I have some good news and some bad news.
The good news is that for the time being, Donald Trump is no longer threatening ‘fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen’ against North Korea.
The bad news is those four little words: ‘for the time being’. Because Mr Trump is, well, what’s the best way to describe him? Mercurial? Inconsistent? Known for, just occasionally, changing his mind from one minute to the next?
The North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, has gone from ‘rocket man on a suicide mission’, leading a regime that is ‘depraved’ and ‘twisted’, to ‘a very smart guy… a great negotiator’.
The US president clearly suffers from the delusion that his cascade of puerile insults late last year terrified the North Koreans to the negotiating table. (He said as much at his rambling, often incoherent post-summit press conference: ‘Without the rhetoric, it would not have happened.’) The truth is that Kim promised nothing significant that had not been promised before, most notably by his father in 1994, and then again in 2000, 2005 and 2007.
Ah, says Mr Trump, this time it’s different. This Kim is different to his father and grandfather, who ruled before him. Or maybe he isn’t.
Here’s my favourite post-summit Trump quote: ‘Honestly, I think he’s going to do these things. I may be wrong. I may stand before you in six months and say “Hey, I was wrong.” I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that - I’ll find some kind of excuse.’
You want more? How about this? ‘All I can say is they want to make a deal. That’s what I do. My whole life has been deals. I have done great at it. That’s what I do. I know when somebody wants to deal and I know when somebody doesn’t. A lot of politicians don’t. That’s not their thing. This could have been done a long time ago. I know for a fact. I feel very strongly. My instinct or ability or talent, they want to make it a deal. It is a great thing for the world.’
I doubt that Mr Trump will recognise the name Jang Song-thaek. He was Kim’s uncle, and he was executed in 2013 on Kim’s orders after being accused of plotting a coup. The US president probably doesn’t know who Kim Jong-nam was either – he was Kim’s estranged half-brother, who was assassinated in a poison attack at Kuala Lumpur airport early last year.
A United Nations commission of inquiry concluded in 2014 that Kim’s regime is guilty of crimes including ‘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.’
To which Mr Trump responds: ‘Hey, when you take over a country, tough country, with tough people, and you take it over from your father, I don’t care who you are, what you are, how much of an advantage you have – if you can do that at 27 years old, that’s one in 10,000 could do that…’
And when it was suggested to him that Kim had done ‘some really bad things’, he shrugged it off: ‘So have a lot of other people done some really bad things. I could go through a lot of nations where a lot of bad things were done.’
As recently as last February, in his State of the Union address, Mr Trump referred to the ‘depraved nature’ of the Kim Jong Un regime and said: ‘No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea.’ But hey, who expects consistency from the Trump White House?
According to Amnesty International, in its most recent report on North Korea: ‘Systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations continued as up to 120,000 people remained in detention… and were subjected to forced labour as well as torture and other ill-treatment. Some of the violations amounted to crimes against humanity… Many of those living in the camps had not been convicted of any internationally recognised criminal offence; they were detained arbitrarily for being related to individuals deemed threatening to the state, or for “guilt-by-association”.’
The man responsible for presiding over this horrific system is now Mr Trump’s new best friend. So much easier to do business with, it seems, than the uppity Justin Trudeau of Canada, whom the US president delighted in insulting (‘weak and dishonest’) just hours before hobnobbing with the murderous dictator of Pyongyang.
So aren’t I even a little bit pleased that Mr Trump is now schmoozing with him instead of threatening to bomb him and his country to smithereens?
Of course I am. But I still dread what might happen when he realises he’s been conned. His record does not suggest that he’s a man who handles disappointment well.
By the way, the final episode of my Future of English series was broadcast this week. You can hear it or download it, and find all previous episodes, by clicking here.