A drone! Miami Beach! A water slide! Sly Stallone! Machu Picchu! (Macchu Picchu?)
Those are only a few of the many, many images that flit by as you watch a four-minute video created by the Trump administration (specifically, the National Security Council), which the White House posted to its Facebook page Wednesday morning.
The video — extolling the virtues of international cooperation between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — was shown to Kim by Trump himself, on an iPad toward the end of their Tuesday summit in Singapore.
It’s … not subtle.
The video consists entirely of rapidly edited stock footage (Clouds! Power lines! City at night! Orchestra! Little girl in wheat field at sunset!) while a narrator extols the virtues of international cooperation and lays out the grim consequences of its absence (Missiles launching! Empty store shelves!). Rhetorical questions are asked. Superlatives unleashed.
“The light of prosperity and innovation” gets a shout-out. Ditto “the light of hope,” which, much like the light of prosperity and innovation, “can burn bright.”
The video presents itself as a trailer for a nonexistent movie produced by “Destiny Pictures” (get it?), but it’s really an extended piece of propaganda engineered to persuade Kim to “shake the hand of peace.” (There is a real Destiny Pictures, by the way, in California. The company says it had nothing to do with the video.)
I asked NPR National Security Correspondent David Welna to help me determine whether the video sheds any meaningful light on the two world leaders who figure so prominently in it, and what it may suggest about the Trump administration’s approach to foreign policy.
Glen Weldon: David, I’ll kick this off by noting, as a movie critic, that this trailer is … pretty lousy, as trailers go. The narration is ham-fisted, repetitive and riddled with clichés and there are shots that just leave you staring, mouth agape. What’s your take on it, on a purely aesthetic level?
David Welna: This strikes me as a kind of storybook fable, with lots of pictures. It’s a mashup of images in striking colors of a world of cars, crowds, postcard landmarks and then Trump and Kim themselves, shown in commanding shots. Then it all gets dark and nasty, with black-and-white shots of soldiers, warships and a menacing jet fighter. The message seems to be, “That’s the world you’ll be stuck with, pal, if you don’t make the right choice here.” Then, as if that right choice had been made, we see missiles launching in reverse, the rockets sucked back onto their launchpads, along with images of bright skies. “The future,” the narrator concludes, “remains to be written.”
Weldon: Is it possible to glean anything from the Trump administration’s thinking here? I mean, clearly Trump assumed this approach — promises of prosperity, etc. — could sway Kim.
Welna: I’m not sure if Trump had this video made to be an ace up his sleeve at his Singapore meeting with Kim, should things not go well and the power of video — in which Trump is a firm believer — could be brought to bear. Trump waited to show it to Kim and his aides until the talks were ending, as a kind of a favor. The message seemed to be that all these wonderful things you see in the video can be yours, too. Here’s an excerpt of the narration:
Will this leader choose to advance his country and be part of a new world? Be the hero of his people? Will he shake the hand of peace and enjoy prosperity like he has never seen? A great life? Or more isolation? Which path will be chosen?
Weldon: It’s propaganda, and certainly the U.S. has a long history, through entities like USAID and Voice of America, of producing content that promotes the American way of life. How does this odd thing slot into that history, if it does at all?
Welna: It does feel a bit retro — Trump even referred to it as a “tape.” This is good, old-fashioned government advertising reformatted for the digital age. The video’s opening shot has the words “A Destiny Pictures Production” superimposed on the image of a turquoise mountain lake. But this is, in fact, a product of the White House’s own National Security Council, “to help the president demonstrate the benefits of complete denuclearization, and a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Korean Peninsula,” as an NSC spokesman put it.
In intelligence and military circles, this video might be seen more as a psychological operations, or psy-ops, maneuver — a selection of images and information crafted to influence emotions, objective reasoning and ultimately the choices people make.
Weldon: The odd thing — well, one odd thing — is that the kind of trailer it’s imitating hasn’t been made in a decade or so. That “voice of God” narrator has gone the way of the dodo. As your editor mentioned, it feels a lot more like a Trump real estate video, right?
Welna: There certainly is a Trumpian feel to the video, though we don’t know how much of a hand he had in it, if any. But if you listen to a promotional video Trump did with his children Ivanka and Eric a few years ago to sell units in a Trump Tower being built in Manila, there’s that same bombastic, superlative-heavy tone.
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Weldon: Is it possible that Trump might be projecting here? That this kind of gambit is something he’d find appealing, or convincing, so he figured it’d work on him. Does that scan?
Welna: That’s entirely possible. Trump seems endlessly transfixed by TV, especially when he’s the topic, and this video gives double billing to Trump and Kim as the leading men. Trump also seems to believe in the magic of envy, of making people want something they don’t have because someone else has it. In this case, it’s the promise of the wealthy world showcased by the video. Whether Kim’s going to be swayed by any of that, of course, is another question. His vice minister of foreign affairs put out a nasty statement last month belittling the U.S. for thinking North Korea would ever trade its nukes for American economic support.
Weldon: Are you looking forward to seeing what’s next? Trailers for Trade Tariffs: The Movie? Or Tax Reform 2: The Secret of the Ooze?
Welna: Perhaps one whose target is closer to home: Mr. Mueller, the Time has Come to Choose.