The Corner


Chemistry Lessons

Kim and Trump in Singapore, June 12, 2018 (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

At his rally in Minnesota, President Trump said he had “great chemistry” with Kim Jong-un, the dictator of North Korea. Last year, he said he had “great chemistry” with Xi Jinping, the boss of the Chinese Communist Party.

In March of this year, the president tweeted about Putin and Russia: “Bush tried to get along, but didn’t have the ‘smarts.’ Obama and Clinton tried, but didn’t have the energy or chemistry.”

Chemistry can be a beautiful thing, of course. Especially desirable is chemistry between the leaders of allied countries (the U.S. and Britain, for example). Good relations with dictators can be desirable too, for particular strategic purposes. But beware too much chemistry with dictators. This chemistry may result from refusing to challenge dictators on their brutal practices, and refusing to stand up for American values.

In April, Trump tweeted, “Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation.” That’s one way of looking at it. Another is that the United States is a free and democratic country while Russia under Putin is a dictatorship — one that invades neighbors, kills journalists, interferes in foreign elections (including America’s), and so on.

At his rally last night, Trump was very high on Kim and North Korea. He said, “Kim Jong-un will turn that country into a great, successful country.” There is an expression in social media: Big if true.

Last week, Trump said of Kim, “He’s the head of a country, and I mean he’s the strong head. Don’t let anyone think anything different.” No one thinks anything different — least of all North Koreans (many of whom are imprisoned in a gulag). Like his father and grandfather before him, Kim Jong-un is the absolute ruler of a totalitarian state.

Criticized for his fawning over Kim, Trump has responded with variations on “Do you want a nuclear war?” His supporters have responded the same way, to me. This took me back to college years, and shortly after. If you criticized the Soviet Union — if you brought up the refuseniks or Sakharov or KAL 007 — people would say, “Do you want a nuclear war?”

They were on the left, of course. To hear it from the Right is surreal.

P.S. The most prominent refusenik was Natan Sharansky, then known as Anatoly Shcharansky. On Monday, he had an op-ed piece on North Korea. It was pure Sharansky — just great.

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