Donald Trump has Jamal Khashoggi’s blood on his hands.
It’s not just his initial indifference to the US-based Saudi journalist’s disappearance in Istanbul, nor the president’s indifference toward human rights abuses, not his obsequiousness toward the Saudis, nor a transactional approach to foreign policy that puts the “deal” ahead of any principle.
And it’s not just because the Saudi king “vehemently” denied any role in the reporter’s disappearance or because the president offered him a possible “excuse,” saying it was probably “rogue killers.”
Any of those would have been enough to signal this president’s guilt. Dayenu.
Trump is an enabler.
His intensifying war against the press may play well at campaign rallies with his most ardent supporters, but it poses a grave threat to the constitutional principles that have been core values of American conservativism, as well as the progressive movement. And that war may already have had tragic consequences.
Did Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS) feel his friend in the White House, who puts business deals above human rights, would understand his decision to send a hit squad to Istanbul to silence a reporter and constant critic?
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If Trump likes you, he buys your excuses at face value. He used virtually the same language to say he believed Vladimir Putin’s denial of election meddling, Roy Moore’s denial of pedophilia and Brett Kavanaugh’s denial of sexual assault. And now he’s vouching for MBS.
Trump was right about one thing he said on 60 Minutes this week. “You’ll be surprised to hear me say that there’s something really terrible and disgusting about... [killing] a reporter.” It is a surprise because Trump has done more than any predecessor to incite hatred of the press.
And most of all because it comes from the commander-in-chief in the war on the First Amendment to the US Constitution (you know the one with those pesky guarantees of freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition) and journalists, whom he repeatedly condemns as “enemy of the American people,” his cheerleaders at Fox News being the exception.
In one of his tweets, Trump charged the media can “cause war” and are “very dangerous & sick.”
Robert Darrell Chain took Trump’s call to arms seriously. He was arrested by the FBI in August for making more than a dozen death threats against Boston Globe staffers after their paper led a national call to uphold freedom of the press.
“You’re an enemy of the people.” (Wonder where he got that phrase.) “And we’re going to kill every f---ing one of you,” Chain threatened.
“As long as you keep attacking the President... in the continuation of your treasonous and seditious acts, I will continue to threats (sic), harass and annoy The Boston Globe
... [and] other fake news,” one recorded call allegedly stated.
observed that “Trump’s loathing for honest scrutiny has lethal implications.”
Trump and his acolytes can’t run a vicious and continuing campaign against the media and then proclaim innocence and surprise when their audience turns violent.
Trump uses his political rallies and his Twitter account to shout fire in a crowded theater. He told one crowd, referring to the mainstream media, “They can make anything bad because they are fake, fake disgusting news.”
“FAKE NEWS” is Trumpspeak for news he doesn’t like. The more truthful it is in reality, the more “fake” it is in Trump’s eyes.
Trump’s attacks on reporters at his rallies encourages hostility, at times leading to threatening encounters with his supporters.
The non-partisan Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) declared Trump “an unprecedented threat to the rights of journalists... around the world.” He has “insulted and vilified the press.”
He has mocked a disabled reporter, called another a “sleaze” during a press conference, ejected one for asking an “impertinent” question, and refused to condemn attacks on journalists by his supporters.
He seemed disinterested in the Khashoggi case when it was first reported, saying the guy wasn’t an American citizen and, besides, his murder didn’t happen in the US. Actually, the journalist was an American resident because it was not safe to return to his own country, but why should that matter?
Trump has been known to order White House aides to punish reporters who asked questions he didn’t like, considered “inappropriate” or not deferential enough. He has ended daily news briefings, which isn’t much of a loss since press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s credibility level is near zero.
“Trump’s reckless shenanigans” are seen abroad as “a green light for repression,” opined The Guardian.
CPJ reported that hundreds of journalists have been jailed for doing their job around the world. The worst offenders are Turkey, China and Egypt. Most were arrested for reporting on human rights violations, an issue not on the Trump agenda.
Khashoggi’s seizure and attempted rendition could not have been possible without the knowledge and approval of the crown prince. There must be an independent investigation of the case, a job both the Saudis and Trump administration are not qualified to do.
A man who has proven to be a pathological liar cannot be trusted to find the truth about Khashoggi, nor is he a qualified critic of the media. Trump’s real goal is not truth but to prevent the truth from coming out by discrediting the media and branding all he doesn’t like as “fake news.”
Trump leaves no doubt he will not permit the Khashoggi murder to threaten the $110-billion arms sale he claims to have negotiated, even though that turns out to be a real piece of fake news.
The New York Times and Washington Post report that there really isn’t a deal. The number is wildly exaggerated and misleading; there are no new contracts; it includes deals signed during the Obama administration (some finalized this year); and if it comes to fruition, contracts and delivery are far into the future.
But deal or no deal, Trump is willing to overlook the murder of a journalist in the name of protecting an arms sale that will allow the Saudis to continue their brutal war in Yemen, using American weapons to bomb civilian targets and create a humanitarian disaster. After all, he explained, if we don’t arm them, others will and our companies will lose business. Better to sacrifice unknown Yeminis – and a well-known journalist whose criticism of that war was a thorn in the royal backside – than corporate profits.
All of that is an affront to the core values of American democracy – and one more symptom of a morally disastrous presidency.The writer is a syndicated columnist, lobbyist and consultant who spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). firstname.lastname@example.org
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