Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Hypocrisy and History in the Age of Trump

To hear the establishment media tell it, you'd think that Donald Trump was the only president in American history ever to have extended a friendly hand to a murderous foreign autocrat.

According to the critics, Trump relies upon his primitive reptile brain rather than upon his cerebral cortex whenever he performs foreign policy. When Trump reaches out to The Philippines' dastardly Rodrigo Duterte, he's being stupid and naive. When, on the other hand, Barack Obama sold Saudi autocrats billions of dollars in weapons with which to to kill innocent Yemenis, he was being coolly pragmatic. When Obama played a genial round of golf in Hawaii with Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak, and later whitewashed that strongman's abysmal record of graft and human trafficking, he did so for the intelligent altruistic purpose of raking in more profits for multinational corporations via the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He didn't do it to build a hotel with his name on it.

So the Washington Post approvingly gushed about Obama's Christmas golf course diplomacy with the corrupt Malaysian leader in 2014,
Obama has established perhaps a better working relationship with Najib, after making the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to Malaysia in nearly half a century last spring. It was unlikely they had an in-depth discussion of their foreign policy agendas on the course, however, but perhaps focusing instead on trying to avoid the sand traps.
In a statement, the White House said: "The two leaders took the opportunity to discuss the growing and warming relationship between the United States and Malaysia.  The president said he looked forward to working with Prime Minister Najib in 2015, during Malaysia's chair year of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations."

 Obama's hypocrisy (in removing Malaysia from the list of the world's worst human traffickers based solely on Razak's shallow promise to try to cut back on all those shallow graves) bothered Democratic Party officials only insofar as the "optics" of it might endanger their future electoral prospects.

According to a 2015 leaked email sent to Hillary Clinton's campaign director by one of her operatives, it wasn't the fate of hundreds of Malaysian sex trafficking victims that bothered them. It was the possible "backlash" from labor groups. Or, so their cerebral cortices alerted them.

Of course, now that Donald Trump is himself calling Najib Razak "one of my favorite prime ministers," the righteous critics are getting very worried about the relationship. Trump even had the temerity to partner with Najib in a game at his New Jersey golf course several years ago.

There's plenty to criticize Trump for, of course, but the growing hysteria over his diplomatic efforts fairly reeks of hypocrisy on steroids. Methinks that those gleefully mocking Trump's ignorance of American history should probably take a refresher course in that subject themselves.

"Trump's 'Very Friendly' Talk With Duterte Stuns Aides and Critics Alike," blares the New York Times headline. As Mark Landler explains:
During their “very friendly conversation,” the administration said in a late-night statement, Mr. Trump invited Mr. Duterte, an authoritarian leader accused of ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in the Philippines, to visit him at the White House.
Now, the administration is bracing for an avalanche of criticism from human rights groups. Two senior officials said they expected the State Department and the National Security Council, both of which were caught off guard by the invitation, to raise objections internally.
It's a good thing the bureaucrats aren't raising objections over the United States' own policy of extrajudicial drone killings conducted under the last three presidents. It might make them seem  ignorant of history and hypocritical at the same time. 
“By essentially endorsing Duterte’s murderous war on drugs, Trump is now morally complicit in future killings,” said John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. “Although the traits of his personality likely make it impossible, Trump should be ashamed of himself.”

Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Twitter, “We are watching in real time as the American human rights bully pulpit disintegrates into ash.”
Trump has a personality disorder, whereas Barack Obama and George W. Bush were both perfectly sane as they not only bombed thousands of innocent people to death, but perpetuated America's own murderous war on "drugs" -- meaning, of course, the war on drug-takers. This includes using the CIA to funnel weapons to drug cartels as well as ensuring that poor people became addicted to drugs, the better to criminalize them and to imprison them.

And Senator Murphy should definitely read Stephen Kinzer's excellent new book about the birth of American imperialism (The True Flag) before he bloviates about human rights. It was Theodore Roosevelt, the inventor of the term "bully pulpit," who after the illegal US attack on The Philippines in 1898, subsequently oversaw the massacre of more than two thousand innocent Filipinos just for the sheer jingoistic enjoyment of it. And it was President Bill Clinton who, selectively forgetting history himself, posthumously awarded Roosevelt the Medal of Freedom.

