As President Trump travels the world, increasingly the message he is being sent is “We don’t want you here”. So, it only stands to reason that when Vice President Mike Pence goes somewhere in Trump’s place, he gets a similar message, and it ends up being hilarious. Pence was late to a VIP reception and dinner at the Olympics and he was so non-important that no one thought to save him a seat, so when he arrived, there wasn’t one for him. According to the Huffington Post:
Vice President Mike Pence didn’t get the VIP treatment at a VIP reception before the Winter Olympics opening ceremony on Friday. He found himself without a seat after showing up late, after the dinner started, The Washington Post’s Anna Fifield reported.
With his empty tummy rumbling, Pence was without a seat at the dinner table. Apparently Pence had made plans to divert from the VIP dinner to having dinner with U.S. athletes instead, so officials at the VIP dinner weren’t even expecting him. Whoops, slight faux pas on both sides. But before Pence left the VIP function for dinner with U.S. athletes, he had time to make one more extremely awkward move. Pence went around a table of dignitaries shaking hands one by one, until, that is, he came across Kim Yong Nam, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. According to the Huffington Post:
Pence greeted or shook hands with everyone around a table of dignitaries, except North Korea’s ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong Nam, the (Washington) Post noted. Kim was seated between United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and International Olympic Committee Chairman Thomas Bach, so the apparent snub likely created a bit of tension.
So Pence’s approach was to greet the U.N. Secretary General and the International Olympic Committee Chairman, while ignoring Kim, who was seated between them. Diplomats often greet people whose politics and policies are not their own – establishing and maintaining those relationships in order to make future communications and agreements possible is kind of the point of diplomatic functions like the VIP dinner. By ignoring Kim, Pence just comes across as juvenile and awkward. Neither Trump nor Pence seem to have the slightest idea how to be diplomatic.
Pence may have hoped he would not be in close proximity to Kim’s sister again, but no, the awkwardness went even further as Kim Yong Nam and Mike Pence were seated only a few feet apart at the opening ceremonies, as shown in the video below from CNN. CNN reports that the original seating had the two even closer, with Kim Yong Nam seated directly behind Mike Pence, but Pence was so upset about that seating plan that he insisted on moving. Pence is still only a few feet away from Nam, however, so the awkwardness is still hanging heavily in the air as a result.
South Korean leadership, on the other hand, has been polite with Kim Yong Nam, greeting her, speaking with her, and it is suggested that Kim has a message from her brother Kim Jong-un that she plans to pass along to the South Korean President, Moon Jae-in. In CNN’s report, they indicate that some people believe Kim Yong Nam’s diplomatic efforts are intended to draw a wedge between South Korea and the United States.
However, it seems completely reasonable to work out a diplomatic solution to the tensions with North Korea, for the sake of South Korea, for the sake of the United States, and for the sake of rest of the world. Instead President Trump threatens North Korea with “the button”, i.e. nuclear weapons, and engages in juvenile saber-rattling invective with North Korea’s leader via Twitter, which only serves to embolden a leader whose power is largely based on convincing his people that the United States is a threat. By continuing to act like a threat, and by increasing the volume on the threats, President Trump and Vice President Pence are just making things worse.
It’s also just plain odd, and telling, that Trump sings the virtues of one tyrannical leader, Vladimir Putin, whom he praises and hugs and against whom Trump refuses to enforce the latest round of sanctions, but then Trump appears to shut the diplomatic door on North Korea. This way of acting toward North Korea just doesn’t seem smart, but, then, neither does President Trump.
Expect more moments of Olympic awkwardness from Vice President Pence ahead. Awkwardness is big in the ham-handed Trump administration.