Hey, remember the time President Obama arrogantly lectured Americans about the 12th century Crusades, implying that we have no right to criticize radical Islam because of the West’s own history of “injustice?” Well, Donald Trump just did the same thing in his latest interview with The New York Times. After “crediting” Turkish Islamist dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his strongman ability to violently suppress last week’s coup and purge the country of all dissent, Trump proceeded to chastise the United States for its own supposedly tenuous relationship with “civil liberties.”
When asked how he could casually praise a despot who has jailed or suspended at least 50,000 people on trumped-up charges, Trump turned inward and vilified the United States in a way that made even Noam Chomsky blush. In effect, the real estate mogul drew a moral equivalence between the mass purge in Turkey and the erosion of “civil liberties” in America.
Here’s a partial transcript showing the relevant exchange between interviewer David Sanger and Republican nominee Donald Trump (emphasis added):
SANGER: Erdogan put nearly 50,000 people in jail or suspend them, suspended thousands of teachers, he imprisoned many in the military and the police, he dismissed a lot of the judiciary. Does this worry you? And would you rather deal with a strongman who’s also been a strong ally, or with somebody that’s got a greater appreciation of civil liberties than Mr. Erdogan has? Would you press him to make sure the rule of law applies?
TRUMP: I think right now when it comes to civil liberties, our country has a lot of problems, and I think it’s very hard for us to get involved in other countries when we don’t know what we are doing and we can’t see straight in our own country. We have tremendous problems when you have policemen being shot in the streets, when you have riots, when you have Ferguson. When you have Baltimore. When you have all of the things that are happening in this country — we have other problems, and I think we have to focus on those problems. When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.
For a candidate that bills himself as the near-messianic figure that will singlehandedly “Make America Great Again,” it sure doesn’t sound like Trump really thinks much of America. Perhaps that’s the genius of the con. If your starting point is “bad,” then even the slightest improvement to America may be seen as “great” or at least “greater.”
Let’s put these egregious comments into context. As The Daily Wire reported, “Turkey has so far fired or suspended over 50,000 people in the days following the coup attempt. Another 9,000 people have been arrested and remain under detention. The victims of the purge include, members from the interior ministry, high-ranking military officers, police officers, intelligence officials, professors, university deans, journalists, media personalities, judges, prosecutors, secular activists, religious minorities, and public servants.”
Here’s a further breakdown, courtesy of CNN:
- 21,738 teachers in private institutions have had their licenses revoked
- 2,745 judges and prosecutors have been listed for detention, although it is unclear if they have all been detained
- 1,577 university deans have been asked to resign.
These numbers don’t include the 8,777 police officers and Ministry of Interior members. Nor do they include the 118 high-ranking military officials and 100 intelligence operatives suspended, detained, stripped of rank, and interrogated.
By all accounts, Turkey has devolved into an Islamist police state, where the wrong look can land you in a government jail. But that didn’t stop Trump from suggesting that the United States, as the world’s leading superpower, doesn’t have a right to comment on, let alone interfere in Turkish internal affairs.
“I don’t know that we have a right to lecture,” said a farcically stoic Trump, adding:
Just look about what’s happening with our country. How are we going to lecture when people are shooting our policemen in cold blood? How are we going to lecture when you see the riots and the horror going on in our own country. We have so many difficulties in our country right now that I don’t think we should be (sic), and there may be a time when we can get much more aggressive on that subject, and it will be a wonderful thing to be more aggressive. We’re not in a position to be more aggressive. We have to fix our own mess.
Somewhere between paleoconservative isolationism and post-colonial academic leftism sits Trump, the populist philosopher. The amateur politician’s moral impugning of the United States is not just obtuse but profoundly hypocritical. This is the same man who routinely calls for a wholesale ban of all Muslims entering the country. This is the same candidate who rose to fame after calling Mexicans “rapists.” This is the same GOP nominee who callously mocked a disabled reporter.
Trump’s rhetoric here is also dangerous. It adds fuel to the fire of anti-American sentiments worldwide, lending credibility to the false notion that the United States has historically damaged the world more than it has helped it. That’s simply not true.
For all of our imperfections, we remain, to this day, one of the only countries in the world founded on a set of sacred ideas--liberty and justice for all-- rather than a shared ethnic heritage. Ironically, it’s the Trump movement that has reawakened some of the most vile demons in American history, including ethno-nationalism and racial tribalism.
The amateur politician’s moral impugning of the United States is not just obtuse but profoundly hypocritical.
As the Obama administration has shown, a world where America goes into retreat is a world of chaos and bloodshed. Contrary to Trump’s bizarre assertion, we as a country can address both our domestic challenges and our foreign policy commitments, especially those centered around human rights.
Trump may have forgotten all the good we’ve done for the world since coming of age as a young nation just two centuries ago. The United States of America liberated the concentration camps while ushering in the era of civil rights. We liberated Kuwait while initiating the tech boom. We ended the genocide in Bosnia while negotiating invaluable trade deals (despite what virulently anti-trade Trump may say). We’re still the shining city on a hill, the world’s last best hope. Let’s hope that a future President Trump doesn’t abandon Turkey the same way President Obama abandoned Syria and Iraq. Based on his recent anti-NATO rhetoric, however, we probably shouldn’t hold our breaths.