With Saudi defense, Trump’s love of tyrants reaches dismal new low

Trump orb

Trump stands with the infamous orb in Saudi Arabia on his first trip overseas as president in 2017.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive, corrupt, and militaristic countries on earth. It is also a major ally of the United States, and current US President Donald Trump is a particularly big fan. Now that the Saudi government is believed to have murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, likely on orders from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, pressure is mounting on Trump to stand up for journalists and free speech. Instead, he’s standing up for Saudi Arabia.

Khashoggi was a Washington Post contributor and a critic of the ruling class of his native Saudi Arabia, as well as its invasion of Yemen. He hasn’t been seen or heard from since he entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2. Turkish officials claim to have audio evidence of Khashoggi’s murder, reportedly a grisly affair that started with torture and the severing of his fingers, and ended with his decapitation and dismemberment. One Saudi official already lost his job over the incident when he was heard saying, “Do this outside; you’re going to get me in trouble.”

World leaders, including US Senators and Representatives, have called for action against Saudi Arabia. The Trump Administration, however, has stood by the kingdom. On Wednesday, President Trump said, “We’re not going to walk away from Saudi Arabia.” The president complained that Saudi Arabia was being treated like his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, as “guilty until proven innocent.” There is a great deal of evidence, not to mention an obvious motive, to implicate Saudi Arabia in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Rather than a crusader for the presumption of innocence, Trump might more accurately be described as a champion of guilt without consequence. As he recently told 60 Minutes, whether Kavanaugh was guilty of the heinous allegations against him or whether his accusers were treated with respect is irrelevant: “It doesn’t matter. We won,” Trump declared. Trump has implied that even if Saudi Arabia did murder a journalist, our relationship with them is too important to mess with over it.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed the “important relationships – financial relationships between US and Saudi companies, governmental relationships.” Trump put it even more explicitly: “We don’t like it even a little bit. But as to whether or not we should stop $110 billion from being spent in this country… that would not be acceptable to me.” Though they haven’t spent nearly as much as Trump claims – reportedly only $14.5 billion – Saudi Arabia has long been the top buyer of American weaponry. They’ve used those weapons to, among other things, wage an internationally condemned war in Yemen that’s rife with war crimes and human rights abuses.

Khashoggi

Journalist Jamal Khashoggi is believed to have been murdered at the hands of Saudi Arabian officials.

Trump essentially declared that he’d never let a little thing like the assassination of a journalist stop the Saudi war machine from filling the pockets of American weapons manufacturers. It’s jolting to hear a president so unashamedly articulate the depths of corruption that go into policy decisions. On the campaign trail he was equally open about Saudi Arabia corrupting him personally, telling crowds, “I make a lot of money from them… They spend $40 million, $50 million… Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

To be fair to Trump, America’s special relationship with Saudi Arabia goes back to the kingdom’s 1933 founding. Despite Saudi Arabia’s promotion of Wahhabism, the radical strain of Islam that is thought to be “the main source of global terrorism,” our relationship has only grown stronger during the so-called War on Terror. Hillary Clinton’s State Department increased arms sales to Saudi Arabia by billions of dollars around the same time as the Clinton Foundation received between $10 and $25 million in donations from the kingdom.

What makes Trump’s defense of Saudi Arabia so alarming is his pattern of deference to dictators and strongmen, as well as his own war on journalists. Since becoming president, Trump has gotten along famously with leaders like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Kim Jong Un, all of whom abuse human rights and control their media. Trump’s media allies have rushed to the president’s defense and downplayed Kashoggi’s disappearance as no big deal. Some, like Breitbart, have smeared Kashoggi as a terrorist sympathizer and escalated their propaganda against American journalists. At a rally this week, Trump celebrated the physical assault of a Guardian journalist.

In response to ever-increasing pressure, Trump eventually promised “severe consequences” if Saudi Arabia killed Khashoggi. But Trump may never be convinced. Earlier in the same week, he cast doubt on climate science and professed his belief in Kavanaugh’s innocence. In Trump’s mind, a “strong” denial from a “tough” guy is equal to any evidence against him. One of his earliest responses to the Khashoggi controversy was to tweet, “Just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate.”

No one should suggest we go to war over Khashoggi’s disappearance, but it should prompt a reexamination of our long-problematic relationship with Saudi Arabia. People should be outraged that a government murdered a critical journalist. They should be outraged that their tax dollars subsidize a deadly and immoral war on the other side of the world. Trump’s effort to make Americans accept not just the cruelties and evils of the world, but our own role in them, is one of the most chilling aspects of his presidency.

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Brett Kavanaugh’s personal record is bad – but so is his judicial record

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Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before Congress.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on President Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, for Friday, September 28 at 9 a.m. Republicans are anxious to hold the vote on Kavanaugh because each day seems to bring new allegations and scrutiny against the 53-year-old, whose appointment would be for life. Over the last two weeks, three women have come forward with allegations of sexual assault at the hands of Kavanaugh in high school and college. Continue reading

A compendium of Donald Trump’s criminality

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Left to right: Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, plead guilty to eight counts; Trump; and Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, who was convicted of eight more charges.

