In an interview Donald Trump gave to Face The Nation’s John Dickerson, which aired this Sunday, Trump had some favorable words to share about North Korea’s young autocratic leader, Kim Jong Un. When asked to express his opinions about Mr. Kim, Trump praised the unpredictable leader for his intelligence and ability to maintain power in an environment of political hostility.
“What do you make of the North Korean leader,” Dickerson had asked him early into the interview.
Trump began by stating that he had “no comment” on Kim Jong Un, and even called the leader’s sanity into question. But Trump then began outlining the reasons why he nonetheless considers Mr. Kim a “pretty smart cookie.”
“I can tell you this, and a lot of people don’t like when I say it, but he was a young man of 26 or 27 when he took over from his father, when his father died,” said Trump. “He’s dealing with obviously very tough people, in particular the generals and others.”
“And at a very young age, he was able to assume power,” Trump continued. “A lot of people, I’m sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he’s a pretty smart cookie.”
The uncle referred to here, Jang Song Thaek, was considered the second most powerful person in North Korea at the time Mr. Kim ordered his execution. The move was essentially an effort for the North Korean leader to consolidate his power. Reports indicate that in addition to Mr. Jang, members of his family were also executed so as to send a forceful message to any political dissentients of Mr. Kim.
And according to the UPI, Kim Jong Un may be responsible for over 300 other purges and executions since assuming power, many of these against government officials who may have posed a threat to his rule.
Trump has referenced Kim Jong Un’s murderous reign in past remarks as well, expressing admiration over the way he had risen to power despite those who stood in his way.
“It’s pretty amazing when you think of it. How does he do that?” Trump said in a speech on January 9. “Even though it is a culture and it’s a cultural thing, he goes in, he takes over, and he’s the boss. It’s incredible. He wiped out the uncle. He wiped out this one, that one. I mean, this guy doesn’t play games.”
Trump’s comments on Face The Nation seem to minimize those transgressions of power, and represent the latest in a long series of comments or political gestures from Trump that bolster “strongman” figures from other countries.
Much publicized throughout the presidential campaign and the early days of Trump’s presidency was his praise for Vladimir Putin. His sympathetic remarks about the Russian president raised some alarming concerns, especially as Putin has been accused of several human rights violations, as well as repeatedly attempting to undermine democratic institutions.
Trump has also engendered criticism for inviting President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines to the White House, despite Duterte’s role in supporting the extrajudicial killings of suspected drug dealers and drug users in his country.
Trump invites Philippine leader Duterte to the White House https://t.co/xQBPJ7La9D
— Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) May 1, 2017
“By essentially endorsing Duterte’s murderous war on drugs, Trump is now morally complicit in future killings,” John Sifton of Human Rights Watch argued in a recent interview.
Trump also hosted Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who led a military takeover against an elected president, and also congratulated via phone call the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who won a referendum in April that greatly magnified his power.
All of the people on this list have been accused of either committing serious breaches against human rights, or else attempting to undercut democracy itself. Donald Trump’s recent remarks about Kim Jong Un, in that interview on Face The Nation, represent a tradition of praise and veneration from Trump for what he considers to be strong leadership around the world. What complicates matters, of course, is that the sort of leadership Trump applauds happens to be the kind that’s diametrically opposed to traditional American values.
The Trump presidency may represent a shift in those values, where nationalism and authoritarianism rise to new prominence, while democratic institutions receive short shrift.
To watch the full Trump interview on Face The Nation, check out the video below.
[Featured Image by Carolyn Kaster/AP Images]