The North Korean nuclear envoy was dead, or was supposed to be dead, according to the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, according to Bloomberg. He was executed, the report said, after the failure of the February summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea doesn’t care to supply facts like that, but nobody seemed to find it implausible, though there are conflicting reports and the South Korean press has incentives to believe the worst. “Previous South Korean media reports about senior North Korean officials being executed following the talks have proven false,” Bloomberg reported. The North Korean envoy, Kim Hyok Chol, would know, himself, one way or the other.
It’s only one life, but it belongs or belonged to a real person, whose existence was unlucky enough to intersect with the dreamworld spun out around Donald Trump. A gag, free for the taking: it’s dangerous to attempt diplomacy when on one side you have an embattled and insecure cultish regime, driven by the whims of a sheltered and delusional tyrant, and on the other side you have North Korea.
Meanwhile the White House was denying but then not really denying that, in advance of the president’s visit with the Navy in Japan, the U.S.S. John McCain’s name had been ordered covered up and its crew sent away, so the president would not have to be reminded of the politician he’d loathed. The important thing was that the command had not originated with the president. Someone else had done it on his behalf; it was simply the sort of thing that people believe needs to be done around Donald Trump.
It was all diffuse and nobody was really responsible. Jeet Heer of the New Republic wrote a series of tweets, as he does, that offered a convincing and depressing analysis of the institutional politics of the Trump era:
The core error being made by both Dem & GOP leadership is that Trump is an aberration who will soon be gone. That core error leads both parties to give Trump a free pass on stuff that would get pushback from a normal president…
A lot of what Pelosi is doing makes sense if you posit that she believes what Biden says he does: that Trump is an aberration. If he’s such, that reduces the urgency of trying to build an impeachment case since his weirdness won’t be repeated…
It’s impossible to overstate the degree to which elite response to Trump has been governed by nostalgia. That’s why the McCain funeral, where they got to mourn their common past, was so emotional a moment. It’s why Never Trump right gets bolstered in the press.
While someone in the military was covering up the existence of an entire 8,000-ton destroyer so that the talismanic name of McCain would not provoke or embarrass the commander in chief, the crew of another ship had been wearing patches on their uniforms bearing the leader’s face and a version of his political slogan. If Trump is a passing phenomenon, with no greater meaning, what patches are they going to sew on next? What if there’s nothing else than this to wake up to?
This morning, Maggie Haberman of the New York Times tweeted a thought about the president’s response to Robert Mueller’s public statement about his investigative report:
It isn’t real to Trump unless there are tapes or photos. So Mueller speaking for the first time on the TV was significant.
She was amplifying a comment she’d made on TV: “”Do you think the President read the Mueller report? I do not.”
In this account—and for all the complaints, often merited, about Haberman’s White House coverage, she is an expert witness to president’s mind at work—the fact that Attorney General Robert Barr went on television and lied to the public about the contents of the Mueller report was a secondary effect; his primary purpose was to go on television and lie to the president about it. What it meant to the public was incidental. The reality that matters is the reality of the person in charge.