Big Al, Big Kim and Little Don
by David Benjamin
MADISON, Wis. — It’s fashionable at the moment to discern an uncanny similarity between the “nut jobs” — one in New Jersey, the other in Pyongyang — who’ve been, for several days, pissing figuratively on one another’s shoes.
Indeed, both Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have superficial affinities. They’re both fat, they favor black suits and they have weird hair. Each is spoiled, pathologically selfish, ludicrously boastful and incapable of empathy. They’re both prone to summoning up large crowds, before whom they love to brag, wave and wallow in adulation. They’re both acquainted with Dennis Rodman, and they both have nuclear weapons at their personal disposal.
But let ’s stop there. The parallel won’t wash.
Kim waddles a straight line, leaving behind a trail of corpses. Donald Trump struts hither and thither leaving tweets, like tiny turds, in his wake.
Kim shoots his relatives when they cross him. Trump puts them on the government dole. Kim is the third in a hereditary line of ruthless mass murderers. Trump is a second-generation slumlord whose only confirmed “kill,” so far, is a luckless Navy Seal named William Owens.
Neither is a world leader in the political sense of the word. But Kim is something genuine and scary. He’s a gangster. Trump is not.
Like Baby Face Nelson, Kim seems unassuming, even somewhat comical, but he’ll gut you like a bass on a slab if you so much as wink at his sister. Trump, on the other hand, will invite to feel up his daughter.
In Trump’s defense, there’s no question that he has made sincere overtures to the wise-guy underworld. His career in three colossally corrupt industries — real estate, casinos and Republican politics — has afforded him ample occasion to rub shoulders with the Mob. But Big Don is more Fredo than Sonny, more Wilmer than Spade.
Trump doth protest so much against Kim because he’s jealous. Kim, at age 32, is the Godfather Trump will never be, even though he’s president of the friggin’ USA. Trump looks around and sees a world full of gangsters — el-Sisi in Egypt, Erdoğan in Turkey, Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Duterte in the Philippines and the capo de capos of ‘em all, Vladimir Putin. All these goodfellas are merrily putting out contracts on their political foes and snickering at Trump because he’s not allowed to kill Bob Mueller.
The true capo creates an atmosphere of unrelenting, oppressive fear. There is a sense about him that, in the midst of ordinary routine and happy fellowship, he will suddenly explode with rage and decide that someone, or some family, some city or perhaps the entire population of Illinois must be mowed down with machine guns, starved to death or beheaded with chainsaws. Afterwards, the body (or bodies) should just lay there, baking in the sun and gnawed by dogs, as a lesson.
Kim Jong Un learned this teaching style from his dad and grandfather. North Korea is a mosaic of mass graves. Kim launched his reign by killing — perhaps using the eeny-meeny-miny-mo method— a bunch of generals, including his uncle. When you see Kim today in a photo joshing with his generals, your best guess is that they’re laughing to keep from crying.
In February, Kim ordered the murder of his brother, in public, with VX gas. Addio, Fredo!
Kim, in sum, is a tough act to match. The best Trump can do, by comparison, is a string of dead casinos on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. Up to now, Trump has yet to snuff even a second cousin. Sad.
Like Trump and Kim, many of our best gangsters have been showoffs. John Gotti was a dapper dresser. Bugsy Siegel loved to shmooze with the press. Putin rides horses with his shirt off. It’s a tradition among mob kingpins to thumb their noses at their worst enemies. For Big Al, it was the FBI. For Putin and Kim, it’s the United States.
For Trump, it’s… no, really? Sidney Blumenthal?
The common thread in all this macho display, however, is that a great gangster only puts his money where his mouth is when he knows he’s already won the pot. For all his bluster, Capone never slapped leather, head-to-head, against the Treasury Department. He knew the FBI was bigger and more powerful than the Chicago mob.
For similar reasons, strangely enough, we can trust Kim Jong Un. He might rattle his sword at Seoul, threaten to nuke Guam, daydream about raining fire on California, but he’ll never do anything to imperil his perch atop his petty little throne in the heart of Slobbovia. Kim might be a grubby little tinpot dictator who looks like the ugliest stuffed character in the toy store window, but he knows exactly how big his britches are.
Like any gangster, he knows how tenuous his dominion, how many others covet his crown, how disloyal are his truest, dearest boon companions, and how one act of bravado or one sign of hesitancy can bring it all down.
Kim has seen the photos of Mussolini strung up in the square like a side of beef. He has read of Capone exiled to Alcatraz. He has watched Warren Beatty blown to bits at the end of Bugsy.
Remember his first presidential trip to Europe. He was standing in a group as new French president Emmanuel Macron approached. Macron seemed poised to reach out and shake Trump’s hand. But at the last minute, gotcha! Macron veered from Trump and rushed to kiss German chancellor Angela Merkel, who happens to be Trump’s worst foe in all of Europe.
WWBAD? What would Big Al do? Or Joe Stalin? Michael Corleone?
Any one of those guys would have all made sure the snotty little Frog was sleeping with the fishes by midnight.
So, WDTD? What was his revenge for this disrespect from a lesser capo? Did Big Don fit Macron for a pair of concrete overshoes. Did he come to the black-tie dinner and splatter Frenchie’s brains with a Louisville Slugger?
(Sigh.) No. All he did, next day, was start up a sit-down, photo-op wrist-wrestling contest with the snotty little Frog.
Guess who won.