In Defense of the Citizen
In February, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un met in Hanoi, Vietnam to discuss the potential for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, and to negotiate the conditions under which such an agreement could be reached. The talks, however, ended inconclusively, with neither side coming to a consensus on how to best move forward. In a press conference after the summit, a reporter questioned President Trump’s explicit claims of friendship with Kim, particularly in light of the horrific treatment of Otto Warmbier. Trump quickly denied Kim’s involvement in the process, claiming he, along with other top North Korean officials, were entirely ignorant of the situation. While it is certainly not the intention of the Editorial Board to downplay the significance of the issues discussed at the summit, we would be remiss in not calling to attention the gravity of Trump’s willingness to “forgive and forget” North Korea for the senseless torture, and effective murder, of Otto Warmbier — an act that undeniably devalues the life of an American, and undermines the foundation of democracy, the citizen.
What does it mean to be a citizen? The United States Code outlines who may become a citizen (and the circumstances that allow it), and various founding documents guarantee citizens certain rights, but these alone fail to consider the totality of what the citizen truly is. The citizen is the medium by which and for which a government exists. The citizen exchanges unlimited liberty for guaranteed liberties. The citizen is called upon to pay for the government, and to die for it if need be. Citizenship is not a set of rights and responsibilities, but a state of being in which one is necessarily an equal part of a greater whole. States are not singular actors comprised of leaders and public figures, but of people bound together, whether by circumstance or choice, in a collective, mutually responsible citizenry.
Through his equivocation on behalf of Kim Jong-un, President Trump sent a very clear message to the American public — that the citizen owes the government everything, and that the government owes the citizen nothing. To be clear, this is not to say that the full might of the United States military should have been unleashed on North Korea on behalf of Otto Warmbier, but rather, to ask what should be a straightforward question. If the citizen being imprisoned and tortured to death does not prompt the President of the United States to take a robust stance against those responsible, then what will?