Was President Donald Trump’s summit in Singapore little more than the superficial equivalent of a ribbon-cutting? Was it just a cosmetic event, like turning over the first shovel of dirt at a decorated construction site? Maybe.
It is a little ironic that Tuesday was President George H.W. Bush’s 94th birthday, as I am reminded of the criticism he received for saying at the outset of his trip to Eastern Europe in July 1989 that “90 percent of life is just showing up.” Much uncertainty lay ahead for the soon-to-be-former Soviet Union, and Bush received a lot of flak for lacking specifics as to how he would solidify the freedom of newly independent Eastern European states. Yet Bush was confident, and he understood the role he could play by making the trip and setting a new course.
While Trump is no George H.W. Bush, I think it is fair to say he has done some good by showing up in Singapore. Yes, of course, there is much to be done and nothing is certain. The unreliability of North Korea is legendary. It is easy to recite all the things that didn’t happen in Singapore, and it is at the top of everyone’s mind that North Korea is a murderous, savage regime that has never been truthful about anything. But diplomacy is engaged, tension is down and Americans are being greeted with the news that there is progress. If six months ago Trump was pushing us toward war with North Korea, he is, at least for the time being, leading us the other way, even if all he really did was just show up.
But Trumpian diplomacy can cause whiplash. He gratuitously insulted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the weekend, and rather than walk any of it back, the White House doubled down with fresh insults. Yet the president embraces the murderous, treacherous Kim. To say the least, the inconsistency of his approach is on full display. Is Trump holding his friends not so close and his enemies closer? I wish I could say that the wild swings were part of a plan.
Anyway, it is going to be much easier for Republican elected officials and candidates to defend Trump’s push toward peace than it would be to defend more taunts, insults and the public reminders to Kim and the rest of the world that the United States’ nuclear arsenal is at Trump’s fingertips.
While just showing up might not be the 90 percent of what matters in life, it counts for a lot. Even though there’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot left to be done, Trump deserves some credit for doing his part so far.
Ed Rogers, a political consultant and a veteran of the Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses, is a contributor to the Washington Post’s PostPartisan blog.