Will They or Won’t They: The Trump-Un Dance

I’ve been following the on-again, off-again US-North Korean summit news with much interest, like, I suppose, is much of the world.  For me, it’s more than just the issues of global peace that interest me, though those are, without doubt, the most important part about this possible diplomatic break-through. My interest is more than just as a casual observer of the daily news.

We’ve had the privilege of getting to know hundreds of wonderful South Koreans throughout the years, so I’ve heard firsthand many times over what it would mean for the Korean peninsula to be unified. (But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I think we’d all settle for peaceful with a lack of war mongering.) South Korean students are some of the most respectful and hardworking students I’ve ever taught, and I taught hundreds of them when I was living in Malaysia. In addition, we were served as house parents for several South Korean international students at a private boarding school in Virginia for two years. Those were terrific years. I never played so much ping-pong in my life. My affinity for South Korea runs deep, and even more so when my daughter married her high school sweetheart who happened to be South Korean. And now, my first grandson is half South Korean. So I feel I can claim a tiny personal stake to the political posturing which is going on.

So the question is, will they? Do the political dance, that is.

My gut tells me it will happen. Maybe not on June 12, but there was too much show from North Korea to completely back out of it now. What I mean by show is that they have shockingly showed their hand (and it hasn’t proven to be a scam yet) that they are interested in peace. But this is also why I wasn’t surprised this week when the North Korean minister started bashing Mike Pence and seemingly contradicting the weeks of goodwill which had preceded.

This is a classic posturing of saving-face, and building themselves up, the same way they have been tossing hot rhetoric for years. If the DPRK hierarchy completely fell over on themselves and paved a perfect path for Trump to play the hero, that would have been surprising.  I think it was the change in perception, both in country and out of country, was moving too quickly, and they had to remind the world that they still have a huge army and a heavy payload.  So this backtrack didn’t surprise me at all.

How should Trump have reacted? That’s obviously debatable. If I had been advising him, I wouldn’t have pulled the plug on the meeting so quickly, and would have allowed the DPRK one more round of tough rhetoric as long as the other steps towards the meeting were being followed. Trump decided differently and pulled out right away. Was it the right move? Impossible to know because there are no right moves here. Now word is that the meeting still could be on, so who knows.

This whole situation has the Democrats not really knowing what to do and how to respond. It’s that awkward, “Darn-it, I’m not in power” look which makes every minority party seem a little pathetic. Of course, they criticized him for agreeing to meet with Un. And then when Trump pulled out, they criticized him for that.

Regardless of political stripes or citizenship, I’m hoping we collectively can hope for a lasting peaceful solution to the conundrum on the Korean peninsula.  Who cares who gets the credit. I’d shake anyone’s hand who had a role in bringing something like this about.

I’m rooting for this because of all of my South Korean friends. May you know lasting peace in your lifetime.

Hopefully, it will start soon.

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Is Society More Dysfunctional Than It Used to Be? (not really)

It’s easy to think that we live in a dysfunctional society. When’s the last time Congress worked together on an issue to accomplish a big task? Hmmmm …  ???

We complain about everything. Education (Common Core), Health Care (Obamacare), Economy, civil rights, and whatever are the big issues of the day.

I think that’s the point – whatever are the big issues of the day.

We live in a society and world where everything is magnified because of the media which surrounds us day and night, but the reality is, life has always been messy because democracy is messy – pluralism is messy – a free society is messy.

Why is it messy? Because it can be.

North Korea is not what we would call a messy society because they have no choice to be messy. The lives of the people depend on everyone falling into line, knowing their place, kowtowing at the appropriate times. They have no choice, despite the great suffering that the population endures. It is theirs to endure if they want to live.

We, who live in open societies, have the luxury of being messy and dysfunctional. It’s as frustrating as heck sometimes, but it’s also normal. Messy societies allow the free exchange of ideas — actually, they demand it!

You need proof that American society hasn’t always been dysfunctional and messy? Here’s a few to think about.

