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Trump brings the brutal logic of the Dark Enlightenment to diplomacy Open in fullscreen

Wilson Dizard

Trump brings the brutal logic of the Dark Enlightenment to diplomacy

Trump embraces 'presidents-for-life' while disregarding democratic institutions upon which US diplomacy has been built [AFP]

Date of publication: 14 June, 2018

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Comment: Trump's dealings with North Korea and the G7 reveal his deal-making strategy - and it's even more disturbing than you might think, writes Wilson Dizard.

Washington was left baffled this week by the summit in Singapore between North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, president of the United States.

Trump and his Very Online cadre hailed the meeting as a momentous, Nobel-worthy, achievement - among the greatest hits in the history of diplomacy. Meanwhile, Democrats and dissident Republicans said Trump got bamboozled by the North Koreans, big league, and abandoned US allies in the region. And so forth.

Who knows? Nobody. The volatile history of nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and the rest of the world suggests Singapore doesn't represent the end of tensions, or the blossoming of a North Korean economic miracle. But Trump's statements and behaviour at the summit, and earlier at the meeting of the G7, show how America's president thinks about deal-making - and it's even more disturbing than you might think.

Trump's is a style of diplomacy where the little people don't matter, and international institutions, especially those comprised of democratically elected leaders, are merely a nuisance. Behind Trump's enmity for the rules of the world lurks the emerging philosophy of the neoreactionaries, whose anti-egalitarian worldview disdains democracy itself as a destructive, farcical knot of liberal, Enlightenment pieties.

Now, in Trump's glad-handing of Kim Jong-un, we're seeing the rise of neoreactionary diplomacy, attempts at peacemaking as envisioned by the Very Online svengalis of a so-called Dark Enlightenment: Kings talking to kings.

This development is very bad news for the Arab world. But more on that in a moment.

In one of the stranger moments during the Singapore love-in, Trump played for hundreds of reporters a video, concocted by the National Security Council itself, that he said he'd shown Kim on a "cassette" but also an "iPad". You really have to watch for yourself. The upshot is that North Korea can choose prosperity or to repeat the destructive cycles of the past.

 
Not The Onion: The White House's faux movie trailer
played to Kim Jong-un just has to be seen to be believed
[WH.gov/Globe&Mail]
 


The video opens with an American accented voice explaining to Kim, and you, who matters and who doesn't:

"Seven billion people inhabit planet earth. Of those alive today, only a small number will leave a lasting impact. And only the very few will make decisions or take actions that renew their homeland and change the course of history."

To say that such sentences represent a departure from American rhetoric in international relations is rather an understatement. American presidents, until now, have not discarded the importance of individuals to the course of history. Even George Bush Sr. used the hackneyed "thousand points of light" to describe the homeless. Bill Clinton's "bridge to the 21st Century" didn’t charge a toll, but was open to whomever "worked hard and played by the rules".

Now one could read the video, curiously too long for cable news to air in its entirety, as a ploy by some NSC braintrust to burrow into Kim's brain and convince him to give up his nuclear weapons by stroking his ego and appealing to his personal preferences.

One image shows a basketball player making a dunk along the words "one chance that may never be repeated", in reference to the summit. Everybody knows Kim, a friend of Dennis Rodman, loves basketball.

But Kim is also a murderous pimp, whose regime survives by running drugs, weapons and stolen credit card numbers to the highest bidder. He killed his uncle with an anti-aircraft gun. The country he runs with a totalitarian fist is a nesting doll of gulags. At the top of the heap is Kim and his clan, for whom Trump reserved unalloyed praise.

"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 he was nice or say anything about it. He ran it, few people at that age. You can take one out of 10,000 could not do it,"Trump told reporters, responding to a question about Kim's human rights record.

Nestled in the answer, "one out of 10,000", is another indication that Trump reveres elite personalities, celebrities like him, instead of institutions full of know-it-all nobodies.

Trump is transfixed by personalities, mostly his own, but also those of leaders he sees as being beyond the good and evil of politics



On the plane trip home to Washington, Trump continued his neoreactionary diplomatic exposition when talking about how Beijing figured into the unilateral White House plans to start trade wars on behalf of the American worker.

"I have a very good relationship with President Xi of China. He's you know, an incredible guy. Essentially president for life. That's pretty good," Trump told Fox News' Bret Baier on Air Force One.

Just days earlier, in Canada, Trump had been far more fussy with an institution, the G7, where he'd whined about Russia's removal from the group after Vladimir Putin's invasion of Crimea and Ukraine in 2014.

"Now, I'm not for Russia. I'm for the United States," he told Baier. "But, as an example, if Vladimir Putin were sitting next to me at a table instead of one of the others… I could say, 'would you do me a favour and get out of Syria? Would you do me a favour, would you get out of Ukraine?'"

 
Trump is transfixed by personalities
rather than institutions [AFP]


Trump is transfixed by personalities, mostly his own, but also those of leaders he sees as being beyond the good and evil of politics.

Other leaders, such as Angela Merkel or Justin Trudeau, they're suckers by contrast; beholden to the outcome of their next election cycle. They're losers. Sad!

Trump's Dark Enlightenment diplomacy thinks different. Finger-wagging about human rights is a ludicrous waste of time; the pastime of institutions and bureaucracies of the kind Trump and his erstwhile campaign manager Steve Bannon vowed to eliminate on behalf of American people. And he's done just that, with State Department postings remaining unfilled 500 days into his presidency.

Now I won't fill you with a mixture of terrified boredom by recounting the mantras of Dark Enlightenment thinkers who've emerged over the past 20 years and helped influence the rise of the American Alt-Right. (Here's a comprehensive summary.) An ideal neoreactionary state,  economy prospers, but politics are irrelevant. Punishments for minor infractions are severe. The elite are in charge, and that's that. The weak should fear the strong, and the reintroduction of slavery, especially for layabouts, is entirely on the table.

Read more: Alt-Right? Let's call it what it is - white supremacy

The sobering conclusion is that Trump's style of Dark Enlightenment diplomacy, if applied to a problem like Israel/Palestine, would be guaranteed to make things worse for the Palestinians. There's no moral code by which Trump abides that would lead him to chide Binyamin Netanyahu into even easing the siege on Gaza. Why would Trump care about Turkey's repression of dissent? Or Egypt's? Although both countries are on opposite sides of Middle Eastern politics, the men at the top of their governments aren't likely to lose an election anytime soon. And that's pretty good, the Dark Enlightenment supposes.

Disdain for democracy is one thing, but America's abandonment of institutions is another. Trump doesn't realise this, but institutions such as the United Nations are what keep millions of people fed and housed, to a degree, across the planet, but especially in the Arab world. It doesn't matter if Trump is a "moron", as even his Republican detractors call him.

What matters is that he's president, and you're not. And he knows it.

Wilson Dizard is a reporter and photojournalist covering politics, media and culture. He enjoys bicycling. 

Follow him on Twitter: @willdizard


Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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