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Trump's embrace of the North Korean model

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By Emanuel Yi Pastreich

Intellectuals in Beijing, including foreigners like Daniel Bell, have been promoting an approach to governance founded on meritocracy that they claim offers a viable alternative to the Western approach to development that insists on free markets and democratic elections.

This "China Model" has drawn much attention because of China's economic success, with imitations springing up like mushrooms after a spring rain.

But who would have thought that North Korea, the nation run by a corrupt gang of ruthless bureaucrats, would inspire people outside of Pyongyang proper?

But there is a mysterious mojo that the elites draw from the ludicrous actions of their dear leader. Now it seems as if Kim Jung-un has found his greatest fan, and imitator, in the corridors of power of Washington D.C.

That is right, for all his bluster about destroying North Korea, Donald Trump is practically modeling his every speech on the craft of the bad boy of Pyongyang. When Trump threatens to "wipe North Korea off the face of the Earth," he still cannot get the traction of Kim's eloquent "sea of fire."

And Trump's tantrums in which he rages that Kim is "short and fat," a "sick puppy," and "a madman" simply lack the erudite simplicity of Kim's putdown "dotard"

The Trump administration has adopted the "North Korean model" for governance, diplomacy and security and even embraced North Korea's legendary "military first" economics as its own national strategy.

A few years ago, we thought Kim Jung-un was the leader of a nation that was helplessly behind. But now we see he is blazing a trail that the leader of the free world is anxious to follow.

We might refer to this policy innovation as the "gagman in chief" routine, and it most certainly did not start in the White House.

The ongoing routine between Kim and Trump reached its peak with the punchline about whose button is bigger. But, ironically, at the very moment that the two leaders displayed a comic genius to rival a Richard Pryor and Steve Martin combo, the whole process stopped sounding funny.

The United States, a nation that so many people have counted on as a standard bearer, the home of Apple and Microsoft, of Harvard and Yale, now is led by a president who shows explicit contempt for intellectuals, for ordinary people and for just about everyone in positions of authority. His most recent ravings go even beyond the horror show of the Kim regime.

What does this odd state of affairs mean? Well, clearly, by tweeting out policy when bored and by making random claims about who he will put in jail, and what nuclear wars he will launch, Trump displays contempt not only for the constitution, but also for the rule of law and for the scientific method.

Like Kim, his nemesis, his "Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable," Trump is gleefully destroying the government itself and creating a personality-dominated political culture within which there is no room to appeal to reason.

That process is already quite advanced and it is unlikely that a sudden end to Trump's bluster would restore the United States we remember from 20 or 30 years ago.

But the decay of American political culture that produced a charlatan who makes Napoleon III look like a refined intellectual, comes at a dangerous time in human history. Trump is threatening total war as a way to make up for his complete lack of control over the system he finds himself in, and get some respect for himself in a Washington culture that is degrading and dehumanizing.

But this ethical and institutional meltdown is happening at the very moment that technological advances, and ensuing automation, are making world war, nuclear war, something that can unfold on automatic. All the system needs is a clue to put the marble in motion.

The drive over the last 20 years to embrace the computer has created a world in which there literally is nothing between the bluster of a maniac and the automatic defense systems that could care less about humanity's future.

Perhaps you remember the heroic military officers who chose to ignore false orders during the Cuban missile crisis and other confrontations during the Cold War. But those people, the intellectuals and thinkers of the military, have been stripped away in the drive for satellites, missile defense and automated launch systems.

There is literally nothing between Trump's antics and catastrophe. Of course there are military planners who can step in to block any particular action, but once the ball starts rolling, it will be hard to control.

And I think it would be fair to say that although we still do not know how the game will play out, and there may be ways still to ward off disaster, the ball for world war has already started rolling, ricocheting from North Korea, to Iran to Russia, to Syria and back again and again.

Let us not allow the gagman routines of these two leaders to distract us from the deadly consequences of this hollowing out of government in both North Korea and the United States and its consequence when combined with the increased lethality of modern weapons systems.

In an age of completely automated defense systems all it takes is one false move and it is game over for humanity. U.S. missiles are ready to fire any time. One ambiguous remark and it is all over

It is time to start rebuilding government again and including as many people, especially those with ethical and technological ability, in the decision-making process. We cannot afford to play Russian roulette, no matter how many laughs it may generate for the audience.

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