Why Skepticism Is in Order for the Trump-Kim Meeting

At his press briefing after the G7 summit, Trump refused to say what his goals were for the negotiations with North Korea and instead suggested that the focus of the upcoming meeting would be to establish a “relationship” between he and Kim Jong-un. Here’s how the encounter will happen.

After greeting each other before the cameras, Trump and Kim will kick off their historic summit at the Capella Hotel on Tuesday with a one-on-one meeting, the White House said on the eve of the summit. Only after their tête à tête will the President’s top advisers — Pompeo, chief of staff John Kelly and national security adviser John Bolton — join him for an expanded bilateral meeting and working lunch.

Aside from their interpreters, no one will witness the initial exchange. Given that neither man is known for his honesty, it would be naive to assume that we can believe what either one reports on the exchange.

It is important to keep that in mind because there are an awful lot of people in the media who seem to be willing to buy the hype from the Trump administration about this meeting. For example, CNN reported that it is “an opportunity granted to few historic figures” and that it was an “opening awaited for 70 years.” That does not comport with the facts.

I suppose that it shouldn’t surprise us that the Wall Street Journal used the occasion of this meeting to write “The Art of the Foreign-Policy Deal: An Insider’s Guide to Trump’s Tactics.” One way these major media outlets normalize Trump’s behavior is that they continue to buy into the idea that, as a businessman, he was a successful dealmaker. Mark Landler at the New York Times joins the WSJ in that assumption with a piece titled, “Meeting With Kim Tests Trump’s Dealmaking Swagger.”

When President Trump declared that he did not really need to prepare for his legacy-defining meeting with North Korea’s leader, he drew sighs or snickers from veterans of past negotiations. But he had a point: In his own unorthodox way, Mr. Trump has been preparing for this encounter his entire adult life…

For a property developer-turned-president, the tête-à-tête, scheduled for Tuesday in Singapore, is a long-anticipated test of Mr. Trump’s conviction that he can slice through decades of diplomatic orthodoxy and strike a grand bargain with North Korea, a feat that eluded his three immediate predecessors.

The underlying assumption is that, because Trump is a rich businessman, he must have been a good dealmaker. The only remaining question for these folks is whether or not he can bring those skills to the negotiations with North Korea.

But that assumption is based on false premises. First of all, Donald Trump inherited his wealth and, according to Fortune, would actually be richer if he’d invested in index funds. Secondly, what Trump learned from his father and his career in New York real estate is how to be a predator, not a dealmaker.

Based on the fact that we won’t be able to trust what Trump says about this meeting and the willingness we’ve seen from a lot of reporters to assume that he has the skills to maneuver these kinds of negotiations, a good deal of skepticism about the results we see reported will be in order.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.