Dennis Rodman: In the American Grain

Dennis Rodman's sycophantic behavior toward and glowing testimonials for Korean dictator Kim Jong Un likely combine narrow self-interest with willful ignorance of the facts of Mr. Kim's brutal governance.

The condemnation by American media (for example, this article in the Washington Post) as well as the U.S. government, and other politicians, is certainly deserved. It seems, however, a bit facile and definitely obscures a far more important point. This in an opportunity to learn from, not just deplore, Dennis Rodman.

As well as being a gifted ball player, Mr. Rodman is a clown and a fool. The fool's prime social function is to hold a mirror up to the follies of the powerful, indeed, of all of us. Mr. Rodman's embrace of Mr. Kim should remind us of more dangerously consequential images of U.S. leaders embracing dictators who they knew were as brutal and unprincipled as Mr. Kim: President Eisenhower's administration supporting Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam, the Reagan administration backing Saddam Hussein with full knowledge that he gassed his people, years of bipartisan collusion with the Shah of Iran, South Africa's Apartheid government, Pinochet's Chile, etc.

The fool uses exaggeration and absurdity to teach us about ourselves. We should thank Mr. Rodman for reminding us so graphically of our long national history of teaming with tyrants, for giving us an assist in self-knowledge, and a heads up as we consider those current leaders we might draft for our side.

James S. Gordon, MD, is a Washington DC psychiatrist who works with survivors of torture.