Trump likes Kim Jong-un. It’s clear after the Singapore summit last year and the Hanoi summit last week. Kim what Trump wants: dictatorship; the world’s biggest military; total control over every person’s life; the ability to reward loyalists and send enemies to political prison camps forever. And a cult of personality to die for!
Brief History of North Korea
From 1910 to 1945, the Korean peninsula was ruled by Japan. At the end of the war, the Soviet Union occupied the northern half, the United States the southern half. They couldn’t come to an agreement about unification, so in 1948 they created two separate governments, for North Korea and South Korea. Kim Il-sung, who had been a guerrilla leader against the Japanese, became premier of North Korea. He was the country’s dictator until his death in 1994, when his son Kim Jong-il took over, until his death in 2011. Now his son Kim Jong-un is the leader. The Korean War broke out in 1950, and the Armistice went into effect in 1953. It’s still in effect, so the war isn’t over.
Until its fall in 1991, the Soviet Union supported North Korea economically. Once that support stopped, things went downhill fast. From 1994 to 1998, North Korea suffered a famine, due to a series of droughts and floods. Estimates vary as to how many citizens died of starvation, between 800,000 and 3.5 million. By now two generations of the lowest castes have experienced stunted growth, and many probably experience intellectual limitations as well, due to malnutrition.
North Korea is one of the last Stalinist, totalitarian dictatorships, where every aspect of human life is controlled by the state. Apart from the regular indoctrination and propaganda, North Korea follows two distinct policies that ensure this total government control. Songun Chongch’i, which means “military first,” and Songbun, a system of political castes.
North Korea has the world’s highest number of military and paramilitary personnel, together totaling more than a third of the population. Its active duty army consists of almost a fifth of the population, at about 1.2 million. This makes it the fourth largest active duty army in the world, after China (population 1.4 billion), the United States (population 325 million), and India (population 1.4 billion), even though the North Korean population is estimated to be no more than some 27 million. All males and selected females serve in the Korean People’s Army for three years, and high school and college students serve in the Young Red Guards, a cadet organization which requires at least four hours every Saturday spent on military training. A kind of Korean Hitler Youth — another place where the government can indoctrinate, control and militarize people from a young age.
Though Trump never served in the military himself, he loves the pomp and circumstance and power the military presents to him as president. He would love it even more if they put on military parades down Pennsylvania Avenue, with fighter jets flying overhead, but the military leaders have said this would be too expensive, the logistics too complicated, and the road not suited for tanks. He loves playing the commander in chief and he uses any opportunity to be seen as strong and respected and admired. When he spoke to a group of CIA agents, he brought White House aides along, for guaranteed applause. He does this a lot. Trump likes Kim Jong-un because he gets the applause he wants.
Songbun is a political caste system, based on a citizen’s paternal family background of perceived loyalty and trustworthiness to the Kim family and North Korean interests going back to the Japanese occupation and the Korean War. Kim Il-sung established the system, which now divides the population into “special,” “nucleus” (or “core”), “basic” (or “wavering”), “complex” and “hostile” classes. These five classes are in turn divided into at least 51 subcategories. There are two types of songbun. More recently a person can sometimes acquire a higher social songbun despite having a low inherited songbun. Nevertheless, a person’s entire life is determined by their songbun — where they live, education, occupation, etc. The various levels of malnutrition experienced by North Koreans during the famine correlate with the different classes, which suggests that even food rations depend on one’s songbun. If anyone in the family commits any political no-nos, the whole family’s songbun will be demoted. This is why even family relatives keep one another in step.
A system in which those who lick the leader’s boots are rewarded and those who don’t are punished: Trump makes it clear every time he stands in front of the press that he would love nothing more. He has repeatedly complained that journalists who write negatively about him should be punished.
He has said that his political opponents (Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton) and people in charge of investigations against him (FBI director James Comey) should be locked up, for no other reason than being his political opponents and leading legitimate investigations into his alleged connections with the Russians’ interference with the 2016 presidential election.
