By Penny Smith
One day there is going to be a summit. And then there’s not. No, wait, wait, after an exchange of biting comments, delayed responses and letters (one 8½x11 size and one, judging from the envelope, bigly), there will be a summit. So, cue that Nobel Prize endorsements again; our Peacemaker is on his way to Singapore to have a meet-up with the Supreme Leader. Hurrah, hurrah! What could go wrong?
As analysts parse the back and forth between the two participant camps and record the angst among our allies and theirs, I have, you’ll be pleased to know, uncovered the real reason for the resumption of talks. It’s all about the commemorative coins.
My father had, now I have, a taped together chain of money (some American currency, some wartime script, some Korean and Japanese notes – well over five feet of it) from World War II. Each bill is autographed by the people with whom my father served during that particular deployment or event. Apparently that was a common practice in the 1940s-1950s and, I assume, similar ropes of paper currency are moldering in attics throughout America.
Another military trophy is the challenge coin. There are a number of stories about how the practice began: World War II; No, maybe World War I. What about portrait coins in medieval Europe, would they count? And then there are some reward coins that date back to the Roman army. It’s not one of those clear origin stories. But what is certain is that challenge coins became and continue to be part of military morale building. You got one for doing something valuable or for belonging to something important. There are even bar games involving challenging someone to produce his (rarely her) “challenge” coin and winning a free round of drinks if the coin is MIA.
When something becomes collectible, people generally do at least two things: Collect them and ensure a steady supply, so collections can get bigger. Today, for example, most Executive Branch departments produce challenge coins, so it’s no longer simply a military thing. That means there are a lot more out there to accumulate. I even have one from Homeland Security, a present from a doctoral student who’s employed there. Scott Pruitt, he of the multiple scandals, thought them so important that he tried to redesign the EPA challenge coin by suggesting the deletion of the EPA logo.
It should come as no surprise that the White House also issues such collectibles. They had one minted prior to dancing to the On Again, Off Again Summit Polka with North Korea. One side shows profiles of President Trump (very Mao-like rigidity) and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un (new double chins added and that title) against their countries’ flags on one side and the White House, Air Force One and “Visit of the President” on the other.
These had been available for preorder at the White House gift shop for some time, commemorating an event in the planning, not actual, stage. The coin design garnered so much criticism that the White House publicly disavowed having anything to do with its manufacture, an unlikely reality given our President’s image-consciousness and publicity needs. However, the White House did like it enough to promote the presales. I’ve decided its pre-summit existence and the heady talk about peace prizes are really the main reasons for resumption of a formal meeting – that and maybe the need to have a Trump Tower in Singapore.
My conjecture seems as sensible as some of the media-driven suggestions I’ve heard this past week. After all, the coins are already minted. No one wants to replicate the WIN campaign fiasco experienced by President Ford. Remember, somewhere in a lost warehouse, possibly with Waldo, there are millions of those Whip Inflation Now buttons. Moreover, those pins were nowhere near as nice or as pricey as the Summit Challenge/Commemorative Coins.
So, for the sake of jobs (keep those minters minting), a meaningful end for an already existent coin trove, and another opportunity to spread his name throughout the world, The Donald relented and decided to attend a meeting in spite of not really knowing any of the particulars about Korean history, the Korean War (still on-going technically), the efficacy of sanctions, the feelings of our allies in the region, and the norms of international diplomacy. It’s now all about attitude, not preparation, and he has, bless him, an attitude.
Or maybe he did it to see what happens when John Bolton is in the same room with the Supreme Leader. Or because it provides Trump and his tribe a diversion from what should be a disastrous and embarrassing G7 meeting in Canada, the home of our northern neighbor who, according to our President, “burned down the White House” in the War of 1812. Or because he likes beachfront property. Or because it knocks Stormy Daniels out of the news cycle. Or because he likes authoritarian men, although the North Korean leader does not have the admirable physique that President Putin likes to display. Or because he had nothing on his calendar that day. Or because someone suggested he needed to quit obsessing on the Mueller Investigation and look Presidential.
I think he just wanted to hand out those neat coins. They’re so like the decoder rings one could order from the back pages of comic books in the 1950s. MAGA!
Another Pesky Aside: The meeting will take place on the island of Sentosa, which also houses a Universal Studios theme park and a Madame Tussauds waxworks. It’s touted as a place eerily akin to tourist-heavy portions of Florida, so our President should feel at home. There’s probably even a McDonalds there for midnight snacking. “Sentosa” literally means “peace and tranquility.” See any irony there?