Why North Koreans would vote for Trump if they could

Former US President Donald J. Trump. Photo / вк.ком

With the US presidential election campaign picking up steam and, despite the controversy and legal issues swirling around him, Donald Trump might win in November.

If North Koreans were to have a say in it, he definitely would. They’re hoping to see him come back. 

That counter-intuitive claim needs some explaining. 

Ordinary North Koreans first became aware of the existence of Trump in September 2017, when he spoke at the UN General Assembly. 

“We will wipe North Korea off the face of the Earth,” the state-run Korea Central News Agency quoted him saying. There will be “flames and fury, the destruction of 25 million North Korean citizens, erasing North Korean territory from the face of the Earth.” 

Actually, Trump didn’t quite say that. But that was the version we North Koreans read and heard on TV.

For the record, his actual words were, “The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” The point of the belligerent language was to emphasize the need for UN sanctions against the North. Russia and China were cooperating in this and Trump thanked them in his speech.

Despite our media distortion, Trump accomplished two things as far as we North Koreans were concerned.

First, he got the message across that the United States was confident and prepared to actually overthrow the regime. Although it is standard North Korean propaganda that the US is always poised to attack, we never actually heard a US president say it. It was always our leaders telling us about US intentions.

Secondly, by getting China and Russia on board with sanctions, Trump made us feel the impact. This, too, was something no previous US president had done. 

UN Resolutions 2375 and 2397 in September and December 2017, respectively, prohibited the dispatch of North Korean overseas workers, which led to a sudden drop in remittances being sent home. People used to spend this money in the markets. When this circulation of cash dried up, everyone felt it.

These weren’t the first sanctions against North Korea, but in the past they involved freezing of overseas assets and restrictions on specific items, which impacted traders rather than the general public.

This time it was different. People knew what was happening and why. The country’s isolation became apparent and people felt it was due to the incompetence of the regime.

Thus, the kind of resentment among the citizenry towards the regime and the Kim family reached a new peak.

“There was high expectation of Trump during his presidency,” said Jung Do-yeon, a defector who entered South Korea in December 2022. “It seemed to us that he had some kind of secret to end the dictatorship, whether by military or peaceful means.”

Far from fearing such a possibility, Jung said, many citizens welcomed it. 

“The new currency in 2009 left each household with just USD 10. We all saw people dying of hunger. Then we found ourselves isolated internationally and receiving harsh UN sanctions. People lost faith. It’s no wonder.”

“If Trump is reelected and North Koreans hear the news, they will have extraordinary expectations about what he might do this time to get rid of the dictatorship,” Jung said.

Trump’s most admired skill as far as North Koreans are concerned is his ability to outsmart Kim Jong-un.

After threatening Kim with destruction in that 2017 speech, Trump intensified pressure to the point that people expected war. Then, he suddenly switched tactics and turned to peace talks. Trump acted like he supported Kim, but he knew Kim would not give up nuclear weapons and made no concessions to him.

At their summit in February 2019, talks broke up and there was no agreement about the North’s nuclear weapons and the lifting of sanctions. Trump’s international critics saw this a huge policy failure. They saw his claim at the press conference afterwards that he and Kim had had “a very productive two days” as evidence of a loose grip on reality.

But we see this differently. Why would Trump characterize the apparent failure in such a positive light? It seems to me that it was because, from his point of view, the goal hadn’t been the agreement everyone was focused on. It was something else.

It was Trump who had threatened war and then succeeded in getting the UN to apply tough sanctions and who then deliberately led Kim by the nose, giving him hope that sanctions would be lifted. He knew Kim wouldn’t abandon his nuclear weapons. His objective all along was to prevent military provocations against the United States by Kim. 

In this, he succeeded while Kim gained nothing.

This is one US president who knows how to deal with the North Korean dictator. That’s why the people who suffer under Kim reckon he is their man in the White House, the one who might just get rid of him.

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