Sometimes our words betray us. After a flailing defense of his past position on busing, Joe Biden declared, “My time is up. I’m sorry.” As debate moments go, this line seemed like a metaphor. A few days later, Donald Trump committed his own Kinsley gaffe. Upon becoming the first sitting U.S. president to traverse into North Korea, he declared: “Stepping across that line was a great honor.”
Did he cross a line? Self-awareness has never been his strong suit, and it was unquestionably a great honor for Kim Jong-Un.
Trump’s defenders have a valid point, at least in the abstract, about the potential benefits of stepping across lines. Protocols and traditions can become stifling or antiquated. There’s something to be said for unconventional thinking. Whether that means keeping your adversaries off balance (see Richard Nixon’s “madman theory”) or—in the other direction—breaking norms regarding preconditions (see Obama’s willingness to negotiate with Iran), presidents sometimes have to shake things up if they expect to achieve a new result.