Pundits, Asia specialists, and political scholars alike expressed surprise at President Trump’s odd video love letter to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. What exactly was this Trump-Kim video? A collage of stock footage strung together to accompany a voice-of-God narration that is supposed to … well, supposed to what?
The Trump-Kim video doesn’t make sense — unless you consider quids (what Kim got) and pro quos (who else benefited). Unless you’re pretty cynical, the people who benefitted are not whom you’d expect.
Fox News’ Shepherd Smith speaks for most of Trump’s critics in saying that Kim “wanted the photos, the seat at the table, he wanted the legitimacy that came with the event, the handshake with America’s president. Kim Jong-un got it all, for actually doing nothing.”
However, Kim got some tangible quids, as well: Trump promised an end to joint maneuvers—he called them “war games”—with South Korea, and he threw in the possibility of withdrawing the 30,000 American troops posted in South Korea, intended to protect that country and Japan from North Korean aggression. Can easing sanctions be far away?
Media outlet after media outlet trumpeted variations on the same headline:
- Trump Got Nearly Nothing From Kim Jong-un” (The Atlantic)
- “The U.S. surrendered leverage and got very little in return” (The Washington Post)
- “Lawrence: Trump accomplished ‘nothing’ at summit with Kim Jong Un” (MSNBC)
- “Art of the giveaway: Trump offers huge concessions to Kim for little in return” (Vox).
And the United States did get very little. But maybe Trump got more.
The clue to this lies in that much-ridiculed four-minute Trump-Kim video. Most people have labeled it propaganda, but, in actuality, it most resembles Trump Inc. videos pitching real-estate deals. Compare it to one pitching Trump Tower in Manila, condos at the Trump Ocean Club Panama, and Trump International Hotel & Tower in Toronto. All of them feature crappy music and lots of superlatives. And, of course, a pitch to pay for the privilege of the Trump brand.
What if the negotiations Trump and Kim were hammering out when they met one-on-one were aimed at securing Trump properties in North Korea? It wouldn’t be the first time that Trump has benefited financially from foreigners seeking to influence U.S. policy.
Trump himself dropped plenty of hints that this is so.
At one point, he told reporters: “They have great beaches. You see that whenever they’re exploding the cannons into the ocean. I said, ‘Look at that view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo beyond that?’ I explained, ‘Instead of doing that, you could have the best hotels in the world right there. Think of it from a real estate perspective.’”
Said to whom? Obviously, Kim Jong-un. And who better to build those hotels and condos than Donald J. Trump? He’s clearly thinking of it from a real-estate perspective.
So the United States may not have benefited from Trump’s generous concessions to North Korea. But don’t be so sure he didn’t benefit personally. We’ll know in a year or two.
Written by Ivonne Rovira, a Kentucky teacher, writer, and activist.