I have been reading the reactions to the Singapore summit meetings and have been bemused by the hostile reactions to it almost across the board. What struck me was that many of them were extremely irate about one particular aspect, that Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un were shown as equals, in that they had equal numbers of flags of the two nations, stood and sat side by side, and in every other way the two leaders were treated as if they were of equal standing.
The sentiment appeared to be that the North Korean leader had achieved some kind of major propaganda coup just by being shown to be of equal stature with an American president. The pundits seemed to feel that just sharing the same stage with a US president was a great honor that Kim should have had to pay for with some prior concession or some sign of obsequiousness to display his inferior status. To me, this demonstrated how even the liberal-left-progressive elements in the US have internalized the imperial mindset. They seem to feel that Kim should have been portrayed as the lesser of the two leaders, though how that would have been done without being insulting to Kim was not made clear. Maybe they expected Kim to walk few paces behind Trump, like women have to walk behind their husbands in some societies to show their subservience.
When the leaders of two nations meet in a neutral venue, it is surely proper protocol for them to be treated as equals, however much the two nations might differ in terms of economic and military power, as is obviously the case here. In taking this attitude, the liberal-left-progressive intelligentsia seemed to be to acting less maturely than Trump, something that I thought would not have been possible. Given Trump’s display of childish petulance after the G7 summit just a few days earlier, when he spoke so contemptuously of the host nation’s leader Justin Trudeau, I was expecting some kind of idiotic one-upmanship from him in Singapore too and was pleasantly surprised that he refrained from doing so.
The imperial mindset in our media can be seen in a more oblique way when a US president visits the Queen of England. The media here seems to have no problems with the absolutely ridiculous shows of deference that royal protocol imposes on visiting leaders and American presidents seem to happily go along with it. Back in 2009, I wrote a post titled God save us from the Queen about this unseemly behavior when the Obamas visited the Queen and there was a fuss in the media simply because Michelle Obama had touched her, which is apparently a violation of protocol. Pat Oliphant’s cartoon from that time is worth repeating.
As I wrote at the time:
Apparently one should never turn one’s back on her, not touch her, not speak to her until she speaks to you, and so on. If you do any of these things, the journalists covering the event suddenly get transformed into a bunch of Victorian ladies either getting the vapors and reaching for their smelling salts or raising their eyebrows and peering disapprovingly through their lorgnettes with a lot of harrumphing and tut-tutting, saying, “This is perfectly frightful. This will never do.”
Why the hell should anyone care about any of this? Why should anyone else be bothered by the possibility that the Queen will be offended by the violation of some private rule of etiquette? Just suck it up, Queenie baby!
These absurd rules were imposed by the kings and queens of yore because they wanted people to be afraid of them and to grovel before them. The way you keep people off-balance and apprehensive is by making them not know whether they are transgressing a rule or not. And the monarchs of those days had the power to create and enforce rules arbitrarily. Breaking any of the rules could result in them ordering the offender’s head to be cut off and placed on a spike for public view. That’s how “civilized” the British royalty were. And yet we admire them?
The Queen may be a nice old lady but the respect she deserves is the same as what one should give any other nice old lady, such as the grandmotherly types of one’s acquaintance or the cashiers at the supermarket, no more and no less. All this bowing and scraping is unseemly. Who knows, maybe the royal family makes up weirder and weirder rules just to see how far they can make gullible Americans tie themselves up in knots, and then secretly laugh uproariously at their expense afterwards..
Trump is due to visit the UK on July 13. Of one thing we can be certain is that there will be large and loud protests during his visit. The visit is also now being described as a mere ‘working visit’ (itself a risible description since one cannot imagine Trump actually working) as opposed to a ‘state visit’ and that may signal that there won’t be much pomp and ceremony and no grand ride with the Queen through the streets of London in a horse drawn carriage which happened with the Obamas and is something Trump desperately desires. The British are unlikely to risk letting the Queen be at the receiving end of the jeers, catcalls, and insulting signs aimed at Trump.
But if he does manage to sneak in a visit to see the Queen, I hope he will not show undue deference but will treat her as if she were just any other head of state, except without the dominance games like the power handshake. The US media will declare him to be a boor of course but it would great if he could set a new precedent on this issue. But since he seems to be dying to meet the Queen, he may be willing to kowtow to her just like his predecessors.