Alan Zendell, November 20, 2018
If you long since gave up being shocked by anything Donald Trump does, you shouldn’t be surprised at his complete indifference to the crimes of the Saudi Crown Prince. “Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, we’ll probably never know for sure,” was Trump’s reaction to the CIA’s near certainty that Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Instanbul last month.
If that triggers a feeling of déjà vu, it’s because it was the same refrain he used when the CIA told him Russia definitely hacked our 2016 election at the direction of Vladimir Putin. It was the same thing he said when Roy Moore, his favored candidate in Alabama’s special Senate election was credibly accused of assaulting teen-age girls, and when recently confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was similarly accused in sworn testimony by a California University Professor. And when several of his cabinet officers were accused of enriching themselves at the public trough, Trump was equally deaf and blind to reality.
There are two different themes at work here, the result being an unfortunate confluence of values or lack of them. One is the mantra he learned at the knee of mob lawyer and Joesph McCarthy devotee Roy Cohn: whenever you’re accused, deny, deny, deny. Whenever Trump is inconvenienced by reality, that’s what he does, secure in the knowledge that his base will agree, regardless of the evidence.
The second is the convergence of two of Trump’s campaign themes, America First and discarding political correctness. We convinced ourselves it was all bluster, but we were wrong. Trump meant every word of it. We saw it when he continually insulted our traditional allies in Europe and Canada, and when he refused to criticize the dictators who rule North Korea, The Philippines, Russia, and China.
Trump really believes America’s immediate self-interest comes ahead of everything else, and he feels no need to sugarcoat that. It’s not clear whether his tough approach to diplomacy has accomplished anything other than creating enormous turmoil in world economies and in our allies’ capitals. And it’s also not clear that what Trump perceives as America’s short-term interest is actually good for the country. There’s even less reason to believe that his view is in our long-term interest.
The latest evidence of this is the case of the Saudi Crown Prince. The media trumpets it as a conflict between traditional American values and Trump’s raw pragmatism. That’s naïve, and one thing Trump is right about is exposing that as BS. Our government has used other countries’ alleged human rights violations as excuses for actions that would otherwise have been seen as indefensible by most Americans.
I clearly recall President Lyndon Johnson justifying his expansion of the Vietnamese War as a defense of “the freedom loving people of South Vietnam.” We all knew that was crap, and Johnson might have done better using Trump’s approach, and simply declaring that the war in Vietnam was a war against Soviet and Chinese Communism. We still might have demonstrated against it, but at least he’d have been telling the truth, misguided as it may have been.
That’s basically what Trump did today. He declared that American policy doesn’t care how corrupt or criminal the Saudi Royal family is. As long as they consider Iran their mortal enemy, they are free to bomb civilians in Yemen, fund terrorism, and continue to stand in the way of Israel’s acceptance into the community of nations.
They can go on murdering their own citizens whenever it suits them, treat women like chattel, and live in obscene luxury while most of their country resides in squalor. The Saudis are not our friends, despite Trump describing them as outstanding allies, as opposed to Canada, Mexico, and the of the EU who he claims rip us off and expect us to pay for their defense with American tax dollars.
Trump applies the rule of the jungle to all situations. Human values always lose when they’re weighed against strategic benefits. Our friends are merely the enemies of our enemies. The thing is, maybe Trump is doing the country a service by looking at the world that way and dispensing with political correctness. In doing so, he’s clearly defining the political arena for 2020.
The 2018 election was a clear repudiation of the excesses of Trumpism. The 2020 election may well be a referendum on what kind of country we want to be.