US President Donald Trump isn’t exactly known for his modesty, so a commemorative coin depicting the 45th president of the United States shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. In fact, such souvenir – or “challenge” – coins have become commonplace when any president travels abroad.
But the latest offering from the White House Communications Agency stands out as odd for a number of reasons; the most notable being its depiction of a known murderous dictator and the fact that it’s celebrating an event that hasn’t even happened yet.
Recognising the upcoming June 12 summit between the US and North Korea, the coin shows Kim Jong Un – referred to as “Supreme Leader” on the coin – staring face to face with Trump.
Given that Kim oversees one of the most repressive authoritarian states in the world and has actively intensified repressive measures since he took power, it is a strange and unsettling sight to see him celebrated in such a manner.
The other glaring problem is that the “peace talks” that the coin is supposedly commemorating haven’t even happened yet and are far from guaranteed to go ahead.
After North Korea threatened to pull out of the talks last week, saying the US will have to “undertake careful deliberations about the fate” of the summit, the dialogue surrounding the summit has been shaky at best.
As it becomes evident that South Korea may have oversold Pyongyang’s willingness to negotiate with the US, the hopes for a fruitful outcome – or in fact any outcome at all – have been floundering.
Just today, US Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News that Trump was willing to “walk away” from the talks.
Even if it were to go ahead, the outcomes are unlikely to be worthy of a victory lap. The rushed approach and seeming lack of preparation on behalf of the president makes a complete bust or, worse yet, a worsening of ties a likely possibility, according to North Korea expert Robert Kelly, who has been scathing of the talks on Twitter.
“If you minored in a social science in college, you are more prepared to negotiate with the North Koreans than the American president,” one tweet reads.
So basically, if you minored in a social science in college, you are more prepared to negotiate with the North Koreans than the American president…
My enthusiasm for Singapore is boundless… https://t.co/tH4ERtD6SD
— Robert E Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly) May 18, 2018
Kelly is also no fan of the novelty coin itself – and he’s not alone.
Experts, rights activists, and everyday netizens took to social media to question the propriety of the latest mint.
“This is just gross. Whose personality cult exactly is this summit legitimizing?” Kelly said, calling the coin “un-American.”
Are you kidding me?! This is just gross. Whose personality cult exactly is this summit legitimizing? This is un-American. Can’t imagine what Fox would say if any other POTUS did this. Wow. Just wow. https://t.co/rn79W4RWO9 via @voxdotcom
— Robert E Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly) May 22, 2018
Editor of Think Progress, a US-based political news site, Judd Legum called the coin “weird” and said the summit had “gone completely off the rails.”
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) May 21, 2018
Others questioned how Republicans and pundits would have reacted it if had been former-president Barack Obama on the coin rather than Trump.
OMG OMG OMG. Substitute Obama's name for Trump's. Could you imagine if Obama had put his head on a coin w/a dictator, on the taxpayers' dime, for "TALKS"? https://t.co/ButtX30kRf
— WaterBluSky (@MsMariaT) May 21, 2018
As Pyongyang gets set to close down its nuclear test site tomorrow, and with so much to consider in the lead up to June’s historic talks, focusing on an ill-considered coin may seem petty. But the early victory lap, Trump’s seeming desperation for the summit to be a success, and Kim’s shining face staring into the eyes of a sitting US president has given the once-pariah dictator a legitimacy he has so long craved.