The nuclear posturing between the U.S. and North Korea has degraded into a hurl of trash talk. It’s as if Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un were wrestlers facing a grudge match refereed by Dennis Rodman — which, come to think of it, might be an appropriate way to defuse things.
How could international differences not get so personal? On the one hand, you have a dictator perceived as a living deity by 25 million cowed subjects. On the other is a mammoth egoist with famously thin skin. Add Twitter, state television, and all the world’s media outlets, and the result is a high-pitched clash, even if it’s not exactly between titans.
What’s struck me is how lame the insults have been from both sides. OK, President Trump gets points for referencing Kim as “Little Rocket Man,” which I interpret as a direct hit to the North Korean’s sexual prowess. And a nod to Kim for calling Trump a “mentally deranged dotard,” putting the man from Pyongyang in large company alongside those questioning the President’s faculties and command of reality.
But mostly it’s been uninspired stuff, with Kim dissing Trump as “a rogue and a gangster” and a “barking dog,” and Trump huffing that Kim “is obviously a madman.” It’s like when the President snits that Vanity Fair’s readership is “way down” or Morning Joe is “BAD!”
With the whole world watching, it’s time to up the insult game. Trump needs more than the lyricism of John Adams, who once called Alexander Hamilton “a sheep in sheep’s clothing.” He needs more than the flipness of Lyndon Johnson, who drop-kicked Gerald Ford with this: “He’s a nice fellow but spent too much time playing football without a helmet.”
Of course, Trump is no Benjamin Disraeli, who when asked to explain the difference between a misfortune and a calamity offered this example at expense of rival William Gladstone: “If Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune, and if anybody pulled him out that would be a calamity.”
Then I remembered that insults, like weapons, are sometimes more powerful when harnessed and jammed onto a single, hyphenated warhead. Director Spike Lee perfected this in his 1989 film “Do the Right Thing,” pausing for 75 seconds to have his actors spew ethnic slurs directly into the camera. While hilarious, the venomous montage made you feel the urgency for rhetorical disarmament before events escalate one affront too far.
In the name of nuclear deterrence, but also political theater, I propose an insult face-off for our two sovereign big shots. Mr. President, you’re up first:
Trump to Kim: “You Japanese-kidnapping, plutonium-weaponizing, U.N.-thumb-nosing, Chinese brown-nosing, terrorist-snubnosing, citizen-starving, sanctions-skirting, gulag-building, barber-horrifying, uncle-brother-general-girlfriend-executing, NBA-swooning, caviar and Swiss cheese-gorging, Guam-threatening, military-parading, coal-burning, hyperbole-spouting, smock-wearing, Seoul-envying, ICBM-fetishizing, dough boy, half-pint Supreme Dear Leader (Hah) my ass!”
Kim’s turn at the mic: “Yo, Trump – you red-tie-sporting, bankruptcy-filing, alt-right-enabling, New York Times circulation-boosting, Alec Baldwin-impersonating, crotch-grabbing, Tweet-storming, logo-plastering, travel-banning, Dreamer-crushing, Kathy Griffin-traumatizing, fake news-obsessing, Wharton-disgracing, Lebron James-baiting, NFL-feuding, Obama-rollbacking, Gold Star family-offending, staff-firing, Putin-fawning, Crayola-headed, casino-losing steak salesman from Queens!”
If those rants don’t burn off their fuel, consider this: As the name-calling reaches a fevered state in “Do the Right Thing,” a dashiki-clad DJ played by Samuel L. Jackson rushes the camera, yells to stop the clock, and scolds the insulters, “Y’all take a chill and cool that shit out.” If only he would be available right now for some international diplomacy.
And Heaven help us if Kim says anything about Trump’s fingers.
Mr. Ripp runs a press relations firm in New York.
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