In his pre-Super Bowl interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, President Donald Trump didn’t just go off the rails: he hit a bus, ran off the rails, and then proceeded to chase Harrison Ford into a ravine.
Here’s the exchange that matters:
O’REILLY: Putin’s a killer.
TRUMP: We’ve got a lot of killers. Boy, you think our country’s so innocent? You think our country’s so innocent?
O’REILLY: I don’t know of any government leaders that are killers.
TRUMP: Well, take a look at what we’ve done too. We’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve been against the war in Iraq from the beginning.
O’REILLY: Mistakes are different than –
TRUMP: A lot of mistakes, okay, but a lot of people were killed. So a lot of killers around, believe me.
This morally benighted garbage led to celebration from Russian-linked Wikileaks:
Then, Vice President Mike Pence went on national television and defended the comments, refusing repeatedly to condemn Trump’s comments, fibbing, “I simply don't accept that there was any moral equivalency in the president's comments.”
Which is both asinine and a lie. Trump plainly equated America with Russia and George W. Bush with Putin.
This is nothing new from Trump, of course. In December 2015, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough pointed out to Trump that Putin “kills journalists that don’t agree with him.” Trump’s reply: “Well, I think our country does plenty of killing too, Joe.” Trump denied later that week that Putin has killed people at all.
Here are a few of Putin’s greatest hits:
- Acted as an agent of the Soviet KGB, and lamented the fall of a regime that killed tens of millions and enslaved hundreds of millions;
- Allegedly greenlit a bombing of apartment buildings in Moscow that gave him an excuse to use harsher measures against Chechnyans;
- Invaded Georgia, a neighboring country, in order to annex territory, resulting in hundreds killed and hundreds of thousands of refugees;
- Invaded Ukraine, a neighboring country, in order to annex territory, resulting in over 10,000 dead;
- Emboldened Russian separatists to shoot down a civilian airliner in 2014;
- Purposefully bombed medical infrastructure and humanitarian aid workers in Syria;
- Deaths of political rivals and journalists have become commonplace under Putin, including “Alexander Litvinenko, Anna Politkovska, Boris Nemtsov, Sergie, Magnitsky, Natalia Estemiroval, Sergei Yshenkov, Paul Klebnikov, Stanislav Markelov, and Anastasia Baburova”;
- Manipulated election results, leading to near-riots in his own country.
Despite the ignorant cynicism from Trump, no American president has a record like that. And Trump’s attempt to equate American leadership with Putin’s thuggish record is beyond the pale. If Barack Obama had done it, the right correctly would have hammered him for the rest of his presidency over it. This is the sort of propaganda for which American enemies pray.
So here’s the question: what does Trump get out of any of this? Why does he so consistently defend Putin more than he would defend anyone else on the planet?
And here’s an even more important question: will mainstream conservatives go silent on Trump no matter what he does? Has the halo effect of victory relieved Trump of any pressure to behave with even the most remote semblance of decency? Will Republicans go along with anything Trump says, lying for him like Pence, because they like his policy preferences?
If so, that says something pretty nasty about Republican so-called leaders, both those who live in fear of a Trump tweet and those who wish to use Trump for their own political ends. Trump’s the president. The president has a duty to his country – and that duty includes not undermining our moral standing in the world by comparing us with one of the world’s leading thugocracies. Alleviating Trump’s responsibility to fulfill that duty because you like his tax policy is both a political and moral sin.