise that because ultimately he is going where he told his followers he would. I just don't like where he is going, as equally I despise where the Clinton's, the Bushes and Obama took us.

And that is why I think it foolish to demonize Trump with false narratives. Better to be constructive and change the narrative.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Trump is that he like the Pied Piper makes things happen."

Would you like to give us some examples of what he has made happen? Because the impression I get from talking to Americans online is that even with both houses and the Supreme Court, he can't seem to get any legislation passed. Can't replace Obama care as he promised. Can't even build a wall. He's signed 117 bills, of which one – one – is a major achievement, giving tax breaks to rich people. The rest of them are a mishmash of minor amendments to this that and the other, and dismantling Obama's achievements out of spite. I mean Jesus Christ one of them is the "Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site Boundary Modification Act" and another – very important this – enables government departments to reimburse people for Uber rides. Until you come up with some really important stuff I'm calling bullshit on this.

Nick J said...

Yes,if in your little bubble have not noticed Trump for whatever warped reason has said he'd improve the trade balance...the thing he got done was to start a trade war. He said he'd get North Korea to the table to give up nuclear development, he did. He said he'd repeal tax as you admit.

I'd suggest there's heeps more Trumps got done. Probably not a single one desirable. Maybe all nonsensical. Fact is however Trump makes a lot of things happen, so please remove your earplugs, eye patches and pick up your bovine.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Goodness me, I thought you meant constructive things. Most of what he's done has been flailing round. Can't help but agree with that. But normally when you are suggesting that someone knows what they are doing, you put forward their constructive achievements.

Nick J said...

Trump is not normal. He just does stuff. I don't approve. You don't approve. He don't care, he just does stuff.