Scorn to Praise in a Matter of Days
Your options are two: on the one side, you have the ephebic and charming Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Unctuously politically-correct at times, he may be, but over and above, he’s a decent, law-abiding, and—most importantly—a reasonable and a democratic man. On the other side, you have the impish and cunning North Korean head of state Kim Jong-un. Here you have a murderous, treacherous, and mendacious tyrant who’s been nothing but a force for ill in the world. His and his father’s and his grandfather’s regime has been for four decades the cause of most of the instability that till this day plagues the far East. He persists as the main source of an entire country’s blight.
The former—Prime Minister Trudeau—represents a nation that has the distinction of being one of America’s longest standing allies, one to which we’re most ideologically and geographically close. There’s always been a certain indescribable warmth and consanguinity between America and her hockey-loving neighbors to the north. Forget for the moment (and for the sake of what I hope to be our continued cordiality) that it was only but a few short centuries ago when our founding fathers wanted nothing more than to annex that vast expanse of maple leaves above Detroit (they were positively enamored of the idea of expanding the reach of the thirteen colonies further into the North American landmass—an aim toward which they endeavored but ultimately forfeited after the War of 1812. Thence, as if inspired by and anticipating Steinbeck, they turned west.) and regard that as an innocent footnote to history. I think of it as a compliment to Canada and to all of her natural splendors—an acknowledgement of the high esteem in which our founders held those doughty Canucks.
All said, though, and through the course of all of these tumultuous years, America’s relationship with Canada has been a famous and enduring success. We’ve persevered together through wars, profited through trade, and entrenched ourselves as dominant international players outside of the European west. We’ve long surpassed what was once a merely fraternal bond—a common origin story of Anglican refuse and refugees—and a mutual distaste, albeit to different degrees, for British rule to enjoy in our current day and in each other’s proximity a shared financial and cultural success.
Now, ready yourself to pivot as you compare all of this with the latter and the regime he oversees. Kim Jong-un doesn’t so much as represent, but he rather represses his nation—a nation with whom America has been since the mid-twentieth century inveterately at odds. Where Trudeau and our Canadian friends are on the whole an irenic bunch, Kim and his kleptocratic yes-men are an irascible pack of goons. Their aims are always subversive, their fists, forever clenched, and their mouths—wont as they are to speak out of both sides—always dripping with acidity, mendacity, insults, and screeds.
Trudeau’s is a government on which we can rely to be stable and amenable to our mutual best interests—regardless of some recent hang-ups and spats over the imposition of tariffs that hopefully will soon be swept away. Kim’s is a government, on the other hand, that’s proven itself incorrigible. His is a gulag state on which ill-conceived Orwellian dystopias are based. He is Fat Man, Little Boy, and Big Brother all rolled up into one sinister, insolent, bespectacled boy-king. Under the constant threat of his gun and beneath the heavy yoke of his wanton decrees, his country has writhed in destitution, immiseration, hunger, ignorance, and pain. Perhaps fortunately for those who call North Korea home, they know not of their own plight. This, for them, might be the most merciful part of their sad tale. They haven’t an inkling of the outside world, which is a remarkable testament to Kim’s closed-off governance. His effort to cultivate a fully benighted society from the bottom up has been a lamentable success. His people are simply fed an endless diet of propaganda (which, by the way, is far less nutritive than the grain without which they labor and sleep) and are kept in a contemptibly meek and submissive state.
If asked, then, to affix the epithet to the man—be it to Canada’s Justin Trudeau or North Korea’s Kim Jong-un—I daresay you’d have little trouble accepting the challenge and accomplishing the feat. To call one of the two “very dishonest and weak” must surely be to impugn Kim Jong-un, who’s made a career (albeit a brief one) of being dishonest on a global scale. He’s led a regime that’s been deliberately obscure, deceitful, and unforthcoming. He’s been responsible for propagating in the absence of international scrutiny endless lies and calumnies against those who’ve attempted to expose the truth. To call him “weak” would also befit the man, as Kim is by no measure a powerful actor on the world’s stage. An importunate one, yes, but not a potent one. His country is the very definition of poverty and immiseration—there’s nothing strong about it—and as for him, he hasn’t the strength nor the fortitude to change. He is, in every sense of the word, weak: weak in character, in virtue, and in thought.
So, that epithet clearly goes to Kim. On we go, then, to the next. To recommend for one of these men as his final resting place a “special place in hell” undoubtedly must be to speak of Kim as well. Surely a man duly accused of not only fratricide but of politicide and democide would expect such a hellish fate beyond the grave. Special places, after all, ought to be uniquely reserved for those guilty of the most egregious of sins. Are Trudeau’s transgressions comparable to those of Kim? Is Trudeau to find his place in hell beside the likes of Stalin, Nero, Domitian, Mao, or Hitler? Or is Kim more likely to find himself counted among the damned? There’s still time for Trudeau yet, but as of now, he seems to me the more venial of the two—Kim the more bestial. Assuming he stays on the straight and narrow, I can’t imagine the former ever deserving such an infernal fate.
If you haven’t yet guessed it, the big climax is this; of all of those castigations, those of being “dishonest”, or “weak”, or of betraying a friend, or of acting in “bad faith”, or of deserving to find in death a “special place in hell”, none of them were directed at Kim Jong-un, the murderous dictator of North Korea. All of them, rather, were directed at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by the Trump administration. Trump himself called Trudeau “dishonest and weak” while en route to meet Kim Jong-un. Peter Navarro, Trump’s economic advisor, charged Trudeau with dealing in “bad faith” and for deserving his “special place in hell”. Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow parroted much the same.
What exactly, you might ask, did Trudeau do to invite the administration’s ire? What any clear-minded head of state would. He responded to Trump’s outlandish threats of tariffs with commensurate warnings of his own. Tit for tat, Trudeau—vexed at the results of the G7 meeting on his home turf—resignedly told reporters that if the American president imposed protective barriers to trade, he’d be forced to do the same.
Economically speaking, there was nothing exceptionable about what Trudeau had to say. He’s merely responding to the game as President Trump wants it played.
Worse than this, though, mere days after verbally abusing Trudeau, the president flew to Singapore where he met with none other than Kim Jong-un. The meeting was in itself historic, the results, anticlimactic, but it was the praise that President Trump showered upon Kim that is lingering longest with me. Among other things, Trump called Kim a “very talented man”, a “very smart negotiator”, a chap with “great personality”, and an altogether swell guy. There seemed to be nothing but sincerity beneath this fulsome praise, which, to my knowledge, wasn’t reciprocated by Kim.
And while Trudeau—that staunch and erstwhile American ally—waits to be banished to pits of hell, the empyrean Kim floats above heaven and the fray like a saint.