If You Know You Know

I’m not sure whether or not this will have market implications but it’s something I’ve been thinking about…

Everyone freaked out the other day when Donald Trump said something to the effect of “I don’t need to prepare for the Kim Jong-Un summit because it’s a feel thing. I’ll know in one minute whether or not he’s serious about negotiating a nuclear solution. It’s a feel thing. I’ve been preparing my whole life for this anyway.”

On the surface, it sounds absolutely absurd, but on a deeper level (I know, Trump and deeper level in the same breath), it’s maybe not that stupid. Trump has one superpower, and it’s knowing what to say to any give audience in order to elicit approval or applause. It’s easy to do this when you just make up whatever will work, right on the spot. This works for just about every audience he wants to charm except for the press. They don’t go for this – and they’re offended by blatant lies and hyperbole – but the press doesn’t have any electoral votes so it hasn’t mattered yet.

Trump blew up the G7 Summit this week on his way to meet with Kim, but mostly because he’s correctly recognized that it didn’t matter anyway. No one was going to give him credit for a successful G7 anyway because Obama already got along great with this body of leaders. He’s only in this for the credit and acclaim and just adequately doing what Obama’s already done wasn’t going to earn him any. It’s the President of the United States, of course he should be expected to perform decently in that setting. Who cares?

But a summit with Kim would give him a chance to outshine Obama, Bush and Clinton all in one shot. Their efforts, which included tri-lateral talks involving China as well as multiple initiatives involving the UN never really accomplished anything. Trump figured the kid out from day one – all he wants is respect and money and the chance to remain in power, he doesn’t actually want to blow shit up.

This is literally an actual quote from the summit:

Mr. Trump, who was a developer before he became president, focused on one particular economic prospect for North Korea: real estate.

“As an example, they have great beaches,” he said during a news conference after his meeting with Mr. Kim. “You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean. I said, ‘Boy, look at that view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo?’”

“You could have the best hotels in the world right there,” Mr. Trump continued. “Think of it from a real estate perspective. You have South Korea, you have China and they own the land in the middle. How bad is that, right? It’s great.”

When they exchanged a war of words on Twitter, that was like the kid you had a fist fight with behind the school and then became friends with after. This sort of bond is inexplicable to anyone except the kind of boys who went through it. And now that the handshake has happened, who on earth could possibly know what will happen next? Certainly not the consensus of the experts.

I’ll leave the handicapping of the agreements these two make and the progress in relations (or lack thereof) to the geopolitical pundits. I read one book about NK (The Orphan Master’s Son) and probably all the same articles that you have over the years. I don’t know anything about nuclear centrifuges and the technical details of what the US should be bargaining for.

But I know people. And I think it’s obvious why there’s a unique chance with Trump for North Korea to be opened up to the world with a pair like these two. They’re almost the same people. Selfish, self-aggrandizing, gleefully ignorant, the sons of wealthy and powerful men, infused with autocratic tendencies and always under siege by the outside world. Contrast the two of them with the G7 leaders, who are well educated, polished, diplomatic, prepared, idealistic and cooperative and you can see why The Donald feels more at home with Kim than he does with Merkel, Trudeau and Macron.

Trump might just have this guy’s number and he may know better than all of them what to do in order to establish a little bit of trust. He’s very good at this sort of thing – look at all the banks and investors and business partners he’s charmed into supporting his ventures over the years, with very little to show for it.

Is international diplomacy “a feel thing” or is it a technical undertaking? I guess we’ll find out. President Trump’s approach is to size people up personally, gauge their willingness to deal with him. It’s pure personality, pure gut instinct. If you know you know.


The New York Times has the whole blow by blow of what’s happening at the summit here.

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