The politics of fear
The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
It was Seneca the Younger who said, “Time discovers truth.” For Trump, that only took one year.
When tensions were high between North Korea and the United States, I reported on the crisis from Washington. I was told by some, especially those closest to the current administration, that I was exaggerating the story and fanning the flames, but it turns out that I was not, at least from the accounts of Bob Woodward in his new book, “Fear: Trump in the White House.” It turns out that what I had reported was not enough.
The book contains a shocking claim that Trump almost sent a tweet urging families of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea to leave. At the time, there were rumors in Washington that the Trump administration was considering a recommendation for families that had returned to the United States not to go back to South Korea. It was so sensitive an issue that I briefly wrote about it in my column.
It turns out the reality was more serious. It actually could have been a declaration of war.
An anonymous op-ed in The New York Times revealed Trump’s shocking state of mind. The presidential historian Michael Beschloss said in an interview on MSNBC that the only parallel in modern times is the end of Nixon’s presidency. Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers,” a book on White House chiefs of staff, said on CNBC that Nixon “was walking the West Wing corridors and talking to the oil portraits, and obviously a desperate man.”
Other accounts from the Nixon presidency are equally troubling. James Schlesinger, the defense secretary, told the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to disregard Nixon’s orders for nuclear launches without his approval. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said he was keeping the world together while Alexander Haig, the White House chief of staff, was keeping the country together. But Beschloss concluded that no matter how chaotic it was at the time, it was “not at this level.”
Trump called the anonymous op-ed writer a traitor. It is not a word to be used in a democratic system. There is now even talk of the administration using a lie detector. Trump may think he is bringing supporters together and reaffirming their loyalty, but is he really?
Fear begets hatred. Trump has no composure or reserve and does not respond to things in a calm fashion. He spurs hatred and revenge. With Trump supporters cursing at the media, some companies have even hired bodyguards to protect their reporters.
But then they continue to attack Trump. It is a vicious cycle, and it’s not just between the White House and the media. Average people and friends are arguing over Trump.
Hatred begets pain. The victims of hateful politics are the citizens of the United States. The biggest fear is the prospect that this current state of affairs will continue for two years or even six.
Americans are not the only victim. South Korea has to rely on the chemistry between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Some say it is a golden opportunity for us. In fact, Trump has tried to find a breakthrough in North-U.S. relations even as he is increasingly cornered at home.
The timing of a proposal to hold a second summit with Kim is very interesting, but it is just as painful to leave the fate of the Korean Peninsula to a leader who lacks any philosophy or vision and instead is filled with hatred and fear.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 12, Page 34