'Rocket Man' Is a Low-Energy Nickname from a Master Insult Comic
Trump's new nickname for Kim Jong-un is a misfire.
Photo: Omer Messinger / Stringer via Getty Images
"The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea," Donald Trump said at the UN on Tuesday. "Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself."
The president is a bad, scary, and dangerous man, as evidenced by the quote above (among other things), but if there's one thing he's good at it, it's conjuring up the perfect nickname for his political enemies. So what the fuck is up with Rocket Man, his new name for Kim Jong-un?
The president's names for his foes—Crooked Hillary, Low Energy Jeb, and Liddle Marco, to name a few—are brilliant soundbites. They distill potent criticisms into a few syllables that are inevitably repeated over and over on cable news: People didn't trust Hillary Clinton; Jeb Bush lacked the sort of passion conservative voters were looking for; Marco Rubio didn't have much of a political record. In a 2016 article in the New York Times Magazine, Trump told Mark Leibovich that his ability to figure out the perfect moniker comes from pure "instinct." Leibovich observed, "Like Trump himself, these monikers have a tabloid-ready directness. They can feel almost old-fashioned, like the professional wrestling shows of days gone by."
Tagging Kim Jong-un "Rocket Man," however, is a branding failure from a guy who's usually very good at branding, if nothing else.
It's a reference, of course, to the Elton John banger that was often played at Trump's rallies, much to the chagrin of Elton John. But Trump's fandom goes way back: The future president wrote a blog post in 2005 congratulating the musician on his marriage to David Furnish: "I'm very happy for them. If two people dig each other, they dig each other. Good luck, Elton. Good luck, David. Have a great life." (Trump's byline back then referred to him as "Chairman, Trump University.")
Rocket Man, as you may have noticed, doesn't have much sting. "Why labeling Kim as Rocket Man would be an insult to Kim, who's trying to build rockets, remains unclear," observed Philip Bump at the Washington Post. Rocket Man does not reveal the simple truth behind why people don't like Kim Jong-un in the same way Low Energy Jeb so beautifully illustrated why Bush was never going to get the Republican nomination. Yes, Kim is a man who has rockets—that's the whole problem.
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