Trump has made generous use of his presidential pardon to help his friends and political allies, like former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona Joe Arpaio, who ran prison camps in the desert, and who was convicted of criminal contempt of court after continuing unlawful “immigrant roundups.” And some of the House committees are presently looking into his relationship with Alexander Acosta, a former Florida attorney general who allegedly gave Trump’s friend and sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein a suspiciously light sentence and whom Trump subsequently nominated as labor secretary. Trump likes Kim Jong-un because he’s a man after his own heart.
Obviously, the North Korean regime doesn’t allow any form of dissent. Not in the press, not even in conversations. In schools a much sought-after position is that of student leader. This student informs on any disloyal students. Students at a university for the North Korean elite are teamed up in pairs, doing everything together, but only for a few months; then they are switched around, lest they form deep friendships that could prevent them from informing on their partner.
Loyalty to the leader above all else. Just watch Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee to learn about the level of loyalty Trump expects. Or take the fact that he has White House aides sign non-disclosure agreements. After the Singapore summit last year, Trump was clearly impressed with the power and loyalty Kim demanded:
He’s the head of a country, and I mean he’s the strong head. Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks, and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.
State-controlled Information and Communication
Freedom of information is non-existent in North Korea. The media and all forms of communication are completely state-controlled. The news is, obviously, as well as other programs, which usually consist of endless propaganda showing how wonderful Kim is. Trump says that he is the smartest person you’ll ever meet, that nobody knows more about technology than he does, etc. Kim Jong-un doesn’t even have to do his own bragging. In their constant competition to show the most enthusiasm for him, North Korean talking heads fall over themselves in their praise.
During the Singapore summit, Trump commented on how positive a female North Korean television news anchor was in her reporting about Kim, and he joked that even Fox News was not that generous toward him. The fact that he can’t have someone executed if they seem even a tad less enthusiastic than usual might have something to do with that.
People need a permit to own a computer, and Internet is limited to information from within the country, and even then only a for the few top elites. No tune-able radios, DVD players, or VHS players are allowed. Mobile phones and landlines, such as they are, can’t be used to make international calls.
The symbiosis between Trump and Fox and Friends and Sean Hannity has been remarkable. As has the number of former Fox News employees who now have positions in the Trump administration. Just yesterday a report came out about Fox News killing a story by one of its own reporters because Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch wanted Trump to be president. Fox News is as close to state television you can get without it actually being state television. And don’t forget that Trump was poised to start Trump TV when he lost the presidency. But then he didn’t lose. They established Trump TV anyway, but it petered out by the end of 2017, if their latest post on the Facebook page is any indication.
Other than his favorite Fox News folks, Trump regularly calls the media the enemy of the people. He has punished journalists for asking questions by banning them from the press pool. CNN’s Jim Acosta was banned from the White House press pool for a week, and during the Hanoi summit, he had a few American journalists removed who dared to ask questions, as is custom.
Cult of Personality
North Korean education is rife with prescribed propaganda, aimed at maintaining the cult of personality surrounding the Kim dynasty, how great they are/were, what they have sacrificed for the people, what they are supposedly capable of. For instance, Kim Jong-un was a child prodigy. He could drive a car by age three and won yachting races by age nine. He wrote the six best operas the world has ever known, and he wrote 1,500 books during his three years in college. When he first picked up a golf club, he broke all world records, so he immediately retired from the sport. His father was walking at three weeks and talking at eight weeks, reportedly.
Trump has also built a cult of personality around himself. Framed, fake Times magazine covers with his face on them hang in his offices and hotels. The Apprentice was one big, fake show that made him out to be the grand master of the deal; he supposedly wrote three books (he didn’t, his ghost writer did); and he is the greatest man who ever lived.
One of the House Oversight Committee’s areas of investigation is the straw man who was allegedly told to bid and pay top dollar for two larger-than-life paintings of Trump at an auction, because Trump wanted the paintings to be perceived as more valuable than they are. They now hang in his hotels. It is suspected that Trump Foundation money or Trump election campaign money was used to buy them.
