Birds of a Feather: Kim Jong-un and Donald J Trump

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Mar 11 2019 (IPS)

After his first meeting with Kim Jong-un Donald Trump declared: “And then we fell in love, okay? No, really – he wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters.” Maybe it was a joke, maybe not. At least Trump indicated that he and Kim Jong-un were friends. In his book De Amicitia, written 44 BCE, Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote “A friend is, as it were, a second self.” Are Trump and Kim Jong-un really friends? At least they seem to have many personal traits in common.

Contrary to Kim Jong-un, Donald J Trump does not appear as particularly mysterious. He is apparently a full-fledged narcissist. The mystery consists of the fact that he has been elected president of the United States and after two years remains in power. Maybe Trump´s allure originates from the fact that his persona mirrors his tough upbringing and privileged class?

Trump grew up in the shadow of a dominant, callous father and took over his economic empire. May that be one reason to why Trump is able to sympathize with Kim Jong-un, who was born privileged, endowed with inadequate empathy and raised in the shadow of a dictatorial father? Nevertheless, Kim Jong-un comes from a completely different environment than Trump, raised as he was within the innermost circle of a totalitarian regime, which twenty years ago observed how a tenth of its oppressed subjects succumbed to a famine, allowed to continue almost unabated while their tightly controlled state machinery spent millions on the well-being of the Kim family and a money devouring nuclear program. This while people who expressed any kind of complaint, or even had tried to get hold of some food for their families, were interned, starved to death and executed. This piece of history, as well as the current existence of deplorable concentration camps, were not mentioned by the propaganda that Trump supporters unfurled in anticipation of his meeting with the Rocket Man.

Trump´s world, like Kim Jong-un´s, consists of a grotesque lie. It is fake, but hardly fake news, we all know that it is all a smoke screen, an illusion constituted by boastfulness and show business. Kim Jong-un´s world is likewise a bizarre sham, where an unpleasant reality is hidden behind imaginative Potemkin façades.

One conspicuous aspect of the North Korean personality cult is the “cultural” interests of the ruling Kim family, which manifests itself primarily through extensive film productions, operas, circus performances and the meticulously choreographed mass gymnastics of the Arirang Festivals. Just like Trump, Kim Jong-un appears to be fascinated by the military parades, mass meetings and beauty contests he grew up with.

It is a mystery that a man like the dictatorial and murderous Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong-un´s grandfather and founder of North Korea´s ruling dynasty, is said to be the author of the play/novel/opera/movie The Flower Girl, which tells a story of how a beautiful girl is plagued by being born poor and oppressed. How could Kim Il Sung and his successors then behave even worse than the feudal lords he had condemned so passionately? Like the Korean landlords´ rule the Kim dynasty´s power is supported by foreign super powers ̶ China and the Soviet Union (and later Russia) and like the former Korean kings the Kim family lives in luxury, while their underlings subsist in fear and oppression.

Whether The Flower Girl really was written by Kim Il Sung remains an open question. Maybe he was just as much the author of this popular tale as Donald Trump was of The Art of the Deal ̶ i.e. not at all. Nevertheless, The Flower Girl has just like Trump´s The Art of the Deal, which constantly is referred to by his supporters and opponents, become something of a trademark for the Kim dynasty, for example The Flower Girl featured on North Korean banknotes (1 won), while the US president on several occasions has stated that The Art of the Deal is his favourite book, “after the Bible” he likes to add.

After he had cleansed his Worker´s Party from opponents, Kim Il Sung turned his attention to his countrymen. Each citizen was subjected to rigorous background checks and classified in accordance with his/her ancestry and family ̶ parents, grandparents, even first and second cousins, their occupations and beliefs. Had any of them collaborated with the Japanese, South Koreans, or Americans? Were they “pure” Koreans born in the country, or was Japanese or Chinese blood running through their veins? With all likelihood this paranoia subsists under Kim Jong-un and is supported by his propaganda machinery, just as Trump promotes xenophobia and racism to strengthen his own power.

Kim Jong-un´s father, Kim Jong Il, was a movie enthusiast, with a collection of more than 20,000 DVDs, among them his favourites ̶ James Bond movies, Friday the 13th, Rambo, Godzilla and action movies from Hong Kong. The latter is a taste he shared with both his son and Donald Trump. USA’s own Great Leader does not get tired of watching his favourite movie Bloodsport, in which Jean-Claude van Damme with great variety kills his opponents during martial art contests staged within underground fighting dens. Like his son, Kim Jong Il was also a great basketball fan and like him he organized a pop group consisting solely of female artists, but unlike Kim Jong-un, he enjoyed their appearance and music only in closed company.

The contemporary North Korean popular music success Moranbong Band, is organized by Kim Jong-un and consists of his personal selection of 20 young women from all over North Korea. With their miniskirts and colourful outlook, Moranbong Band has become a trendsetter in North Korea, where women increasingly are abandoning their drab grey or brown uniforms in synthetic materials, for increasingly colourful outfits. Like Trump, Kim Jong-un likes to surround himself with beautiful, young women, especially those who enthusiastically expose their devotion to him.

Apart from attractive young women, Kim Jong-un is also fascinated by impressive, lavishly looking building projects. Pyongyang increasingly assumes the appearance of an oversized Hollywood film set, like something made for a Disneyland-inspired mastodont movie, a kind of glamour version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Visitors marvel at the city’s vast squares and largely empty boulevards, its pastel-coloured skyscrapers dominated by the gargantuan Ryonyong. This huge, unfinished building was designed by the end of the 1980s and intended to be the world’s largest hotel. An oversized 300 metres high Trump Tower like edifice with 3000 rooms. At the top there would be luxury restaurants and a casino housed within a rotating tower. The building is now a huge shell, covered with glass windows. Very few know what is inside, probably it is empty.

Like Kim Jong-un, Trump is a child of his times and environment. He lives in his own secluded dream world of luxury mansions and golf courses, fascinated by a make-believe existence of glamorous shows, shallow movies and tributes provided by the fake cosiness of his favourite TV-show Fox and Friends and stirred up mass meetings. He does not read any books, receive most of his stimuli in the form of pictures, mainly television. Like Kim Jong-un Trump surrounds himself with syncopates and thrives on fear of foreign invaders. His written means of expression essentially consists of Twitter and the signing of Executive Orders. It would not be surprising if Kim Jong-un is found to be living in a similar sphere of mental seclusion and that he actually has found a friend, i.e. “a second self”, in an equally narcissistic Donald J Trump.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

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