In his first address to the United Nations Tuesday, President Donald Trump took aim at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, calling him "rocket man," according to The Guardian, and vowed that he would "totally destroy" the country if Kim does not back down from his nuclear threats. On Thursday, Kim responded with a message of his own, during which he hurled plenty of insults Trump's way, and some of those insults are now earning praise — or, at least a giggle — on social media. But let's be clear: jokes about Kim Jong Un insulting Donald Trump really aren't funny. Although there is definitely something entertaining about seeing these men hurl childish barbs at one another, the fact is that they are both world leaders with access to nuclear weapons. And the only thing their back-and-forth exchange should really be doing is making the rest of the world feel incredibly unsettled.
Kim responded to Trump's comments in an official address Thursday, according to NBC News, in which the North Korean dictator uncharacteristically addressed the world directly and spoke in the first person. And it seemed clear that he was totally intending to rile up the easily-triggered POTUS. Kim said, according to NBC's translation:
Far from making remarks of any persuasive power that can be viewed to be helpful to defusing tension, he made unprecedented rude nonsense one has never heard from any of his predecessors. A frightened dog barks louder.
He also notably used the term "dotard" — defined by The Oxford English Dictionary as "an old person, especially one who has become weak or senile" — twice to describe Trump during his speech. According to BBC News, Kim said, "Action is the best option in treating the dotard who, hard of hearing, is uttering only what he wants to say." At the end of his speech he reiterated the insult, and said "I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire."
On social media, Kim's comments led to a surge of interest in the little-used word, and to many, it felt like the perfect burn for a POTUS who seems to really not like it when anyone attempts to make fun of him:
But as much as the name-calling might be seem like good fodder for a funny meme or tweet, there are many reasons why it's actually incredibly problematic.
For one, well, Kim has a pretty well-known history of launching racist, sexist and cruel insults at anyone he doesn't actually like. According to BBC News, Kim once referred to President Barack Obama as a "wicked black monkey," and has said that Hillary Clinton dressed like a "primary schoolgirl," and "a pensioner gone shopping." As for former South Korean President Park Geun-hye? Her Pyongyang nickname was, essentially, "the bitch." And while "dotard" may sound like a funny burn for Trump, its connotation is highly ableist: according to The New York Times, the Korean word Kim actually used was “neukdari,” which is "a common derogatory term for an old person," and suggests someone who is "lazy, useless and demented."
Unsurprisingly, it wasn't a remark that Trump was going to let slide, and on Friday morning, according to NBC News, Trump tweeted a response to Kim's comments, calling him a "madman" and promising that he would be "tested like never before."
And that is why this is all about way more than crude insults on the world stage — and why anyone who finds it funny that Kim called Trump a dotard really needs to think a little bit more "big picture" about all of this. Yes, it's kind of satisfying when anyone serves up a burn Trump's way. And it's also strangely entertaining to watch how easy it seems to be to push Trump's buttons. But we're not just talking about Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un throwing shade at one another. We are witnessing the President of the United States and the leader of North Korea escalating a situation that literally involves nuclear weapons. Their intensifying feud could have absolutely devastating consequences.
The good news though, at least, is that, along with his rocket man comment, Trump also issued a new executive order meant to strengthen economic sanctions against North Korea. According to The Telegraph, Trump's order would essentially mean that the United States would no longer do business with any countries also doing business with North Korea, which could have a huge impact on North Korea's already-limited trade economy. And, most notably, Trump said that China's central bank has actually ordered the country's banks to end their trade ties with Pyongyang, in what will likely be a crippling blow to Kim's regime.
Since well before he was elected, Trump was heavily criticized for his easy-to-anger, fly-off-the-handle demeanor — and in April 2016, Hillary Clinton famously argued that "A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons." Now that man is in charge of nuclear weapons, even though he's still being baited by tweets and TV shows and North Korean dictators.
As president, Trump now has to carry the immense burden of doing whatever he can do avoid nuclear war, despite ongoing threats by Kim Jong Un, and that will require as much of a clear head as possible. So while there are plenty of things to dislike about Trump and his infuriating policies, and plenty of things to make fun of him for, Kim's Trump burn still shouldn't be worthy of applause. In fact, when it comes to the United States and North Korea, nothing short of actual deescalation should really be considered a win.
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