“They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Donald Trump
“I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.” Kim Jong-un
Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump regularly accuse each other of being insane and bereft of reason. Unfortunately, both are right. Even worse, both need an escalating conflict with the other to maintain their power. They are like Siamese twins, bound by the threat of nuclear war.
Why do Trump and Kim behave so recklessly? Are they indifferent to the fate of their people? Once again, the answer to these questions lies with the ideas in which both leaders believe.
Why do Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un need each other?
“We have a lot of firepower, more than he has, times 20 – but we don’t want to use it.” Donald Trump
“The American ******** would not be very happy with this gift sent on the July 4 anniversary.” Kim Jong-un
The relationship of Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump is dangerous because both need an ever-escalating conflict. Any de-escalation threatens their power and is detrimental to their interest.
Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump both portray the other as an infinitely evil threat. Donald Trump claims that North Korea is a tyrannical regime that wants to destroy his country and can only be stopped through nuclear war, and Kim Jong-un argues the same thing about the U.S.
This logic has two advantages for Trump and Kim:
- They can increase their people’s support. When we believe in an infinitely evil threat, we need a white knight who protects us. Both Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump portray themselves as these white knights, claiming that their countries need their strength to survive. Those who believe that Trump and Kim are essential to their survival have no choice but to support everything they say and do.
- They can justify their other goals and distract from domestic problems. Donald Trump claimed that America needs to strengthen its military and its leadership position in the world for decades. The conflict with North Korea helps him push his America first and strong military position. Since most of his domestic policy initiatives failed, Trump gladly uses a foreign policy issue to distract from these defeats and maintain his image as a winner. Kim Jong-un uses the U.S. as the scapegoat for the countries disastrous condition, claiming that the United States intentionally keep the people poor. This reasoning prevents a revolt that would be a certainty in a regime as resistant to change as North Korea.
The narrative of an infinitely evil threat and a white knight is beneficial to Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, even though it endangers their people. Both do their best to keep the narrative alive, despite good reasons for de-escalation. This dynamic is dangerous.
Why is the dynamic between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un dangerous?
“Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.” Donald Trump
“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason.” Kim Jong-un
The dynamic between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump is dangerous because they consider each other evil threats while simultaneously considering themselves white knights. When two white knights collide that also consider each other infinitely evil threats, there is no chance for de-escalation.
In normal conflicts, we have three options how to react:
- We can escalate the conflict.
- We can keep the conflict at the same level.
- We can deescalate the conflict.
With the threat of nuclear war looming, most people would wish for their leaders to deescalate the conflict. Because of their worldview, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are unable to answer these wishes. When a white knight backs down, they lose the ability to protect their people from the infinitely evil threat. Those who believe in the threat must find another white knight and stop supporting the politician.
Especially when politicians believe in their own role as a white knight, they have to answer every escalation with another escalation, or they would surrender to their own infinitely evil threat. Kim Jong-un seems to think this way and Donald Trump has given every indication that he considers himself infallible. To prove his infallibility, he needs a great victory. Since health care, tax reform, and all other policy issues are unlikely to provide this victory, he needs a foreign policy issue to distract from these problems. North Korea and its weak military pose no real threat to the U.S. Army, which is why the conflict with Kim Jong-un could provide Trump with the ideal target. As a result, two white knights stare each other down, believing that the other is an infinitely threat – or at least determined to act as if they were one.
White knights who face their infinitely evil threat must win. They must be strong. And they can’t back down. They can only answer threats with bigger threats. Just like in fairy tales, where the white knight always eventually fights the dragon, any action of a political white knight is a step towards the final battle and the all-out victory. Anything else would destroy the narrative that serves as their basis for power.
This is exactly what happens between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. When Donald Trump’s foreign secretary Rex Tillerson told Chinese diplomats that the U.S. wanted a peaceful solution with North Korea, Trump immediately prevented the de-escalation, tweeting,
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man. Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done! Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail.” Donald Trump
The dynamic of the conflict between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump forces Trump to casually talk about nuclear war. Having exhausted all other rhetorical options, he has only this last escalation left. Eventually, this vicious cycle will reach the point where words and sanctions will no longer suffice to escalate the conflict. At this point, it will lead to actual war.
A similar dynamic started World War I, where nobody wanted a war, but all European leaders had used nationalism and an increasingly violent rhetoric to increase their people’s support. Eventually, they had to turn rhetoric into action – which killed over 20 million people. We see similar results whenever two groups consider each other infinitely evil threats – in the West Bank and in Northern Ireland, for example.
How can we prevent nuclear war?
Currently, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are like Siamese twins. They are irreversibly tied to the same narrative, unable to escape their dilemma on their own. The only hope for de-escalation lies with the American people. Democratic leaders need the support of their people and can only do what secures their power. The North Korean people face too much propaganda and poverty to rise against their leader, which is why only the American people are left to stop the next escalation. They have to enforce a more constructive narrative by resisting their president’s idea of an infinitely evil threat for long enough to elect a new president. In the meantime, they have to promote peaceful solutions. If they fail, the world is heading for war.
The important point is that Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are two sides of the same coin, not polar opposites. Supporting one means supporting the other, and neither group of followers can claim moral superiority. If we oppose Kim Jong-un, we should oppose Donald Trump, too.
Since North Korea currently lacks the ability to fire an intercontinental ballistic missile, they are unable to attack the U.S. They could attack Tokyo and Seoul if they manage to hit these cities. At the very least, a military solution would lead to heavy casualties in North Korea and an even worse situation for the North Korean people for decades to come. The picture of Western democracies in the history books will depend on our ability to prevent this senseless suffering in the name of two juvenile narcissists.
- Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un both believe to be white knights who fight infinitely evil threats – each other.
- The dynamic between a white knight and an infinitely evil threat is dangerous, but when two white knights consider each other infinitely evil threats, it becomes deadly. Two opposing white knights can only escalate the conflict until it becomes violent.
- To stop two white knights from starting a war, their people have to force them to remain peaceful. They can accomplish this goal by refusing to believe the narrative of a white knight and an infinitely evil threat and promoting peaceful solutions.
If you enjoyed this post, you will probably enjoy my book Never Again: A Former East German’s Take On Donald Trump. You can read it on Amazon now.
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