By Bryan Gould
It may be that we have all misinterpreted the somewhat surprising "bromance" between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. It has been all too easy to assume that it is Kim who is cosying up to Trump rather than the other way round, that it is Kim who sees himself as a supplicant and as an acolyte of the American president, and who seeks to gain some reflected glory from his association with Trump.
But recent events suggest that this is a misinterpretation of the relationship - that it is Trump who is star-struck and who seeks to learn from, and to inflate his image through, his links to his apparently junior partner.
The evidence for this is Trump's obvious keenness to emulate his North Korean counterpart in so many respects. Trump's unprecedented Independence Day military parade, for example - jets overhead and tanks rolling down the streets - seemed more typical of Pyongyang than of Washington and to have been lifted straight from the North Korean dictator's playbook.
But this surprising departure from American practice is not the only evidence of Trump's admiration of the North Korean way of doing things.
It seems clear that Trump is impressed not just by Kim himself but by the whole Kim dynasty. He seems to cast an envious and admiring eye on the Kim family's ability to perpetuate its rule from one generation to the next. This, surely, is what lies behind Trump's stated wish to remain President for an unending future, his warning that he might refuse to accept an election defeat, and his attempts to insinuate his daughter Ivanka, and other family members, into the higher reaches of world leadership.
A Trump dynasty is clearly in his sights.
The Kim regime seems to offer the American president, in addition to the glorification of military power, other useful precedents as well. Kim, Trump will have noted, does not need to worry about criticism from the media, so Trump has made persistent efforts to undermine the whole concept of a free press. He is very selective about the media outlets he is prepared to deal with and has put an end to the daily press briefings that traditionally - and essentially in a democracy -have provided the media with the opportunity to hold the executive to account.
Dictators - from Hitler onwards - have relied greatly on propaganda to sustain them in power; the "big lie" was, after all, a technique refined by the Nazi regime. Trump has learnt from Kim that people will usually believe what they are told by those in authority, and he has proved that denying the truth, using techniques such as the "photoshopping" of pictorial evidence, will allow him to provide "alternative facts" to convince his supporters.
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And Trump has registered that Kim operates under no constraints imposed by the law or by the courts; Kim simply assumes that he is above the law - the classic stance of the dictator. Trump has followed suit; he has also adopted a policy of refusing to comply with the law - and that includes the provisions of the constitution - and of providing himself with an insurance policy by stacking the court benches with his political appointments.
The evidence is overwhelming, in other words, that Trump is a would-be (albeit trainee) dictator, and that he is Kim's pupil in such matters. He does not seem to possess enough self-knowledge to realise that adopting such a subservient relationship to the Korean dictator is far from "making America great again" but has reduced the supposed "leader of the free world" to the status of a client state.
Sadly, Trump's admiration for, and subservience to the model provided by, Kim is all of a piece with his regard for other undemocratic regimes - his approval of and close relationship with President Putin of Russia, President Duterte of the Philippines and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia being obvious and recent examples.
Friends of the United States can only hope that the American people will recognise the danger they are in, and will in due course re-assert the democratic values that have underpinned the Republic for most of its existence.
Bryan Gould is an ex-British MP and Waikato University vice-chancellor