Trump, Kim, and the War of Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with President Donald Trump on the second day of the G7 summit on June 9th, 2018, in Charlevoix, Canada.

Donald Trump may not be eloquent with words, but as a former television star, he is acutely aware of the power of imagery.

Most Americans have only a fuzzy notion of what transpired at the two summits Trump attended this week—one with the leaders of the world’s major democracies in Toronto, the other with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Media coverage of both summits has been largely negative, focusing on the discord in Canada and the vagueness of the agreement with North Korea. Our self-proclaimed deal-maker president appears to have alienated the United States’ allies and made concessions to a leading enemy without getting anything in return.

But that’s the substance (or lack thereof). What do this week’s images convey? Pacific Standard asked William Howell, chair of the political science department at the University of Chicago. In a working paper posted online at the end of December, Howell argued, “When presidents perform public rituals, pictures matter far more than what is actually said.”

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