On Tuesday, Fox News’ Bret Baier sat down with President Trump. During that interview, Baier pointed out to Trump that Kim Jung Un was a murderer, a brutal killer. And Trump gave a rather unexpected response:
Baier stated, “You know you call people sometimes killers, he is a killer. He’s clearly executing people.”
Trump responded, “He’s a tough guy. Hey, when you take over a country, tough country, with 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 one in 10,000 that could do that. So he’s a very smart guy, he’s a great negotiator. But I think we understand each other.”
Baier interjected, “But he’s still done some really bad things.”
Trump fired back, “Yeah, but so have a lot of other people done some really bad things. I mean, I could go through a lot of nations where a lot of bad things were done. Now look, with all of that being said, the answer is yes.”
This isn’t the first time Trump has praised dictators — or the first time in this interview. A few minutes beforehand, Trump praised Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, stating, “Incredible guy. You know, essentially president for life. That’s pretty good.” Jinping is a thug dictator of a repressive Communist Party.
And, of course, Trump praised Russian dictator Vladimir Putin during the campaign multiple times, and defended his human rights violations in an exchange nearly identical with Baier’s, this time with Bill O’Reilly:
O’Reilly: He’s a killer. Putin’s a killer.
Trump: There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?
Trump has also praised Phillippine president Rodrigo Duterte for his drug war, despite Duterte’s human rights violations in pursuit of that drug war.
Suffice it to say that if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama said any of this, conservatives would have rhetorically roasted them on a spit.
Trump’s defenders say all of this is merited. They say that Trump must praise Kim, because he’s attempting to win concessions from Kim. But that’s obviously untrue. Trump could easily sidestep the question, or acknowledge North Korea’s long history of human rights violations, saying he belives Kim Jung Un wants to change. Instead, he has ardently defended Kim. That’s not because Trump is pro-murder, or pro-dictatorship. It’s because Trump’s personal style is absolutely Manichean: he is either praising someone to the skies or tearing them down in the most base possible terms.
Nonetheless, the specter of a president of the United States praising the world’s worst dictator in the way Trump has is utterly demoralizing and morally repugnant. Kim keeps 25 million people in the world’s largest concentration camp. He keeps 200,000 people in actual gulags. He murders his political opponents. Downplaying his brutality is unlikely to win any concessions. In fact, it’s more likely to embolden Kim.
But even if Trump gets what he wants from Kim, there is a moral stain involved in praising the world’s worst human beings. Trump doesn’t have to go this far. For the sake of the country — and for the sake of those suffering under the rule of a monster — he should think twice about using his usual praise-first tactic publicly with Kim.