Many weeks — every week? — in the age of Trump are depressing. This last one has been sickening.
That is strong language for a moment that President Trump has declared a triumph, with his historic meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The problem is not the fact of the meeting itself. Diplomacy — even Trump’s brand of slapdash, what-me-prepare diplomacy — is better than the warmongering alternative, and the president deserves credit for putting out even a fire partly of his own creation.
Trump’s consistent, unnecessary, escalating praise for Kim merits the word “sickening.” Diplomacy may entail saying nice things to bad people for good ends, but Trump’s language about Kim represents a nauseating betrayal of American values — and a telling exposure of Trump’s own.
“Hey, he’s a tough guy,” Trump told Fox News’s Bret Baier. “When you take over a country — a tough country, tough people — and you take it over from your father, I don’t care who you are, what you are, how much of an advantage you have. If you can do that at 27 years old, I mean, that’s 1 in 10,000 that could do that. So he’s a very smart guy. He’s a great negotiator.”
Baier persisted: “But he’s still done some really bad things.”
Trump: “Yeah, but so have a lot of other people have done some really bad things. I mean, I could go through a lot of nations where a lot of bad things were done.”
Shades of Trump’s moral equivocating on Russian President Vladimir Putin (“There are a lot of killers. We got a lot of killers,” Trump told Fox’s Bill O’Reilly last year. “What, you think our country is so innocent?”), but so much worse. Consider Trump’s own words less than five months ago: “No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea.”
Contrast Trump’s new fawning, in person and afterward, with President Barack Obama’s 2015 encounter with Cuban President Raúl Castro. Agree or not with Obama’s outreach to Cuba, fault him for not doing enough to insist on improvements on human rights — at least he brought the subject up, to Castro’s face. At least he didn’t praise Castro’s toughness.
Having left the summit with the gauziest of assurances about denuclearization, Trump assured us, in a tweet, that “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” Is he a charlatan or a fool? The categories are not mutually exclusive. Nothing concrete was promised, by an adversary that has proved itself untrustworthy.
Trump’s North Korea performance is bad enough on its own. Add the jarring, unwarranted mistreatment of our closest allies, before, during and after the Group of Seven summit. Add the jarring, unwarranted suggestion that Russia — the country that interfered in the 2016 election, on Trump’s behalf; the country that the United States and others have just penalized for trying to assassinate a former spy — should be invited back into the G-7.
And add, if your stomach isn’t already churning, what is happening on the home front. Parents are being separated from their children in the service of deterring illegal border crossings — and with the false excuse that it is “the fault of bad legislation passed by the Democrats.” One Honduran woman claimed that immigration agents took her daughter while she was breast-feeding. Others have reportedly been told, chillingly, that their children are being taken off to bathe, only to have them disappear. It is hard to believe I am typing these words about my own country.
And it’s almost as hard to believe that spineless Republicans acquiesce in the behavior of a president who, again this week, asserted that “Our Country’s biggest enemy is the Fake News.” There are episodic, ineffective bleats of protest from lame-duck lawmakers with no election left to lose.
But as the results of Tuesday’s primary elections made clear, the Grand Old Party has degenerated into the Don’t Poke the Bear Party. Elected officials, as soon- to-be-former Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) can tell you, cross Trump at their peril.
Wednesday’s chilling message from the chair of the Republican National Committee: “Anyone that does not embrace the @realDonaldTrump agenda of making America great again will be making a mistake.” Proving the point made by departing Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) that Republicans “have a cult-like situation as it relates to a president that happens to be purportedly of the same party.”
Meanwhile, the president of what was formerly known as the party of Lincoln cheers the election of Corey Stewart, a white-supremacist sympathizer, to be the Republican Senate candidate in Virginia.
The word “sickening” is not strong enough.