American Presidents abroad sometimes have the impression that they are blinking into the sunshine over-briefed and overawed. Think Kennedy in Berlin, Ford in Austria, Obama in Havana. Now Trump – dining with a psychopath – makes Nixon look chivalrous, debonair, Dubya look like a suave diplomat.
Trump’s love-affair with authoritarian leaders continues.
After declaring that he and Putin had ‘positive chemistry’ he met yesterday with Rodrigo Duterte (who recently admitted personally stabbing someone to death) who then sang for his supper.
But Trump and Duterte have previous. Earlier this year Duterte told Philippines police they are allowed to kill “idiots” who resisted arrest days after hundreds of people turned the funeral of schoolboy Kian Loyd delos Santos into a protest against the president’s war on drugs, whilst Trump famously encouraged police violence in his Long Island address in July this year.
Trump has even praised Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem” – that’s an unbelievable job in which more than 7,000 Filipinos have been killed under his rule.
In a warped comparison Duterte has praised Hitler: “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there is three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.” He added that he wants to “finish the problem of my country and save the next generation.”
The hysteria of the “war on drugs” has provided a neat backdrop for off-the-leash policing, social cleansing and dog-whistle politics.
Trump’s racial slurs and attempts to equate immigration with crime are legion – and its catching – check Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, tv ads linking his opponent, the Democrat Ralph Northam, to a murderous Salvadoran-American street gang called MS-13 (“Kill, Rape, Control”).
The pair also share a hatred of the media.
Duterte has gone so far as justified the killing of journalists saying:
“Just because you’re a journalist, you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch.”
78 journalists have been killed in the Philippines there since 1992
Trump laughs as Duterte shuts down questions.
You are the spies,” Duterte says, referring to press.
“Hah, hah, hah,” Trump laughs.
“You are,” Duterte repeateds, per WH pool.
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) November 13, 2017
Putin and Duterte may be the most high-profile authoritarian leaders close to Trump but others include Xi Jinping in China, Erdogan in Turkey, and Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Egypt (of whom Trump has said: “I will tell you, President al-Sisi has been somebody that’s been very close to me from the first time I met him…We agreed on so many things. I just want to let everybody know, in case there was any doubt, that we are very much behind President al-Sisi. He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation…”).
Such praise and associations are more than just journalistic colour and rolling news gossip. They raise the question of the Presidents commitment to the rule of law.
And neither is this as is often portrayed, some kind of gaff-ridden accident. You don’t end up in the Philippines by mistake. Oops that’s me dining with a Phillipine warlord.
Nor is Trump’s presidency an accident, nor is he an ‘outsider’ as is frequently repeated.
As writer Sarah Kendzior has put it:
“As the Trump family faces political pressure and criminal inquiries, it is important to debunk the neophyte myth and take a look back at how Trump entered the political stage – because the same players who propelled him thirty years ago played a vital role in both the 2016 election and the Russian interference scandal. That Trump uses ignorance as an excuse for negligence and criminal behavior is bad enough, but Trump is not ignorant. There is a grey area between moron and mastermind, and he occupies it. What he lacks in geopolitical acumen he makes up for in his ability to manipulate the political system to benefit himself – and he was groomed by some of the US’s most notorious operatives to do so.”
The trouble with the Trump circus is it becomes fun, we become voyeurs. As he travels the world flirting with fascism it’s important to defend journalism and democracy and oppose those who attack it and create a culture of violence.