Basic Humanity: Why the U.S.-North Korea Summit Failed Before it Even Started


As much as donald trump claims to hate the media, he is loving them this week. The media has built up the summit between he and Kim Jung Un as the greatest meeting ever between two people. It is, of course, significant. Rarely do we see two “dictators” come together on such a world stage. The handshake was staged perfectly for prime time while the news anchors whispered and analyzed every aspect like it was The Masters golf tournament.

But this summit will fail, not for what they will discuss, but for what they will completely ignore.

There will be no mention of human rights. And even if the parties agree on North Korea beginning the long process of denuclearization, the absence of nuclear weapons, as significant as that may be, does not automatically mean the people of North Korea or the world will experience justice or peace — which are both prerequisites for human rights to be preserved for all people.

Now, there will be some who say that neither of these authoritarians should be talking about human rights in the first place since they have never shown the slightest inclination to respect human rights. For North Korea, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea reports that “it had found evidence of extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

Kim’s rule in North Korea has been entirely based on the forced and brutal subjugation of the North Korean people. To not bring up human rights in a one-on-one meeting is akin to treating an addict by watching them use drugs and doing nothing to even verbally address it.

Though, let’s be serious, the United States is not innocent either. On Monday, the same day as the summit, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions announced that he is ordering immigration judges to no longer regard requests for asylum for people fleeing domestic abuse and gang violence. Sessions said, “claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum.”

Yes, the United States will be sending people back to their imminent deaths.

I think I can hear all the fear-motivated voters who shouted “Build the wall!” during trump’s campaign convulsed in ecstatic laughter.

(On a side note, it is official that the United Methodist Church is fine with someone like Sessions, who is a United Methodist, sending people to their imminent deaths because they have brown skin, but they are not ok with LGBTQ people being leaders in the church. Why is the UMC dying again?)

Human rights begin with respecting the rights of all people. Neither of these dictators shares this crucial value in their attitudes, behavior, or especially, their policies.

Some would object to these two authoritarians discussing human rights at all because they are so abjectly horrible on human rights issues. But you do not need to be an expert on human rights to talk about it. If that was the case then no country could discuss human rights.

I liken it to our walk with Jesus. Just as followers of Jesus do not wait for people to become entirely perfected or sanctified before they share the transformative power of Jesus with others, so should the leaders of two countries be expected to talk about the protection of the dignity of their people. That should be expected for all countries, but these two dictators have been given a pass on this by everyone. We forget that it is often by talking about something that we become more understanding and appreciative of the topic. Again, the more I talk about God’s justice for the world, the more I understand and experience God in the act of sharing.

Sometimes we need to speak of things not yet present as though they are for any chance for them to one day become real.

As horrible and monstrous as both these leaders are, as brutal and narcissistic, the subject of human rights seems to be the most important issue they could ever discuss. But they didn’t. And they will not discuss the human rights reforms that both countries desperately need. Why? Because neither of these two men care about people.

There is a reason why trump prefers to be around other dictators like himself; from Putin to Kim, from Duterte of the Philippines to Erdogan of Turkey. This is the same reason why he hates meeting with the G7 leaders, all of whom were legitimately elected. trump prefers authoritarian dictators because he ascribes to the power and control they each hold. He constantly assaults media that doesn’t kiss his ass and he talks often about how he hates not being able to control the courts. trump is merely a dictator in waiting.

Thus, this summit failed before it ever began because human rights was not on the menu at all. Human rights begin with respecting the rights of all people. Neither of these dictators shares this crucial value in their attitudes, behavior, or, especially, their policies.

Getting rid of nuclear weapons, while significant, will not result in the betterment of peoples’ lives in either country and that is what should be foremost in our work. And that is why this summit, for all the ratings it will achieve (which is trump’s only goal), will be a lasting failure to the detriment of us all.

This post originally appeared on Fig Tree Revolution.