Charlottesville, North Korea and the tough guy

Eye of the storm: The Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Va. that was the focus of a lethal white supremacists’ rally on Saturday.

Eye of the storm: The Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Va. that was the focus of a lethal white supremacists’ rally on Saturday.

I was planning to riff on novelist Jennifer Weiner’s New York Times piece about the body disconnect and the phenomenon she calls “skinny women eating cheeseburgers in magazines” – and I will in a future post.

But events of the past few days make it impossible to put that on the front burner. How can we talk about our ambivalence toward the body when the body politic is being ripped asunder?

Monday, President Donald J. Trump read a statement denouncing white supremacy as if he were a truant reading a punishment exercise forced on him by a teacher. It was clear that his heart wasn’t in it, that he had no real compassion for what Charlottesville, Va. has suffered at the hands of Saturday’s white nationalists rally against the planned removal of the city’s statue of Robert E. Lee, that he didn’t mourn the resulting deaths of counter-protestor Heather Heyer and state troopers H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates – and that his Monday statement was too little, too late.

At the same time, North Korea is planning to go ahead with its missile strike near Guam – although cheerless leader Kim Jong-un has taken his foot off the pedal, saying he would “watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees.” (Really? Who knew he was a baseball fan?)

What do Trump’s lack of compassion for Charlottesville and “fire and fury” at North Korea have in common? They can be located on the strongman spectrum. They’re both about power, the fear of losing power and doing onto others before they do onto you. It’s interesting that Trump is Kim Jong-uning the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Madero, threatening military action over Madero’s questionable election in his economically teetering country. Was it only months ago that Trump said he was president of Pittsburgh, not Paris? And yet, here he is becoming the world’s cop, because he can. And that is the essence of absolute power: It corrupts absolutely.

If he really wants to be the leader of the free world – a title he has absented to German Chancellor Angela Merkel – he would meet Kim firmly on the diplomatic stage and see what he could do to assuage the economic crisis in Venezuela. He would open a dialogue about putting Confederate memorials in the curated context of a museum. He would take a page from Alexander the Great – whom he once professed to me to admire – and lead from the frickin’ front.

But no, it’s all about playing the tough guy when all he is is a frightened, badly behaved little boy.