The Broken Men of the Singapore Summit

At many points in their youth, a parent’s offspring, whether a tyke or a teenager, will announce their intention to pursue some unconventional fancy in adulthood. The younger the kid, the more the question resembles the unbounded What do you want to be when you grow up? Speaking only for the boys, the answer often was “baseball player” or “astronaut”—we daydreamed of ourselves in crayon, in spacesuits smiling, waving, and floating against a drape of purplish-blue, patterned with asterisks and five-pointed stars.

The older ones, the adolescents, are pre-paring for everything practical, with pre-algebra and pre-calculus and the PSAT, but their fantasizing about life has conformed to reality only to the point they imagine summiting a realistic trade. Go into science, yes, but to map the genome or the cosmos. Go into history, but make some first. Go into public service, sure, but only to become leader of the free world.

This is innocence: The journal entry conceived by the untainted mind, written by the uncalloused hand. But every guardian keeps watch for their child’s future. It’s easy to say “swing for the fences!” when it’s just Little League, “shoot for the stars!” when it’s just a metaphor. What if there’s a screw loose on the hull? What if there’s a problem with the oxygen tank? Dreams are not earthbound, but life as we know it is: all the better to protect the next generation from the unknown, whose color is a palette of nature, the purplish-blue of an illustration, the ruby of a politician’s power tie. Except …

Did you see that there was a man on CNN Monday night hawking Bitcoin for weed after providing insight about his friends: one a barbarous, avunculicidal tyrant hot for nukes, the other Donald Trump, who were in Singapore to “negotiate” foreign policy? That was some television. It had everything—everything being a word that’s gone up a few belt sizes recently—including tears and a description of Kim Jong-un as an aw-shucks “big kid,” as well as the first American cultural ambassador to say “I’m thanking these guys at PotCoin.” That’s Dennis Rodman for you—a tragic figure, apart from this circus—who said he received a phone call from Trump’s secretary relaying the message that the president was “proud” of him, in light of his past visits to Pyongyang and “basketball diplomacy” there.

Did you see what happened after Rodman’s two friends met? All those handshakes! All those compliments! Kim is a “very talented” man, Trump said, without saying at what, though the North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho may have an idea. He was one of the president’s guests to this year’s State of the Union address: a man who was tortured and whose broken limbs were amputated without anesthesia, who fled his inhospitable home on crutches. Ji was a reminder of a “cruel dictatorship,” a “depraved regime,” or so Trump’s speech went. But just hours ago, said the president, “Really, [Kim’s] got a great personality. He’s a funny guy, he’s very smart … He loves his people,” the expressions of which were sketched by defector Kim Kwang-il. And “his country does love him,” too. All part of the art! The art of the switcheroo, keeping opponents off-balance, censure before flattery, “playing people,” as his ghostwriter Tony Schwartz called it. Yes, that must be it.

Temper life expectations? Not in this world, pal. Everything is a translatable skill: rebounding champ —> star of Simon Sez —> bud ambassador —> unofficial diplomat and apologist for a dictator; best-selling business book author —> star of The Apprentice —> ambassador of winning, even for all the haters & losers —> international relations deal-maker with a fellow “great negotiator,” a man who sanctions death camps, with whom there were penciled the contours of an “amazing deal.” That’s what this is about for all three of the parties involved, right?—demonstrating that they are more? Not just an eccentric basketball player, not just a reality TV host, not just a despot responsible for crimes against humanity so wicked and widespread they are without “any parallel in the contemporary world,” the U.N. Human Rights Council wrote.

The lesson, all you children with wild colors on your mind: Aim for the moon! Even if you miss, you’ll land in Singapore.

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