The F Word Podcast: Ep.05 "North Korea, Italian Election and Populism"

South Korea goes North and Kim Jong Un agrees to meet with President Trump. Also, Italian Election update: the center-right won, but why doesn’t it feel like winning? And last, I teach you how to defeat Populism. I am Fabio and this is The F Word.

Ok, the first topic today is Italian Election.

If you followed the news you probably know that apparently, no one is happy with this election’s result.

Technically the center-right "won" the elections because they got the majority of the votes, but it was certainly more celebrated by the left. Why? Because as I predicted in last week’s podcast, the 5 Star Movement that was running as a standalone party, achieved more than 30% of the votes and dominated the states on the south. It was for sure a big Victory for the center-right, who strangled in the last weeks to form alliances in getting votes, but it was a greater victory to the neo-communists and populists from the left.

The center-right won because they were able to secure most votes with alliances and coalitions but, not a single party was able to achieve 40% of the seats and consequently, no government was formed. I mentioned this would happen last week. Now, new alliances will have to be forged in the political backstage in order to have a government capable of delivering the changes promised during the campaign.

The center-left, on the other hand, was the biggest loser. Not only lost in all states but also lost in their Headquarter Tuscany. A terrible and shameful loss for Matteo Renzi who was desperate to be back on the government.

Italy is entering a dark political period of not knowing who the Prime Minister is, and the biggest problem of this election is actually nobody winning. It’s clear that the main outcome of this election is a divided country. Italy is already divided between the north and the south, socially, economically and culturally. Now is also politically divided and nobody knows the path the country will take.

But, Enough with Italian Politics. Now it’s time for international relations. When I started preparing this podcast at the beginning of this week, I was excited about maybe one of the most important historical events in the past decade: the first meeting between North Korea supreme leader (Dictator) Kim Jong Un and South Korean officials.

As the week passed by, new developments emerged very fast in the international political scenario when Kim Jong Un agreed to meet with the president of the United States Donald Trump. And from that moment, all eyes shifted to what could be the most catastrophic peacebuilding meeting of the century. 

First, let's talk about North and South Korea's meeting. 


The meeting between the two historical rivals was for me the most significant achievement in world peacebuilding in the past decades. It was an unexpected move from South Korea officials that went to North Korea to negotiate the denuclearization of the country and end the threat of Nuke War. 

That is not what you would think looking at the photographs and official videos, shared by North Korea state media. On that pictures, you see Kim Jong Un smiling broadly during dinner, with his wife at his side, having fun and being very charismatic to the South Korea delegation and of course, to the camera. That is because everything shared by the North Koreans regime has the objective to build its image in the world news. It's part of Kim Jong Un propaganda tactics, very similar to what we saw in the past weeks during the Winter Olympic Games when beautiful, happy, charismatic and enthusiastic North Korea cheerleaders were all around the news.

Nevertheless, the South Korea achievement in diplomacy is for me the most remarkable achievement in peacebuilding negotiations in the past decade and it’s even more remarkable coming just months after North Korean testing nuclear weapons and missiles and throwing threats against Seoul and Washington. This shows how brilliant South Korea can be in diplomacy and relevant in the international community. Also, it showed how much more significant and important they are in comparison to the USA, who in recent administration was only able to exchange mean tweets with North Korea Dictator. The fact is that the USA is not the world leader or even the important political articulator it was in the 80's and 90's. It continues to be the most important military force, but it seems to have more muscle than brain recently.

Apparently, the meeting was a diplomatic success, and so that is true, that South Korean announced Kim Jong Un interest in denuclearization and to meet with the United States President Donald Trump, his so declared archenemy.

President Trump big ego promptly accepted of course, and the meeting is scheduled to take place in May. But this sudden shift of North Korea should not be seen in good faith. If you remember, just a few months ago, this is the same crazy guy, who ordered the murderer of his brother-in-law Kim Jong Nam. His brother that was later killed in Kuala Lumpur airport by VX poisoning used as a chemical weapon - chemical weapons that are banned by the Hague Declaration of 1899 and the Versailles Treaty of 1919.

