When Donald Trump informed Kim Jong Un that his nuclear button "is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!" professional diplomats didn't know what to say.
Heads of state don't talk this way. No judicious, temperate words -- instead a crude threat with sexual undertones. No solemn press conference or presidential address to the nation, just a backhanded sally on Twitter.
But now a summit is in the works and three prisoners held by North Korea have been released, back in the United States in a dramatic 3 a.m. landing at Andrews Air Force Base. There to greet them with a handshake were the American President and first lady. Meanwhile, notwithstanding scorching appraisals from the press for months, Trump's approval ratings remain firm in the low-40% range. But his numbers on handling several key issues are climbing, with almost 6 in 10 saying things in the country are going well.
Are we starting to get this picture now? The pattern should be familiar. Trump lobs a verbal grenade into the establishment crowd, who pronounce him bungling and unbalanced ... and then disaster doesn't befall the country and Trump's polling numbers don't sink.
After Trump announced that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, an op-ed in The New York Times termed it "a radical break ... a major provocation," one that would cause "irreparable harm" to his plans for Middle East peace. But the issue has largely disappeared, even as the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem approaches.
Trump's denunciation of NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem led columnist Al Hunt and others to brand him a race-baiter, but now the most famous black male musician of this moment, Kanye West, calls him "my brother." He has faced derision from some quarters, but he doesn't appear to buy the liberal line on Trump and race.
And this week, Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, once again vexing the foreign policy "authorities," but when so many anti-Trump alarms have fallen flat, their credibility is slipping.
You might sympathize with liberal politicians and journalists, not to mention conservative Never Trumpers, who can't understand how this so-called farce-presidency can go on. They don't realize something about themselves though: They are a crucial factor in the Trump ascendancy.
You see, when Trump taunted Kim, he also was in essence taunting establishment voices who appear on television and counsel prudence and protocol. When he criticized protesting athletes, he was also taking aim at sportscasters such as Bob Costas, who denounced Trump's "insulting remarks" but who are despised by viewers who don't want to be lectured at about politics by guys who are paid to broadcast games.
These commentators see themselves as external to the issues, people expected to report and assess current events. In fact, though, they are central to each one, at least in the eyes of the 63 million Americans who backed the President. And they reinforce the positions of the Trump supporters they deem an abomination.
This blindness of reporters, columnists and experts among the establishment to their own tense position in American affairs was crystal clear the other night on Bill Maher's television show.
The guest was Jordan Peterson, a Toronto psychologist and author, who posed a question in response to the others on the show who repeatedly demonize Trump and hope for his removal. "There's all these people that elected him and that are identified with him," Peterson said, "and they're not taking this well."
He was referring to the nonstop calumny, the daily contempt of their leader. What, he asked Maher and the panelists, do you want to do with them?
Maher didn't answer the question about Trump supporters, but instead repeated the point about Trump's "abnormality." He's not "a regular Republican president," Maher said, stating that Trump wanted "to be a dictator" and that this "is incredibly different than anything that ever came before."
He didn't seem to realize that this attitude puts him in the middle of the fray. Maher wouldn't -- or couldn't -- say anything about Trump supporters except to note that they have joined a cult of personality. Does he not realize that this kind of judgment, so common in our day, has created a dynamic with Trump supporters that now influences how Trump's policy decisions play out?
Journalists and intellectuals like to speak in terms of "the narrative." What Trump has done, and what commentators on TV and in print have helped him to do, is prove that they are not critics of the story. They aren't even narrators of it. They are characters in the plot, and the author of it is the very person they presume to diagnose.
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