As I write this, President Donald Trump is about 24 hours away from a "summit" with the North Korean dictator that media outlets can't help but call "historic," as if giving an authoritarian mass murderer the world's stage he has so long sought without gaining anything of substance in return is in itself a momentous achievement. It's good, I suppose, that the U.S. and North Korea are talking; talking is better than shooting, and better still than a nuclear World War III. If Trump can finesse peace and eliminate a pernicious threat on the Korean peninsula, I'll stand and applaud.
And yet, it's hard to be optimistic that anything positive will come out of it. Trump has already said he's eschewed any sort of preparation, choosing instead to trust his instincts – the same instincts that led him to buddy up with the likes of Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn and his warmongering national security adviser, John Bolton, who will be with him at the summit. Besides, everything else about this administration has been a whack-a-mole shitshow – it has whatever the opposite is of the Midas touch. It's hard to see this summit, with its heightened geopolitical stakes and potentially catastrophic consequences, turning out any better.
Which isn't to say that, by the time you read this, Trump won't have declared it a success. Rather, a more likely scenario is that he takes whatever low-hanging fruit Kim Jong-Un offers, says they've forged a warm relationship, praises Kim – who, not for nothing, has locked up as many as 120,000 political prisoners and whose government "curtails all basic human rights," according to Human Rights Watch – invites him to Mar-a-Lago and declares victory.
Perhaps Kim promises not to restart his nuclear testing program, something he likely stopped after a testing site imploded. Perhaps Kim says he'll take steps toward denuclearization in exchange for a loosening of sanctions, though North Korea has reneged on agreements before. Perhaps Kim just strings Trump along, flattering him and playing to his ego while making only token concessions. (Unlike Trump, the North Koreans have assuredly done their homework.)
No matter what, though, the administration will spin it as a grand achievement, like Nixon going to China. It's highly likely that the president gets rolled and doesn't even realize it.
Some 24 hours before I sat down to write, the president blew up the 70-year-old Western Alliance at the Group of 7 meeting in Quebec, hell-bent on pushing an irrational and factually inaccurate dogma that the richest country in the history of humanity has somehow been victimized by its closest allies in trade deals. He pulled out of a group statement and called Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau "very dishonest & weak" on Twitter after Trudeau said that Canada would not be pushed around by Trump's tariffs, all while essentially threatening to cut off trade, an economically disastrous notion. Then his economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, went on a Sunday morning talk show to say Trudeau "stabbed us in the back" and trade representative Peter Navarro doubled down, saying there is a "special place in hell" for people who betray Trump. As Washington Post columnist Max Boot pointed out, these are unlike any statement a U.S. official has ever made about a U.S. ally.
This came on top of Trump's plea to re-admit Russia to the G7, which booted the country after its invasion of Crimea; Putin, it seems, is getting his money's worth. Trump then compounded that comment by claiming that the people of Crimea were cool with the Russians annexing them, though – and you'll be shocked – it appears he was speaking with no basis in fact.
Trump has already removed the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, the Iran deal and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He is now threatening to blow up the North American Free Trade Agreement. He has slapped tariffs on our allies, under the laughable pretense that they are national security threats. He is despised and mocked the world over.
Where America was once a leader of the Western world, it is now increasingly alienated and alone, adrift on the whims of Trump's mercurial caprice and bitter resentments. What makes all of this worse is that Trump has shed many of the advisers who tried to rein in his worst impulses, replacing them with bottom-shelf yes men and hacks. And the only possible check on Trump's insanity, the Republican-controlled Congress, has decided to look the other way and pretend everything isn't going sideways, because they'd rather cling to their majorities in November than preserve the republic into perpetuity.
This is how empires die – slowly, rotting from within. Or maybe we've already died, and this is hell.