Asia Pacific

The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: What Americans “Think” of Trump-Kim

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© Mike Dotta

June 18, 2018 11:17 EDT

President Trump has got every thinking when it comes to a different future for North Korea. 

One of the wonderful faculties humans dispose of is thinking, which some people think separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Donald Trump’s surprise negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have inspired a great deal of thinking on many sides. Reuters reports that much of that thinking is positive, but not all of it: “Just over half of all Americans say they approve of how President Donald Trump has handled North Korea, but only a quarter think that his summit this week with Kim Jong Un will lead to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Wednesday.”

Here is today’s 3D definition:


What people say they are doing when they have no means of knowing but are asked to speak their mind

Contextual note

Polling claims to be convey what people think. The attention our society gives to polling would appear to reflect a serious interest in people’s thinking. Rarely, however, does anyone ask the fundamental question: Is thinking really the same thing as having an opinion? Or this question: Does or should thinking imply using logical reasoning? Pollsters don’t make the distinction and politicians not only don’t care; they prefer that people not think too much.

The noble idea of democracy — rule by the people — has been reduced to a permanent exercise that takes place in two phases, both of which are concerned with the kind of thinking — or thinking without thought — that the media and politicians encourage. The final phase is the vote in an election, where typically “the people” are asked a simple question: Which of these two candidates (often selected by obscure means) do you think will be able to lead your nation in a direction you think is better than the direction you think the other candidate will take?

The preceding phase is poll-taking, which attempts to be more precise by asking more open questions, such as: Which of these issues is the most important for the government to address? Voting turns into a mindless exercise in binary choice, governed by feelings rather than thought. Polling, because it is informal and without legal consequences, seems to go further because it typically reduces reality to a simple multiple choice.

Historical note

When Hamlet metaphorically claimed to his supposed friends, the obsequious courtiers Rosenkrantz and Guilderstern, that Denmark was a prison, Rosenkrantz came back with the cliché, “We think not so, my lord.” Ever the philosopher, Hamlet countered with, “Why then ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.” Had a pollster been present, we would have learned that two-thirds of the population interrogated didn’t think Denmark was a prison and only one third did.

The pseudo-movie trailer Trump presented to Kim Jong-un showing a bright future for North Korea once the nation converted to American values and capitalist reasoning — as seen through the eyes of a real estate developer — left the media in a state of disbelief. One critic described it as “exactly the kind of video a real estate developer shows to prospective clients.”

When asked about Kim’s reaction to the video, Trump unhesitatingly answered, “I think he loved it.” At a subsequent press conference, when asked about the fate of the thousands of political prisoners in North Korea, Trump calmly explained: “I think they are one of the great winners today.” As Politico recently observed, “Trump and his father were [Norman Vincent] Peale acolytes.” Peale was the author of the book, The Power of Positive Thinking, which took Hamlet’s ironic words and turned them into a manifesto of self-help ideology, replacing Hamlet’s acerbic wit with the forced public smile of a salesman.

The hallmark of “positive thinking” could be described as thinking without thought, or taking one’s wishes for reality. Politico summarizes “the principal tenet of the power of positive thinking—think it, say it, and say it and say it and say it, in an all-out effort to make it so.” As a sales strategy it is anything but foolproof, but many success coaches put forward the idea that “success is 80 per cent Attitude and 20 per cent Skill,” citing no less than Albert Einstein as the originator of the idea (in fact, the author cited thinks or “believes” that Einstein invented the idea).

American political culture has finally fully aligned with US popular culture, founded on the success principle of selling both goods and ideas to willing customers. It thus elevates feeling above thought and calls it thinking. Thinking without the requirement of thought. Descartes founded his philosophy on “I think therefore I am,” enabling him to prove his existence. In US culture the Cartesian insight becomes: “I think therefore I can do.”

For the previous generation of politicians — Barack Obama, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell — it was: “I think differently than you, therefore we can’t do much together.” But for Donald Trump, who thinks frequently (though not a lot and certainly not deeply), it comes down to: “I think therefore I do, so any further thinking can only be a waste of time.”

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Hadrian /

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