The White House announced Friday that there will be another summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. It’s fitting: One acts like he wants to lead a hermit kingdom, and the other one actually does.
The term “hermit kingdom” has become shorthand in the United States for North Korea. Notably used by then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2009, it evokes North Korea’s reclusive, walled-off and isolated nature. It now fits Trump’s vision of the United States as well.
Trump wants to build a wall to keep people from entering the country. He cancels the flights of members of Congress who want to leave. He threatens to exit global treaties, like NATO, and global accords, like the Paris climate agreement. He applauds isolationist acts like Brexit.
Why do leaders like Trump and Kim want to isolate themselves from the world? It has to do with fear of losing control. North Korean leaders have long feared that exposure to the outside world would open their population to the alternatives afforded by greater freedom and undermine the cult of personality surrounding Kim. Trump fears change, debate and alternative viewpoints. He fires those who disagree with him and dismisses anyone he can’t fire with insults. He admires those leaders like North Korea’s and Russia’s who brook no dissent.
Increasingly, Trump’s hermit tendencies extend not only to his view of his country but also to his view of himself. He boasts of being alone in the White House, and when he isn’t alone, he isolates himself with a fractious and shrinking group of staff members. As he once said, he seems to increasingly believe that he alone can fix it. But here’s the thing about hermit kingdoms: They only serve the hermits.