But never mind all that, because the Times is not done ginning up its selective outrage quite yet:
It is not even clear, given the accusations of human rights abuses against him, that Mr. Duterte would be granted a visa to the United States were he not a head of state, according to human rights advocates.
Still, Mr. Trump’s affinity for Mr. Duterte, and other strongmen as well, is firmly established. Both presidents are populist insurgent leaders with a penchant for making inflammatory statements. Both ran for office calling for a wholesale crackdown on Islamist militancy and the drug trade. And both display impatience with the courts.
So I guess that means that no more Saudi kings and other autocrats will ever be welcome upon our exceptional shores in the future, right?  Of course that's not what the Times is getting at, not at all. Their beef is that past presidents and their chosen (subservient and cooperative) global buddies are more proficient at protocol and politesse. Normal presidents never make inflammatory statements as they go about their killing sprees. They are very careful to manipulate their silverware correctly at state dinners, and to blandly use all the proper nouns and verbs when making public statements. When American presidents want to ignore the Constitution, they're not supposed to say so right out loud. Instead, they have their lawyers draft secret memos and opinions which allow the extrajudicial atrocities. Or, they go very circumspectly to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to get the necessary rubber stamps for whatever they want to get away with... far away from public scrutiny and accountability.

 The Times article persistently plods ahead:
Mr. Trump has drawn the line with one autocrat: President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whose chemical weapons strike on his own people prompted the American president to order a Tomahawk missile strike on a Syrian airfield.
But Mr. Trump’s affinity for strongmen is instinctive and longstanding. He recently called to congratulate President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on his victory in a much-disputed referendum expanding his powers, which some critics painted as a death knell for Turkish democracy.
Never mind that there is as yet no concrete evidence that Assad ever ordered a chemical weapons strike. All that matters is that deep within the reptilian part of his primitive brain, Trump has an instinctive love for strongmen. Every democracy he touches turns into lead.

The affinity of American presidents for foreign strongmen is nothing new. Franklin Roosevelt, a president who also occasionally acted on instinct, was a big fan of Benito Mussolini before World War II spoiled the camaraderie. Il Duce congratulated FDR on his 1932 victory. And,Historian Mark Weber writes,
President Franklin Roosevelt expressed admiration for the Italian leader, and sent him cordial letters. In June 1933, Roosevelt praised Mussolini in a letter to an American envoy: “... I am much interested and deeply impressed by what he has accomplished and by his evidenced honest purpose of restoring Italy and seeking to prevent general European trouble.” In another letter a few weeks later, the President wrote: “I don't mind telling you in confidence that I am keeping in fairly close touch with the admirable Italian gentleman.”
Mussolini's regime received particularly warm praise from America's business leaders. In his 1972 work, Prof. Diggins writes (pp. 146-47): "With few exceptions, the dominant voices of business responded to Fascism with a hearty enthusiasm. Favorable editorials, could be read in publications such as Barron's, Journal of Commerce and Commercial Bulletin, Commerce and Finance, Nation's Business (the official organ of the US Chamber of Commerce), and the reputable Wall Street Journal. Aside from the press, the list of outspoken business admirers reads like a Wall Street 'Who's Who'."
Some things never change. Hypocrisy is as wholesome and normal as apple pie, Mom, and the true flag. And, of course, golf.


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1 comment:

Jay–Ottawa said...

Quite understandably, as you follow Karen's train of thought, you might easily pass over her link (paragraph 11) to Steven Kinzer's book, thinking it will merely direct you to Amazon, the subtitle and blurbs, then on to Checkout. No, it's a link to an hour's interview of Kinzer allowing him to elaborate on his own book.

Quotes of Mark Twain and all that; and this interview takes place in the venerable Massachusetts Historical Society with a live audience, thanks to C-SPAN-2. So check it out if you need an antidote to your morning jog through the NY Times and Politico.

As for the theme of political hypocrisy featured in today's blog, I think of snakes as good stand-ins for hypocrites and deceivers. Karen does include words like "reptilian," "circumspect" and "primitive reptile brains" in resurrecting the histories of heroic hypocrites. You don't catch site of reptiles by focusing your binoculars on the horizon. Because snakes are low, very circumspect and much closer than you think.

The New Yorker in 2007 published an article about an anthropologist who danced a malambo* on the venerable ground of Noam Chomsky's central linguistic theory, thus proving, according to some, that Chomsky has been fundamentally wrong in his life-long academic specialty and, by not-so-subtle extension, just as wrong in his political dicta.

It's an interesting read for being, at very least, a vicious piece of ivory tower gossip and because of other bits of culture the iconoclast anthropologist picked up from the long-hidden tribe with an odd language. Call it wisdom of the forest. Primitives live close to the bone and have no use for 30,000 word vocabularies, anti-wrinkle cream and flashy silks to distract them from reality.

The jungle the Pirahã tribe lives in is not friendly. When the sun goes down, they don't yawn, unwind their hammocks and mumble 'Sleep well.' Quite the opposite. Their good night message is "Don't sleep; there are snakes." No kidding, that's what they tell each other, I suppose in order to save each other.

We sometimes ask ourselves how people like Bush, Obama, Trump and their many agents sleep at night. Wrong question, 180 degrees off the mark. What we should be saying to each other through these interesting times is "Don't sleep; there are snakes."

* Gaucho dance: