Wednesday, May 03, 2017

May 3, 2017--Jack: One Smart Cookie

This time I called Jack.

I was so upset by President Trump's erratic behavior during the past 48 hours that I wanted to talk to a fervent supporter of his in the hope he could talk me down, get me to see things in a different light. Or, failing that, talking with him would give me the opportunity to vent. Irrationally, to hold him responsible for the Trump presidency.

Considering what was going on in Washington I knew Jack wouldn't be reaching out to me so I dialed him up. I got his answering machine and left a neutral-sounding message so as no to scare him off. He called back in less than half an hour.

"I know why you're calling."

"Really?" I tried not to sound aggressive or sarcastic.

"You never do. I mean, call.  So I assume it's not to talk about the weather, which by the way, is beautiful. Fifty-five and sunny."

"You're right, I'm calling to talk about your boy." So much for my trying to sound moderate.

"What is it about? North Korea?," he said in a mocking tone, "NAFTA? The Philippines? Andrew Jackson and the Civil War?"

"All of the above and then some. What's going on with him? It looks as if he's spinning out of control."

"It's Trump being The Donald. That's the two sides of him, Trump the serious person and The Donald, the adolescent."

"If you're feeling this way, considering that to you he can do no wrong, things must be worse than I imagined."

"Let's talk about North Korea," Jack said, sounding reasonable.

"Shoot. Sorry, not 'shoot,' I mean go on."

"You're all upset that he's willing to meet with Kim Jong-un?"

"No, in fact," I said, "under the right circumstances I'd be in favor of that. Maybe it could help calm things down. I mean Trump is talking about the possibility of 'a major, major conflict.' I don't think even supporters like you are eager to see that."

"Not eager, but if all else fails I'd rather see military action soon rather than after Kim has nuclear weapons and missiles that can reach the United States."

"I don't know what to say about that. I can't think my way to a solution. It could come to . . . I can't say the words."

"So," Jack asked, "are you all bent out of shape because you didn't like Trump calling Kim a 'smart cookie' and that he'd be 'honored' to meet with him?"

"That's closer to what's making me crazy."

"So let me try to help you out."

"I'm listening."

"If we want to avoid war, which could easily kill and maim millions, including thousands of Americans, and if China is not willing to fully pull the plug on the North Koreans, and if resuming the six-party talks we had during the Clinton and Bush administrations is a nonstarter, a one-on-one between Kim and Trump might be the last best hope before declaring war."

"You mean art-of-the-deal style?"

"Trump fancies himself the best negotiator ever and probably thinks, grandiosely, that he could strike a deal with Kim. I think he sees some of himself in Kim. Or Kim in himself. Someone very connected to his father, who, when his father died and Kim was only in his twenties, took control of the country and has seen it get stronger.

"There was a long article in your New York Times on Sunday about how the North Korean GDP is growing and small businesses are coming into being. Obviously I'm not seeing any of this as good, particularly the brutal ways in which Kim consolidated and maintains his power. But it is a version of the truth and is sort of similar to Trump's life. What you in one of your blogs called 'the daddy problem.' Again, no value judgements intended. I'm simply trying to be coldly objective."

"It's not easy to go along with this--Kim is a monster--but I'm not hanging up on you."

"Well, Stalin was a much bigger monster who killed tens of millions of his own people and your boy Roosevelt thought he could deal with him, again, one-on one. Didn't he at one of the conference among the wartime allies, near the end of the Second World War, didn't Roosevelt push Churchill aside so he could have direct access to Stalin? And they did make some deals, didn't they? Historians tend to feel Roosevelt wasn't at the top of his game--he died shortly thereafter--but this is still a potentially valid historical parallel."

"So Trump would be 'honored' to meet with him? That Kim is a 'smart cookie.'"

"I could do without that. It was a stupid way to put it, but that was The Donald speaking."

"He can't walk that one back. Even Republicans are going crazy about it."

"I also thought that was stupid and . . ."

"'Thought' or 'think'? What tense do you mean?"

"'Thought.' Past tense because I have a new view about it now."

"Which is?"

"Maybe, maybe underlined, it's Trump not just being crazy but crazy like a fox. He may be figuring that the best way to get to Kim is through a combination of credible threat and flattery. Again, like Trump himself who seems to be threatenable and desperate for flattery. If I'm right about this, Trump may be focussing on the big picture--more than anything else he wants to avoid a major war and make a deal. So he's willing to make himself seem weak or vulnerable while at the same time flexing military muscle."

"Not uninteresting. But that assumes he's a normal person. Trump, that is. And Kim for that matter. They may both be crazy."

"Could be," Jack said.

"What you're suggesting is that maybe Trump can put aside his own colossal ego for the sake of finding a way out of this seemingly hopeless situation."

"Now, you're talking," Jack said.

"This is very, very speculative and doesn't fit my image of Trump as being out of control. But I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for awhile to see if you're right."

"The Andrew Jackson business, however," Jack said, "Is crazy. And not like a fox.

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