  • One of the most dysfunctional bunches of representatives who ever assembled was the Continental Congress which nearly allowed a chance for independence from Britain to pass by due to their bickering and backbiting.
  • What about the anti-FDR Republicans who fought him tooth-and-nail during the 1930s, which led FDR to, in turn, propose the most outrageous and preposterous legislative idea of his own by wanting to pack the Supreme Court more to his favor?
  • Do we even need to mention the Red Scare and McCarthyism of the 1950s?  But did you know the same type of tactics and discrimination happened to many after WWI as well?
  • What about the 1928 election? Alfred Smith, the Democratic presidential candidate was skewered for his Catholic religious beliefs. Some propagandists even used the building of the Holland Tunnel, which was meant to connect New Jersey to Manhattan, as proof that Smith had evil intents. They tried to scare the public that it was going to be a secret tunnel to the Vatican.
  • How about the 1896 presidential election of William McKinley which was basically bought outright by a few wealthy Robber Barons.

These are just five simple examples touching upon a little political history. I’m sure we could scare up a bunch of examples from many aspects of society.

The point is this: it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day tragedies and frustrating situations which we hear about from the media. It’s easy to rain gloom down upon our heads and wish for the “good old days.” But the reality is that each generation has their own demons and struggles with which they have to deal. Each generation has its positive and negatives, and it will always be that way as long as we allow freedom of expression.

Messy dysfunction is much preferable to the alternative. Too bad we can’t ask the North Koreans if my supposition is correct.

Don’t trust the word democracy. (aka: the principles of a democracy)

North Korea is officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Don’t trust the word democracy.

Countries can call themselves what they like but it doesn’t change the fact of what they are in real life.

I don’t know anyone, outside of the North Korean communist party, who would offer the word ‘democracy’ to describe the hermit kingdom.

But that’s not the only word you can’t trust. Example two: Vietnam. The official name of Vietnam is the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Oh, so they are kind of like Sweden, right?

Hardly.

Vietnam still has a one-party, communist system. Their economy has long since shifted into a mixed economy which indeed might fall in line with some democratic socialist countries that one would find in western Europe, for instance. But Vietnam does not qualify as a democracy. They just don’t pass the test.

What are the basic requirements of a democracy? Try these on for size and see if they sound right:

  • Fundamental worth of the individual
  • Majority Rules, Minority Rights
  • Equality of all People (before the law)
  • Necessity of Compromise
  • Individual Freedom

Fundamental worth of the individual (a little John Locke, perhaps?) Everyone has innate rights simply because they are human. These are often called inalienable rights. They can’t be removed from us. Now of course governments can prevent us from having those rights, but they are ours nonetheless because the rights come from God (or nature, if you prefer that description). This is a pretty special trait of democracy. It’s essential in creating a limited government where the rights of individuals are preserved.

Majority rules, minority rights. You can’t have a democracy if the rights of the minorities whether by race or religion do not have the same rights as the majority. Why? See point above. Laws and judicial rulings must be in place to preserve the rights of minorities. Without that, we would fall into an authoritarian regime. (Who wants that?)

Equality of all People. There can’t be any preferential treatment. Certain individuals, in government or elsewhere, have to play by the same rules as everyone else. It’s essential for any democracy.

Necessity of Compromise. Because all ideas are freely expressed, a democracy will naturally become a pluralistic society. Without compromise, you will get stagnation (see US Congress). There must be a natural give and take. No one will always get what he or she wants. If that happens, it’s called a dictatorship.

Individual Freedom. This is, perhaps, the hallmark of all democracies. Freedom to live. Freedom to pursue happiness. Freedom to express ideas, even unpopular ones. Freedom to demand government action (redress of grievance). Freedom to move. Freedom to work where one wants. Freedom to live how one sees fit, as long as that freedom doesn’t impinge on the rights of others. See point 1 and 2 above.

If a country has these five features, you can be assured it is indeed a democracy.

Democracies aren’t perfect. Some more imperfect as others, but even with all its flaws, it most definitely beats the alternative.