Donald Trump has exhibited authoritarian impulses since the early days of his campaign. But the president’s recent meeting with Kim Jong-un seems to have inspired him to throw around language and ideas that would turn America into a dictatorship. Trump gushed about the North Korean leader following their meeting in Singapore, calling him a “smart,” “funny guy” with a “great personality,” among other fawning praise. His admiration of the dictator continued on Friday during a wild, impromptu interview with Fox & Friends on the White House lawn, when the president expressed in no uncertain terms how envious he is of Kim’s regime. “He speaks and his people sit up at attention,” Trump said. “I want my people to do the same.”
TRUMP on Kim Jong Un (note the final two sentences): “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.” (via FOX) pic.twitter.com/ed9AMRl9ny
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) June 15, 2018
It might be the most frightening statement of Trump’s presidency. The people of North Korea are of course forced to “sit up in attention” when Kim speaks – in 2016, Kim executed the nation’s deputy premier for education with a firing squad for showing “disrespectful posture” in a meeting. But Kim’s human rights violations do not seem to be of any concern to Trump, who has repeatedly defended the dictator’s inhumane treatment of his people. When confronted about the regime’s atrocities, Trump has made excuses ranging from “it’s rough in a lot of places” to explaining that Kim is carrying on his father’s legacy. “He’s a tough guy,” the president said to Fox’s Bret Baier on Air Force One following the summit.
When Trump says that Kim’s people “love” him, he is effectively endorsing the way Kim’s regime treats its citizens, who are often starved and incarcerated without trial. The president has legitimized North Korea through more than just his words. Many were shocked at the commingling of the American and North Korean flags in Singapore, and North Korea’s nation’s state-run TV network has since released footage of the summit that shows Trump saluting what appeared to be a high-ranking North Korean military official, a shocking visual of the president’s deference to the dictatorship.
— BBC Monitoring (@BBCMonitoring) June 14, 2018
When CNN asked retired Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, who is also a former spokesman for both the Defense and State departments, about the salute, he called it “striking,” “inappropriate from a protocol perspective” and something “you most certainly don’t do it with the leaders of foreign militaries of an adversary nation.”
The most prominent theme of Trump’s time in office has been his sustained excoriation of the American media, so it should come as no surprise that Trump was enamored by North Korea’s state-run media. According to the Washington Post, the president marveled at how positive one of the nation’s female broadcasters spoke of Kim, and remarked that she should get a job on TV in the United States. After returning from Singapore, Trump tweeted that the media is America’s “biggest enemy.”
The Post noted how Trump praised how “tough” the North Korean guards looked. It’s an adjective he also used to describe Kim’s treatment of his people, and one that Trump used repeatedly throughout the campaign and during his presidency to describe the attitude America must take toward a variety of issues.
Trump drooling over the prospect of a dictatorship was only a small part of what was a wild morning on the White House lawn. After the president noticed Fox & Friends was broadcasting only a few feet away from where he was presumably ensconced in Friday morning’s Executive Time, he tweeted that he would stop by for an “unannounced” interview. He did, clearly taking everyone off guard before sidling up next to Steve Doocy for a live interview that lasted over 30 minutes.
While speaking with Doocy, Trump cycled through most of his usual talking points, from his displeasure with the media, to the success of the economy, to the need for a border wall and how the Democrats are the ones responsible for children being separated from their parents at the border (which is not even remotely true). Also discussed was the Inspector General report that found that the FBI acted with no bias as it investigated the Trump campaign’s connection to Russia prior to the 2016 election. Despite the report’s conclusion that there was no foul play, Trump and his allies have used its contents to argue the opposite.
TRUMP dismisses IG’s finding that there was no bias in Clinton investigation in this way: “The IG report was a horror show. I thought that one sentence of conclusion was ridiculous.” pic.twitter.com/Mlo7vCyikB
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 15, 2018
“I beat Clinton dynasty. I beat Bush dynasty, and now, I guess, hopefully I’m in the process of beating very dishonest intelligence,” Trump said.
Following his lengthy interview with Doocy, Trump made his way to the White House driveway, where he went back and forth with reporters for almost as long as he spoke with Fox & Friends, ranting about several of the same issues, with a focus on the Mueller investigation. “Here’s the good news: I did nothing wrong,” Trump said. The president also claimed that Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager who has been indicted on a number of crimes relating to Russia, “had nothing to do with our campaign.”
“Here’s the good news: I did nothing wrong.”
Trump defended the corruption-addled EPA chief Scott Pruitt, said he could meet with Vladimir Putin this summer and reiterated his belief that the North Korean nuclear threat is no longer a concern. “I did a great job this week,” Trump said. “You know what I gave up? I met. I met, we had great chemistry. He gave us a lot.” The president added that he and the dictator “really did hit it off.”
Though it’s concerning that Trump legitimized North Korea on a global stage by meeting with Kim and then came away from that meeting with nothing of substance, it’s just as troubling that this in-person taste of the trappings of a dictatorship has clearly renewed Trump’s vigor in taking on his perceived enemies in America. To the president, these enemies are any person or institution that attempts to question his actions or check his power. In other words, his enemies are the tenets of democracy.