President Trump’s enemies are expressing outrage that he saluted a North Korean general. They compare it to President Obama’s bow to the Saudi king, which Trump found objectionable, and find it far more offensive given the extraordinary odiousness of the North Korean regime.
But Trump’s salute was nothing like Obama’s bow. I’m sure you’ve seen the video of the salute, but let’s recap what happened.
Trump extended his hand to shake the general’s. The general, though, used his hand to salute Trump. The president saluted back, as the general extended his hand to Trump. Then, the two finally shook hands, as Trump had intended.
Thus, Trump was merely responding in kind to the gesture of respect paid him by the general. If the Saudi king had bowed first the Obama and Obama had bowed back, you would have some equivalence. In that event, I doubt that Trump or anyone else would have criticized the then-president.
When a military officer returns the salute of a subordinate, there is no suggestion of subservience in the returned salute. Quite the contrary. When someone bows before a king, subservience can be inferred in many cultures.
I assume that Trump’s critics understand this. Their shrill attacks on the president for returning the salute are just another manifestation of their hatred of the man.