Donald Trump said over the weekend that he expected to know how his summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un would go “within the first minute.” That was absurd, of course, but it pointed to one of the president’s more glaring flaws: his susceptibility to flattery.
All the brutal dictator would have to do is show up, look Trump in the eye, and tell the president what he wanted to hear, at which point the Republican would be both charmed and impressed.
And by some measures, that’s what happened. Trump told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, for example, in reference to Kim, “He said openly, and he said it to a couple of reporters that were with him that he knows, that no other president ever could have done this…. He said no other president could have done this.”
Substantively, this is bonkers – every modern American president could’ve done this, but none was prepared to give North Korea what it wanted in exchange for nothing – but Kim apparently understood that flattering Trump creates opportunities with Trump.
Consider this exchange from the president’s post-meeting press conference:
Q: What did Kim Jong Un say to you to give you the confidence that, for once in the history of North Korea, they are not cheating the system, and gaming the world, and gaming the people who will have to go in and make sure that they’re actually giving up their nuclear arsenal? What did he say to you?
TRUMP: Yeah, I mean, very fair question. He actually mentioned the fact that they proceeded down a path in the past, and, ultimately, as you know, nothing got done. In one case, they took billions of dollars – during the Clinton regime – took billions of dollars and nothing happened. That was a terrible thing, and he actually brought it up to me.
And he said we have never gone this far. I don’t think they’ve ever had the confidence, frankly, in a president that they have right now for getting things done and having the ability to get things done.
For now, let’s put aside Trump referring to Bill Clinton’s democratically elected administration as a “regime” – a word he did not use in reference to North Korea’s dictatorship. Instead, consider the peek into the president’s narcissism.
To hear Trump tell it, Kim is prepared to denuclearize because North Korea has confidence in Trump’s awesomeness. Indeed, he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “You know, you hear the whole thing about his father and other administrations or his grandfather. The fact is, and he brings that up, they weren’t dealing with me! They were dealing with different people.”
Trump has no idea the degree to which his ego is in the way of his foreign policy agenda.
The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof explained, “It sure looks as if President Trump was hoodwinked in Singapore…. Kim seems to have completely out-negotiated Trump, and it’s scary that Trump doesn’t seem to realize this.”