• Trump, Kim and Hanoi

    The so-called “summit” in Hanoi between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un a few days ago ended with no agreement, despite Trump’s earlier optimism that an agreement was available – the meeting was, in other words, either a non-event or possibly a second date that went horribly wrong.

    But behind the smokescreen of fantasy and bluster, what was really going on? The episode tells us a great deal about each of the participants and, in particular, about how far Trump will go to keep himself in the headlines and to distract attention from his troubles at home.

    What seems clear is that the meeting was engineered by Trump for no better reason than to serve his own electoral purposes, and was a further indication of his readiness to focus always on getting himself re-elected – which seems to be the only thing he really cares about.

    Judged in its own terms, however, the summit was a failure of “deal-making” on the part of both supposedly expert “deal-makers”. Kim’s misjudgment was in believing that he could use Trump’s appetite for flattery to enable him to slide past him a deal that totally brought an end to US sanctions against North Korea while doing little to make good Kim’s promise to denuclearise.

    Trump’s misjudgment was in believing what he wanted to believe – that he could soft-soap Kim into giving up his nuclear weapons. He appears to see in Kim a kindred spirit, someone he can admire and emulate and whose dictatorial powers he can envy and seek to replicate.

    What is alarming – though not surprising to Trump watchers and critics (among whose number I count myself) – is the President’s willingness to subordinate what could have been an important international interaction to his own domestic political ambitions.

    This smoke-and-mirrors non-drama was, of course, being played out against the backdrop of the incendiary testimony of Michael Cohen (Trump’s former personal lawyer) to a Committee of the House of Representatives as to what he knew about his former client and employer. If even a smidgeon of what Cohen said is to be believed, the judgments made by many of us about Trump’s fitness for office have been far too mild.

    Perhaps the most significant thing Cohn said in his statement came, however, when he focussed on – not Trump directly – but on the Republican members of the House. “I am now – after ten years – holding Donald Trump to account – something that you, yourselves, should have been doing,” he said.

    The point should surely have struck home. In labelling Trump “a racist, a conman, a cheat”, Cohen told us nothing we didn’t know already; he was simply adding his voice and his personal observations on the Trump he knew to many other voices.

    What has been missing from this scenario is any effective response from Trump’s Republican colleagues – any sign that they recognise the nightmare they have helped to launch on the American public and polity. By averting their gaze, and by going along with the diversionary tactic resorted to by Trump in Hanoi, they have made themselves – collectively and personally – complicit in what looks increasingly like a conspiracy against the American people.

    We do not need to regard Michael Cohen as beyond reproach – he is certainly not that – but this sounds very much like the voice of someone who has been pushed beyond what he can endure. The American public and the Republicans in Congress now need to find the courage to listen carefully to the opinions and the conclusions of someone who worked closely with Trump as a loyal henchman over many years. This evidence shows that it is not just the Hanoi “summit” that is now at risk.

    Bryan Gould
    1 March 2019