President Trump is fond of nicknames. Just ask "Lyin' Ted," "Little Marco," or "Low Energy Jeb." Clearly, earning a nickname from Trump is no sign of friendship, so North Korea's Kim Jong Un shouldn't take it as a compliment, either. On Tuesday, Trump labeled Kim "Rocket Man" at his UN General Assembly speech, repeating the nickname he first coined on Twitter over the weekend.
The "Rocket Man" reference comes from Elton John's famous hit of the same name, with lyrics told from the perspective of an astronaut slowly losing it stuck in outer space. Some could certainly stretch the song's meaning to apply to Kim, but the better bet is that Trump's "Rocket Man" pet name is derived from Kim's military ambitions. The "Supreme Leader" of North Korea has been pursuing nuclear-armed weapons, and recently launched two ballistic missiles that flew over Japan.
The most recent of those missiles traveled a distance equivalent to that separating North Korea from Guam, a tactical choice that is not likely a coincidence. Guam is a U.S. territory hosting a large military base, and would be the nearest American target for Kim to go after, should he choose to deploy nuclear weapons against the United States.
During the Republican primaries, Trump used nicknames as a way to brand opponents into a corner. According to Trump, once an assigned moniker sticks in the brain, it becomes very difficult for those who have heard it to forget it — and almost impossible for the hapless recipient of the nickname to overcome. Perhaps no one withered under this campaign tactic worse than Jeb Bush, whose "low energy" assignation suddenly seemed to countless voters the perfect explanation for much about the former governor's public style. And one question inevitably followed: who would want to vote for a "low energy" president?
Trump first floated his idea for how to dub Kim on his favorite medium for expression of all kinds — Twitter. Over the weekend, Trump sent up the test balloon of his newly minted nickname for the 33-year-old leader of North Korea. Referencing Kim as more of a side story than the subject itself, Trump suggested gas lines in North Korea were bad news for "Rocket Man," aka Kim.
Some commentators are not pleased that Trump is striking such a cavalier tone about the threat of nuclear war Kim Jong-un regularly provokes. For New York's Daily Intelligencer, Benjamin Hart adopts a mock-adoring tone to "celebrate" the day Trump tweeted out his "Rocket Man" Kim burn, along with retweeting a user going by the handle "fuctupmind" to show the "magic of video editing" that allows for a depiction of Trump hitting a golf ball that then slams Hillary Clinton in the back hard enough to knock her over.
"Today, once and for all, is the day Donald Trump truly became president," Hart ends his piece; the reader is encouraged to arrive at their own opposite conclusion.
Susan B. Glasser, POLITICO's chief international affairs columnist, spoke with Admiral Dennis Blair and U.S. diplomat Christopher Hill, two men who have real world experience in dealing and negotiating with North Korea. Glasser writes that their "answers are reassuring" when it comes to questions about an increased nuclear threat from North Korea. However, both Blair and Hill cited deep concern over the way Trump himself is disrupting the delicate game of international diplomacy with a hostile foreign adversary like Kim. In particular, Hill told POLITICO:
We used to be the strong, silent type on all of this crazy rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang, and we were the models of restrained, careful statements, and that’s not the style of this president.
Tweeting and speech-making about "Rocket Man" represents a radical departure from that old mode of negotiating.