Trump loves Fox and Friends and Sean Hannity, and, for a while, Laura Ingraham, because they adore him. Laura Ingraham claimed he was sent by God. The majority of evangelicals still believe it, even if Laura is now eating her words. They believe he has sacrificed his easy life in Trump Tower to labor away in the Oval Office for the good of the country.
Trump takes the adoration North Koreans profess for Kim Jong-un at face value, because, to him, that’s all that matters — appearances. He said of the North Korean people:
His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.
No Freedom of Religion
Religion is not allowed, because any kind of organization is a threat to the government. The evangelical right in America are not fazed by the fact that Trump has the morals of an eel, so I suppose that’s why they’re not fazed by the fact that he “fell in love” with a ruthless dictator who persecutes Christians, among others. Who cares, as long as it’s not in America, right?
No Freedom of Movement
There is no freedom of movement in North Korea. Not only are people forbidden to leave the country; they cannot move around within the country without obtaining a travel permit from their work unit for a specific destination, for a specific purpose. People have no say in where they work; they are assigned. The most favored citizens, with the highest songbun, will live and work in Pyongyang. The “hostiles” end up somewhere in the mountains.
Since this is in part related to songbun, Trump’s got to love the reward and punishment aspect of running (or ruining) people’s entire lives.
Political Prison Camps
Dissenters and people caught trying to flee the country are sent to above-mentioned political prison camps. Not only that, but three generations of their relatives are taken to these camps as well. This deters martyrs — people may be willing to sacrifice themselves, but not many are willing to sacrifice their whole family. Men, women and children are regularly tortured and killed in these camps. Entire generations grow up, on the edge of starvation, in these city-sized camps, where children inform on their parents and watch their executions, and where they watch their nameless teachers beat first-grade classmates to death for the smallest infractions. This is normal to children who are born into the situation; in their eyes these people deserve their punishment because they disobeyed the rules.
Putting innocent people, children even, in prison camps as a deterrent, locking up people who don’t agree with the leader politically — the intimidation, the abject fear it puts in people’s hearts, the mass public expressions of adoration, the absolute authoritarianism of it all — Trump has an undisguised admiration for someone who can pull that off. During the Singapore summit, he was asked about referring to the murderous dictator as “very talented.” Trump responded,
Well, he is very talented. Anybody that takes over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and is able to run it and run it tough — I don’t say it was nice, or I don’t say anything about it. He ran it. Very few people at that age, you can take 1 out of 10,000, probably couldn’t do it.
Trump and Kim
At first Trump seemed ready to start World War Three with North Korea, calling Kim Jong-un “little rocket man” and threatening to unleash “fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before,” if he didn’t stop threatening the United States. But after some personal communication back and forth, and the Singapore summit, Trump likes the Kim Jong-un. Trump loves him. He said:
I was really tough and so was he, and we went 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.
Once he met Kim in person in Singapore, Trump found him to be not only a “very talented man,” but also a “smart guy” and a “very good negotiator,”with a “great personality.” He said they had a “special bond” and that he was “absolutely” willing to invite him to the White House. In advance of the Hanoi summit last week, he referred to the dictator of North Korea in a tweet as “my friend Kim Jong Un. (sic)” After the failed talks, Trump was still optimistic, because,
The relationship is very good. He’s a real leader, and he’s pretty mercurial. He likes me, I like him. Some people say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t like him’. I said, ‘Why shouldn’t I like him? I like him. We get along great. We’ll see what happens.’
The little whippersnapper can squeeze a country with the iron fist of Stalin; he imprisons and tortures more people than he can count; he has his people trained to sit up at attention and to show a fervor for him; more than a third of the country is militarized, and he is their commander in chief; he’s smart; he’s a great negotiator; he’s very talented; he has a great personality; and he’s a tough leader, a real leader. And he writes beautiful love letters! Good God, is there anything Kim can’t do?
So yeah, Trump likes Kim Jong-un. What’s not to like, if you’re Trump?
More on Trump and the Hanoi summit in the next post. Stay tuned.
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