Monday, November 13, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got bullied by Rodrigo Duterte.

Trump's Asia tour took him to the Philippines today, where he renewed his warm relationship with President Rodrigo Duterte. Death squads and other forms of vigilante violence encouraged by Duterte have killed thousands of people, making him a pariah in most democratic countries, including the United States under President Obama. 

Prior to Trump's arrival, Duterte had pre-emptively demanded that Trump not raise the issue of his human rights abuses, saying that if Trump did dare to bring it up, he would say, "You want to ask a question, I’ll give you an answer. Lay off. That is not your business. That is my business." Trump seemed happy to oblige, but when reporters present at the first meeting between the two asked about it, Duterte responded by calling the reporters "spies" and ordering them out of the room. (Duterte has openly threatened journalists with assassination.) 

Trump, who has called the free press in the United States "the enemy of the American people," laughed out loud at Duterte's expulsion of the press. Trump later reminded Duterte that he was his friend, but that President Obama had not been. (This is correct: Obama refused to "lay off" and ignore the murders the Duterte regime committed, and relationships between the two were strained as a result.)

Praise and warmth for dictators has become the hallmark of Trump's Asia trip: in addition to his deference to Duterte, Trump has sided with Vladimir Putin over the "political hacks" and "liars" of the US intelligence community, enthusiastically congratulated Xi Jinping on his "victory" in maintaining his place atop the undemocratic hierarchy of the Chinese government, and even (sporadically) held out hope that he might someday be "friends" with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. (At the moment, Trump and Kim are more like frenemies: Trump called Kim "short and fat" during this trip, but in the past has admired the way that the "smart cookie" Kim has ruthlessly suppressed challenges to his rule.)

Why should this bother me?

  • It's bad if presidents prefer the company of dictators and strongmen to democratically elected governments.
  • The President of the United States shouldn't be so easily pushed around.
  • Demonizing the free press is what authoritarians do--and this is an example of that.
  • A president who can't confront evil is either a coward or has priorities that make him unfit for office.