Just when you thought your jaw could drop no lower, just when Donald Trump seemed to have reached levels of irresponsible idiocy that you figured he couldn’t possibly exceed, he has managed to take one more giant leap into the abyss.
You may have missed it amid the banner headlines about Brett Kavanaugh, but here is what President Trump said on Saturday at a rally in Wheeling, West Virginia, about his relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un:
I was really tough and so was he, and we were going back and forth. And then, we fell in love. OK? No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters. We fell in love.
My first reaction, upon seeing this online Sunday morning, was that it must be another Twitter hoax. My second reaction, upon watching the video and grasping that it was real, was utter discombobulation: Where to begin in appraising the latest episode of this surreal scramble of a presidency that makes the zaniest political satire seem lame and predictable by comparison?
The most obvious point to make is not the most unsettling—the fact that Trump declared “love” for the most monstrous dictator on the planet, a dynastic thug who murders high-placed critics (including an uncle and half-brother), imprisons millions more, and perpetuates a regime that isolates and impoverishes his people.
No, the inference that we, as American citizens, should draw and find urgently worrisome is that—to an even greater extent than many of us had already realized—Trump’s judgment is out of whack. He cannot be trusted to nominate Supreme Court justices, decide matters of war and peace, order take-out sandwiches for the office, or anything else, large or small. There can’t possibly be a member of Trump’s Cabinet, or the U.S. Congress, who isn’t painfully aware of this fact.
Imagine Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, or practically any other president making a remark like this in public about any dictator. Imagine the ensuing ridicule on Fox News, the outrage on the Senate floor, the musings about the 25th Amendment, and the motion of impeachment that someone would file the very next day.
It takes little imagination to picture the reactions of other world leaders. If Kim and his entourage have a taste for champagne, they no doubt popped another cork—at least the fourth in as many months—over how thoroughly they’ve manipulated the “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” (as Kim once called Trump in their exchange of fiery insults last year). Russian President Vladimir Putin may be plotting ways to one-up his Pyongyang rival and recapture the title of Trump’s BFF. Chinese President Xi Jinping might have assigned his most glorious wordsmith to write Trump a “beautiful letter” to settle their trade war. It would be a shrewd (though perhaps politically impossible) move for Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to entertain a similar ploy to get the sanctions called off. Meanwhile, our traditional allies—whose bonds have long been shaped by common interests and values, not phony (but somehow effective) kowtowing—are no doubt planning ways to retain their mutual ties while distancing themselves from Washington.
What will come of Trump’s grand illusion? Love is blind, as several poets have noted, and one can only wonder how much Kim will ask of his paramour—and how much Trump will grant him—in their time alone at the next summit. Yet, to paraphrase another bard, Hell hath no fury like a lover scorned, and one can easily picture Trump reverting to “fire and fury” tactics after realizing that Kim has taken him for a ride.
At the rally in Wheeling, after professing his love for the butcher of Pyongyang, Trump predicted that his critics would denounce him for his ardor. “They’ll say, ‘How horrible! So un-presidential!’” he said, mockingly. He then went on: “It’s so easy to be presidential. But instead of having 10,000 people trying to get into this packed arena, we’d have about 200 people standing here.”
For Trump, it’s all about the numbers of adoring followers. The slog of being presidential is a downer. Acting horrible and un-presidential is fun! It may also be the end of us—and, at least for the moment, those who have the power to do something just sit there.