Mike Pence had a torrid time at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang. The American vice-president, who, before the games, had promised to stand up to North Korean propaganda and their attempt to “hijack and imagery of the Games,” emerged looking extremely awkward and as the Washington Post noted in their assessment, the optics did not good look for the United States.
“It wasn’t just the indelible visual of Pence in the opening ceremony box, stone-faced, sitting in front of Kim’s sister and looking awkward. Most of the indelible images from the early moments of the Games, the ones already written in history’s ink, involve North and South getting along, the North engaging in front of the world’s cameras, and Pence — and thus Washington — a supporting player at best.”
Last year Pence roundly criticized NFL athletes for kneeling during games, saying it was disrespectful not to stand for the national flag. He argued it was not a viable form of protest because players should not bring politics into the sport arena. And yet, in Pyeongchang, at a sporting arena much larger than NFL, Pence chose to do just that. He chose not to stand as the joint Korean team took center-stage, even as Japanese PM Shinzo Abe (who has been a strident critic of Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program and rightly so because his country stands to lose a lot if North Korea doesn’t disarm itself) stood and respected this act of diplomacy — and possible progress — by the governments of both Koreas.
Pence’s PR campaign at the Olympics bombed further when he refused to shake hands with Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader’s sister, or any other members of the North Korean delegation. Not only such actions may be considered disrespectful by his Asian counterparts, but a gimmick like this is only set to heighten the hostilities between North Korea and the United States. Here was his opportunity to charm a rogue state — act in a manner befitting the vice-president of the most powerful nation in the world — but he fell desperately short. Instead, he acted like the heavy-handed father who grounds his kids, and then avoids them because he wants to keep a tough exterior.
If anything, the Winter Olympics helped North Korea, which is often viewed as the hermit kingdom in the West, suddenly appear human, and even respectable.
“Not only was she [Kim Yo Jong] an unimpeachable representative of the Kim dynasty as the big man’s little sister, but her obvious poise and comfort in the public eye interrupts the clichéd ‘hermit kingdom’ narrative that the West often slathers onto North Korea. That’s a potent accomplishment in itself.”
This fact was not lost on Twitter users, who tore Pence to shreds because of his awkwardness at the ceremony, effectively translating to a United States which is quietly being sidelined at the world stage, thanks to its whimsical leader.
But as embarrassing as Mike Pence’s cameo at the Olympics had been for the United States at a political level, it was still worse for him personally. United States freeskier Gus Kenworthy had a powerful message for Pence, who has been a staunch critic of the LGBTQ community.
“Eat your heart out, Pence.”