If President Trump were his own press secretary he would have fired himself by now.
An unfortunate byproduct of the president’s affinity for making grandiose statements, both verbally and on Twitter, is that the sheer spectacle of his rhetoric tends to obscure some of the more measured, and potentially beneficial, actions his administration has taken in response to North Korea’s provocative nuclear weapons program.
While Mr. Trump is borrowing from Elton John’s discography to brand North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man,” the president is also enacting tougher economic sanctions against banks and other companies that do business with Pyongyang.
These sanctions are appropriate and, we daresay, presidential.
The nicknaming stunt is juvenile and, more importantly, unnecessary.
We don’t mind that Mr. Trump speaks bluntly about North Korea. This is a serious business, and there’s no reason to suggest otherwise by indulging in hedging, milquetoast language. And although the president often eschews the banal diplomatic language of his predecessors, his statements are not as outlandish, in historical terms, as some commentators contend.
President Bill Clinton, during a 1993 speech in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, said that if the North ever used nuclear weapons, “it would be the end of their country.”
That’s about as unambiguous as a statement can be, and it puts in context Trump’s much-maligned “fire and fury like the world has never seen” comment in August, and his vow this week to “totally destroy” North Korea if the country conducts a nuclear attack.
We noted as well that although critics in America and elsewhere have deplored Trump’s incendiary verbal style, South Korean president Moon Jae-in — whose opinion in this matter carries considerable weight — said this week, in response to the latest sanctions enacted by Trump, that “the U.S. has responded firmly and in a very good way.”
We’re not so naíve as to believe that the president is likely to muzzle himself.
Nor do we believe that American pundits’ overreactions to Trump’s speaking style, the likes of which we haven’t seen at the highest level of international diplomacy since Nikita Khrushchev, in separate incidents, banged his shoe at the U.N. and threatened to “bury” the U.S. and other capitalist nations, are in any way as important as Trump’s actions as president.
Yet we don’t think it helps the president, or more importantly America, if his legitimate policies, such as shepherding significant economic sanctions on North Korea through the U.N. Security Council over the past several weeks, are overshadowed by his own words. It may turn out that Trump does more to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program than any of his predecessors — admittedly, a very low bar.
But with the public focusing on Trump’s words, we wonder how many people will realize that his actions don’t reflect the rhetoric.