On Sunday, Donald Trump met North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un for a photo-op handshake in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. On his own initiative, Trump crossed the line into North Korea in order to stand with Kim, becoming the first United States president to ever enter the country.
That camera-friendly movement was all Trump was looking for. Trump had highlighted his intention to visit the DMZ the previous day, inviting Kim to join him for a "handshake"; whether his entreaties were a(nother) show of administration goodwill towards the dictator or an attention-seeking move aimed at the American press is, as always, open to interpretation. Trump has been increasingly bitter about the lack of credit given to him for, after belittling the North Korean "Rocket Man" and tweeting threats of "fire and fury" on the Korean peninsula, allegedly making more progress towards peace than any president before him.
It is clear that he has settled on a negotiated settlement with North Korea as the victory that would set him above those past presidents and, at long last, demonstrate his greatness; his escalating flattery of Kim and continued push for top-level meetings in which he, personally, can be seen as the face of negotiations have in the past half-year begun to smell more strongly of desperation.
The problem for Trump is that he engages with every issue as a photo-op, a bit of self-manufactured grandeur to brighten the lives of the common rabble. From tax policies to health care to war, he shows distain for learning any but the barest details of the product he has been summoned to sell. He waltzes through each scene with the nihilistic pep of a talk show host promoting his latest sponsor, or a too-important actor popping out of his trailer to say his three lines and stomping back in again. Everything is Biggest, or Greatest, or the Most Big League. Everything is a sales pitch. Everything, all the time, is a sales pitch.
The problem for the rest of us is that Trump's obsession with the sales pitch fits extraordinarily well with the North Korean leadership's own most pressing needs. The nation's leaders seek legitimacy on the world stage that can be used to justify the hardships they demand of the rest of the nation; Trump has not only granted it, but repeatedly fallen over himself to do it. North Korea seeks pictures in which Kim Jong Un, a murderous figure who governs the entire nation as work camp, is portrayed as the equal of superpowers; Trump all but begs Kim to allow him to personally grant the favor.