Kevin Lim/The Strait Times/Handout/Getty Images

Trump does a joking/not joking routine celebrating North Korean executions.

On Friday morning, President Donald Trump again praised North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. In the process he also made ghoulish jokes about wanting the same kind of obedience from his staff that Kim receives.

“He’s the head of the country,” Trump told Fox News. “And I mean he’s the strong head. Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention, I want my people to do the same.”

There was some controversy about whether Trump was referring to just his staff or to the American people as a whole. The context of the interview and Trump’s gestures (he points to the White House) clearly indicate he was talking about his staff.

But as important as the meaning of their words is the underlying attitude. In the same conversation, Trump made smirking reference to how Kim had fired three of his generals, adding “fired may be a nice word.” Here Trump is alluding to the fact that Kim doesn’t just dismiss his staff but also often has them executed.

As so often with Trump-style humor, comedy is used to normalize horrifying attitudes and behavior. In this case, the thrust of Trump’s jokes is to brush aside any concern for North Korea’s horrible human rights record and also suggest that Kim’s “strong” authoritarianism is worth emulating.