Trump’s North Korea Summit Once Again Pits Conservatives Against Trumpists in Media

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) clapped back at President Donald Trump this morning on Twitter. It was a dish served cold, a hard swipe back at, oh, two years of bad blood, and a smooth one at that. This is an accurate assessment of Kim. It is also, however, a callback to the campaign and questions about Trump’s own qualifications for office. But it was more than just a wry, wicked burn. It was also one more battle in the seemingly endless war between conservatives (referred to by Trumpists as “NeverTrump”) and (referred to by the media as “conservatives”.) The North Korea summit has once again put sharper edge on the sometimes fuzzy difference between the two Republican camps. One one side, you have the Trumpers handing out pre-Nobels. On the other, conservatives, particularly those in media, have offered a more sober take. For example, writing at The Resurgent, conservative Erick Erickson said Tuesday that if the same actions taken by President Trump in the last day or so had instead been undertaken by President Obama, he – and, more importantly, those currently praising Trump – would have been calling for impeachment.
I’ll take this on for all of us for consistency’s sake. Like with Obama, President Trump should not have engaged in a glad-handing, face time exercise with the North Korean leader where the communist monster gets a propaganda win of North Korean flags at equal display with the American flag.
Contrast that with Trumpist Mollie Hemingway of Fox News and The Federalist, who chalked up the placement of the American flag to an interior design aesthetic. On Fox & Friends, fiery conservative talk radio host, speaker, and Editor of The Daily Wire Ben Shapiro offered a deliberate and careful critique of Trump’s actions, and the possible consequences, that is hard to argue with if one is being truly objective. “A lot of this faith-based. If President Obama had done this I would be crushing him today. President Trump has done this and we’ll have to see how it comes out in the wash,” he said. “The outcome will determine whether this was historic turning point or whether this was a debacle.” At National Review, conservative columnist Jim Geraghty argues that, among all the unknowns about concessions from Kim and accountability for promises, one thing we know for certain is that Trump acceded to Kim’s top demand: suspension of joint drills and exercises with Japan and South Korea. That is, to borrow from Shapiro, “disquieting.” On The View, Meghan McCain also fairly criticized Trump being “chummy” with “the closest thing to Hitler’s Germany that exists in modern time.” Brit Hume, who is often cited by the Trumpist right, also criticized Trump’s friendly demeanor. “Disconcerting to say the least to see POTUS shaking hands with the thug Kim Jong Un and saying he’s ‘honored'” Hume tweeted. But these honorable, intellectually sound, moral disagreements are anathema on the Trumpist right, where the only good analysis is hagiography. A par example. On Fox’s Outnumbered, suggesting that President Trump has glossed over human rights in the process of handing out thumbs-ups and offering personal praise of Kim was vehemently rejected. Simply criticizing the friendly tone was called “jumping the shark” and met with outrage. Also on Outnumbered, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) likewise attacked all criticism, in his case by deflecting with an absurd hypothetical. “If Kim Jong Un had shown up with all of his nuclear warheads as part of his caravan showing up,” he theorized, “here would still be opposition to the president, who would be complaining ‘well how do you know that’s all of his nuclear warheads’ and then you can have intel agencies and foreign countries and third-party organizations say ‘no that’s all of it; and people will still would be complaining.” Zeldin takes the approach many Trump defenders take, which is instead of responding to substantive arguments, like the ones above, he simply hypothesizes about the lengths he thinks Trump’s opposition would theoretically go to in an extreme, alternate universe scenario. Because of course none of the conditions he set exist, nor will they. It’s an entirely useless argument. The purpose is merely to tell Trump fans that criticism doesn’t matter because the critics aren’t “fair” anyway. They also have the backup plan, which is to say that criticism from people who aren’t conservative is irrelevant, and that anyone who criticizes Trump is, by virtue of that fact, not conservative. All criticism is from the left because criticizing Trump is the measure of leftism. No distinction exists for criticism from the right, because they reject the premise. The practical effect of that policy is, of course, that no criticism matters. That will probably make this clip pretty annoying for them, then, because in effect it is Marco Rubio defending Trump’s basic premise. Rubio is saying here that the president probably doesn’t believe Kim Jong Un is great or wise, but instead is just trying to flatter him into making a deal and sticking with it.
That’s a fair point. Trump understands the ego that requires flattery better than anyone. But that, too, will be dismissed as a form of criticism by the Trumpist right. Ben Shapiro, in his comments above, says he’d be happy to be proved wrong; He’d be happy to discover that all Trump has promised will come to pass and North Korea will denuclearize. Anyone would be. That’s a reasonable point of view. It is not an impossibility. It’s even possible that Trump’s gaudy flattery of a murderous dictator will prove to have been a useful tool in bringing about that more peaceful future. Should that day come, it will be the day to reevaluate whether the America flag should placed beside the flag of a nation of torture, murder, prison camps, and starvation as equals. But that is not today. And the difference between Trumpists and conservatives is illustrated pretty well in that fact. It’s the difference between enthusiastic acceptance of whatever convenient tale your favorite TV star tells you, and skeptical concern for the practical effects and life-or-death consequences of action. It’s the difference between haste and consistency. It’s the difference between being conservative, and just being called one.

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