Murderous autocrats are no more a recent development than America making strategic alliances that compromise our principles. The world is a dangerous place. What is new in the Trump era is the spectacle of our own president openly admiring despots.
In December 2015, Trump defended his friend Vladimir Putin against charges of murdering critics and journalists: “He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.” In February 2017, he said, “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” In July 2017 he tweeted Poland’s Andrzej Duda, “We will fight the #FakeNews with you!” In June 2018 he said of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, “He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”
On October 2, Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He was reportedly murdered and dismembered on orders from the Saudi royal court. Trump, who has personal business with Riyadh and was himself criticized by Khashoggi, was slow to respond.
What is one vexing journalist more or less, whose thoughtful public criticism enraged his prince and whose gruesome end was apparently captured in an audio recording by the Turkish government? It is up to us what we make of it, and how much value we place on life and liberty. Our nation of ideas has become a transactional platform, its organs hollowed out like Iraqi teen Hamoudi Mutairi, recently disemboweled by a laughing brute for gender nonconformity, bleeding out and calling for his mother.
That murdered child recalls Matthew Shepard, beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die twenty years ago on a Wyoming prairie. What kind of people permit this? We fashion ourselves champions of freedom, yet we steal children from their families and make them sign away their rights. Brown and queer children don’t appear to count.
Trump gained power in a perfect storm of events: Russian hacking; voter suppression; the FBI chief publicly discussing his investigation of the Democrat while keeping silent about his investigation of the Republican; the Democrat’s overconfidence; the Republican’s skill at exploiting the worst in people. The latter included racism, sexism, and the historically privileged class’s fear of displacement. The result is the gravest threat to our republic in 150 years.
On October 11, our 45th president ignored the deadly Hurricane Michael (nature’s mockery of Florida Gov. Rick Scott for banning the term “climate change”), and the growing crisis over Khashoggi’s disappearance, in favor of an Oval Office photo op with Kanye West. Perhaps he decided to celebrate National Coming Out Day with a cautionary display of untreated mental illness. In a mad ramble beside the Resolute Desk at the heart of American power, West mentioned the lack of “male energy” in Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Trump, with plenty of male energy, scorns diplomacy’s soft power and neglects our crumbling infrastructure while building up our already bloated military force. One can be forgiven for wondering which troubled part of the world our infantile leader will make worse by launching an October Surprise. Perhaps he will rally his base and grab even more free cable news time with his own version of the Saudis’ August bombing of a bus full of Yemeni schoolchildren, itself done with American-supplied ordnance.
A man who answers imaginary Democratic mobs by provoking his own mob to chant “lock her up” at Dianne Feinstein is not above showing his resolve against terrorism with a terrorist act of his own. Saner presidents spent decades after World War II sponsoring wars, assassinations, coups, and neocolonial exploitation of the Global South in the name of winning the Cold War. Trump, unleasher of our inner demons, is a consequence of our evasion of responsibility, our refusal to see one another.
I think of Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, waiting for hours outside the consulate in Istanbul for her lover who never returned. We need to look upon these awful events to be mindful that evil walks among us. In other circumstances, the death squad’s bone saw could be meant for us. If we sleep rather than face the present threat, our turn may yet come.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2018 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.