In conclusion, I think South Korea was just brilliant in its move towards getting closer to North Korea especially if its objective is to denuclearize North Korea and eventually end the dictatorial regime of Kim Jong Un. Also, the Asian approach to diplomacy seems to be getting stronger and maybe becoming the neo-diplomacy to peacebuilding in the long run.

Now, regarding the UNITED STATES MEETING

I think we should see this meeting with the United States with skepticism. Yes, it is the first step forward in the past 25 years to impose a restrictive measure on Thermal Nuclear weapons with North Korea, but there are a few scenarios I believe are possible outcomes of this meeting:

  1. It is possible that North Korea is lying and not at all interested in denuclearization and maybe they just want to meet with the United States in order to win time.
  2. Another more possible and catastrophic scenario is North Korean making the most outrageous demands to denuclearization and the United States not agreeing with them. This would probably result in more mean tweets from Donald Trump, no resolution to the conflict and to create the best excuse Kim Jong Un wants: I tried to negotiate, but the USA is not willing to.
  3. North Korea meeting with Trump, being gentle, charismatic, fun and produce hours of videos and thousands of pictures to create this great show for the world news and especially for the North Korea propaganda. And, if negotiations go south, what is likely to happen, Kim Jong Un will have this incredible archive to use.
  4. Possible backstage movements of Russia, who is not interested in an alliance between North Korea and the USA. Maybe an alliance with China.
  5. Last, the most unlikely scenario is actually a move forward to create a Denuclearization Treaty that would be extremely restrictive (certainly tighter than Iran's was) in order to assure peace in the region.

We will have to wait to see what happens. I am not a pessimist, but most scenarios are not in favor of the United States and are far more beneficial to North Korea.

Our last topic this week is Populism and the reason is that I read an article this week on National Review entitled “How to defeat populism” and I decided to comment on what I think is the number one threat to democracy now: and that is Populism.

For me, Populism is this terrible plague that once dominated the world and now is now back. Reminds me of a stubborn disease, like the yellow fever, that you think you eradicated in the 20's but comes back every now and then.

In the article, they suggest 3 strategies to defeat populism, and that is exactly what we are going to talk today: How to defeat someone who defends populism.

1. Passive resistance: You Wait for populism to fall on its face.

According to the article, you may not wait long because technocratic liberalism did such a great job stigmatizing populist ideas that they are now mainly low-status bastards.  But I don't agree.

Populist ideas are stronger than ever. We've seen it happen in the past two decades in Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina and now, in a different form spreading throw-out Europe, in France and Italy. Their ideas are not only stronger, but their followers are dumber and more alienated.

Instead of waiting for populism to fall on its face, and eventually, it will, I suggest we crush it in the beginning.  That's because even though their ideas will agonize in its own failure, the results to the economy and the country could be catastrophic. Take Brazil and Venezuela as examples, two promising countries in the first decade of the century, that now are struggling with social and economic crises, and even worse, democratic and institutional crises.

2. Triangulation: Take the criticism to heart and take some of the populists’ issues on board.

This is a strategy I can agree with. It's based on adjusting liberalism in order to save it. In other words, you can compromise with populism to a certain degree, in the name of preserving democracy.

This compromise and shift of ideas are not actually a change in our principles, and at the same time may get some populists on your side. Try using their arguments in our favor.

3. Assimilate the worst features of populism in order to defeat it.

Finally, this is the best and my personal favorite tactics. You certainly know someone from the populism side who uses this tactic. They fabricate facts, generalize concepts and ideas and always prefer emotional arguments to revoke your fact-based opinion.

In this tactic, you take control of offensive, not the defensive position. That means to use their own weapons against them. If you don’t like the democratic verdict? Ignore it like they do. Or delegitimize it. Make memes celebrating our victories and their stupidity.

There are risks to each of these strategies and they may not always be applicable. You have to understand your opponent and figure out the best strategy to dismiss or persuade them to your side. You may even find a new strategy that works for you, but please, don't let non-sense and populism take away our freedom and democracy.