Within minutes of one another, two former high-level associates of President Donald Trump were found guilty of felonies last week. Paul Manafort, the chairman of Trump’s presidential campaign throughout the pivotal summer of 2016, was convicted on eight charges, including tax fraud and bank fraud. Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney, pleaded guilty to eight charges, including tax evasion and making an excessive campaign contribution at the request of a candidate – the hush money paid to one of Trump’s mistresses.

Five of Trump’s former close associates have already been indicted in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Manafort and Cohen join Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Adviser; George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign; and campaign aid Rick Gates. Dozens of others have also been indicted. The president has thus far managed to stay just beyond reach, but the indictments and convictions underscore Trump’s lifelong adjacency to criminal activity. Continue reading

Donald Trump’s pipeline to Putin

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Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin shake hands at a summit in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16.

After his submissive appearance alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Helsinki last month, President Donald Trump faced some of the most severe and unanimous criticism of his chaotic political career. Members of Trump’s own party called the president “treasonous” and “disgraceful” while commentators speculated that Putin must have serious kompromat on Trump to make him behave so obsequiously. As the media and the FBI connect the dots of Putin and Trump’s relationship, their most obvious common interest in oil goes largely undiscussed. Continue reading

Republicans plead for civility

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Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant, an incident that became a flashpoint in the culture war.

For three years, Donald Trump has dominated America’s cultural conversation. In that time, he has accused Mexico of sending rapists and drug dealers over the border, mocked a disabled reporter’s handicap, encouraged his crowds to physically assault protesters, and labeled journalists the “enemy of the people.” As President, he has done all he can to shred America’s life-saving social safety net, banned Muslims from entering America, and held migrant children hostage in cages. Now, Trump and his enablers are asking for one thing: civility. Continue reading

Trump Administration dehumanizes victims to justify border atrocities

child prison

After being separated from their parents at the border, the children of migrants are held in chain-link pens at military bases and prisons around the southern border.

By far the biggest story in national headlines this week was the Trump Administration’s policy of splitting up families crossing the southern border without authorization. Following a zero-tolerance policy enacted in April by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, detained parents have been sent to one facility and their children have been sent to another. Photos and videos of those children – confused, crying, and locked in cages – drew intense domestic and international condemnation. United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said, “The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable.” Continue reading

Trump’s dictator flirtations reflect his Big Business past

Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un

Trump met with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, one of the worst human rights violators on earth today, and came away feeling very charmed.

On June 12, President Donald Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un made history in the first-ever summit between an American and North Korean head of state. The two met in Singapore to discuss the North Korean nuclear weapons program and, according to President Trump’s account, got along splendidly.

Reactions to the meeting were mixed, but even many of Trump’s harshest critics acknowledged an air of cautious optimism following the summit. Getting along with another country, even one as brutal and oppressive as North Korea, is undeniably preferable to a global nuclear war. Yet there’s a big line between reaching a détente with North Korea and propping their dictatorial cult state up as a model for the world. Trump crossed that line repeatedly in statements he made after the meeting. Continue reading

Donald Trump and the right-wing presumption of innocence

trump and friends

Right-wing media is universally friendly to Trump, taking his innocence for granted and echoing his conspiracy theories about the investigation into his shady world.

President Donald Trump has escalated his attacks on the special counsel investigating his campaign’s alleged ties to Russian election interference. Last week Trump unleashed a torrent of tweets in an attempt to undermine the investigation’s credibility. Even as a deluge of shady new information about Trump associates pours in daily, from his personal attorney to his own children and son-in-law, conservative talking heads have dug in their heels behind the president more defiantly than ever. Continue reading

Reminder: Torture is not our only crime

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Gina Haspel, who oversaw a CIA black site in Thailand, is poised to become the agency’s new director.

The Senate is prepared to confirm Gina Haspel, a longtime CIA official, to replace Mike Pompeo as the agency’s director. During her confirmation hearings, Haspel’s role in overseeing CIA torture programs – or “enhanced interrogation” – was a focal point. Haspel made headlines when she refused to answer Senator Kamala Harris’s question of whether “the previous interrogation techniques were immoral.” Her record on torture led Republican Senator John McCain, famously a torture survivor himself, to announce his opposition to her appointment. Continue reading

Right-wing snowflakes outraged over Michelle Wolf’s anti-elitist standup routine

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Comedian Michelle Wolf performs at the White House Correspondents Dinner, mere feet away from the targets of some of her most brutal jokes.

Comedian Michelle Wolf delivered a risqué performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner last Saturday and became a hot topic overnight. The annual dinner, which is typically a stuffy affair, brings together Democratic and Republican politicians and media personalities for a night of awkward, elitist camaraderie. Wolf’s performance, laced with explicit references to President Trump’s scandals and sexual history, earned the ire of the far-right – a rich irony, given that group’s crusade against political correctness. Continue reading