US President Donald Trump’s fond hope that Americans, like North Koreans listening to their ‘supreme leader’ Kim Jong Un, would sit upright during speeches delivered by him carries a dangerous rather than a mirthful message. The US, despite evidence showing how it has often and without compunction trampled upon other people’s rights, continues to be regarded, warts and all, as the leader of the free world. That, to a large extent, has happened not because of its leaders, but due to the efforts of its people. There have always been American stars and leaders who have stood up to power. For instance, the charismatic Muhammad Ali — at that time he was still Cassius Clay — refused conscription and going into Vietnam with the impeccable reasoning: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong. No Vietcong ever called me nigger.” He lost the world heavyweight boxing title as a fallout from that show of defiance, but that is another story. Americans had protested against the war unleashed upon Iraq by George Bush Jr. in an apparent — and ultimately, futile — search for weapons of mass destruction. That, in no small way, contributed to the eclipse of the Republicans and victory for Barack Obama in the next US presidential election in 2008. Now, after the meeting with Kim, the US president appears to be exhibiting a predilection for dictatorial behaviour. That does not augur well for the US or for that charmingly amorphous entity called the ‘free world’.
Trump would also have rattled a lot of Americans by meeting Kim because he supposedly legitimised one of the greatest enemies of the US, as Obama had once suggested. Kim, of course, is no regular enemy. He is an important cog in the wheel of whatever remains of the world communist movement. Behind him are the inscrutable Chinese who would be looking for their pound of flesh in the aftermath of the Trump-Kim talks. After all, it was Beijing that got Kim to the negotiating table and then flew him to Singapore in its aircraft. The American media has also reported the discomfiture with Trump’s return salute to a senior North Korean military official, an unusual act by all accounts for a US president. In fact, Trump has also taken up cudgels with its allies on behalf of another object of hate for the typical American family — the Russians. Pictures of the US President sitting on the ‘naughty seat’, a smirk on his lips, as G-7 leaders stare down at him or look in sheer disgust say more than a thousand words of what could be going on in the minds of the US’ traditional allies.
To return to the North Korean leader, Kim evidently enjoys being a despot. Two years ago, he had his vice premier for education executed by a firing squad for his “bad sitting posture while sitting below the rostrum” as Kim made a speech. One favourite method of execution is using an anti-aircraft gun. At times, ‘enemies’ have been killed by being thrown to hungry dogs. These are clearly excessive ways to ensure people maintain an erect posture while listening to the ‘supreme leader’. Trying to read Trump’s mind is at all times a self-defeating endeavour for even his close aides. So, it is difficult to say how he plans to ensure people maintain an erect posture during his speeches. However, the spirit of freedom in the US pervades both sides of the political divide. That explains the disquiet, expressed openly at times, by sections of the Republican Party on his recent utterances. They, along with the Democrats, would know the long-term ramifications of what Trump is saying. Even though the idea of forcing citizens of the world’s oldest democracy to sit upright when their president speaks is at one level ludicrous, the fact that the president himself has articulated such thought and has generally been busy showering encomiums on the North Korean dictator since his return from Singapore is a worrisome development.