It’s difficult to say what might be the most craven and sickening moment of the week (it is Wednesday at 7:00am as I write this; there is still a lot of time for more cravenness).
Was it Trump’s Fox-addled, conspiratorial, and self-serving statement on Admiral McRaven, which was somehow only two days ago?
This is a strong contender, because it makes clear that Trump’s admiration of anything, even of Navy goddamn Seals, is contingent upon their praise. In his logic, criticism of him by one of the most respected warriors of his generation isn’t a cause for reflection, but an imputation of conspiracy and a chance to lash out.
That’s not new, of course. We knew this. We know that Trump can’t see anything past his own self-interest. What’s always nice to see, though, is that the official GOP is fully in his corner, even after a true electoral nutstomping, even when he is attacking the people who killed Osama bin Laden.
Worth noting! It’s also worth noting, of course, that he was on the Trump transition team’s short list for NatSec posts. Being on a short list doesn’t mean anything, except that you are respected by just about everyone. That McRaven has been critical of Trump since he first started lowing his ugly dirges in 2016 isn’t a sign that McRaven is political or partisan, but that his patriotism demanded an extraordinary response to an extraordinary threat.
And this threat won, and continues to pervert our politics. GOP fealty to that seems unshakable. And while I obviously don’t expect the party to criticize the President over Twitter, they are under no obligation to continue an attack on McRaven. That they choose to do so demonstrates once again, and hopefully forever, that protecting Trump’s ego and interest tops every other consideration of decency or even political rationale.
But of course, the real low point of the week came yesterday, in the insane, childish, clinically dishonest, and deeply amoral statement in which the White House washed their hands and the hands of Mohammed bin Salman over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
First off, this was clearly dictated by the President, if not actually typed out by him. It probably wasn’t typed, since there aren’t really any typos or anything. It starts with two exclamation points, the first being the old fascist slogan which Trump has adopted, even though by now he surely knows its provenance. That he keeps it is because he wants to do so. When someone says they are a Nazi, they are.
What is perhaps more insane is the second one: “The world is a dangerous place!” I know that Trump believes he is telling us a hard truth here, but for a President to imagine that to be some kind of bold statement just shows his insane self-absorption and his need to be a tough guy. Only he is brave enough to say that the world is dangerous.
But then the immorality and dishonesty really sets in. While Iran is no innocent in Yemen, it is completely wrong to say that they are responsible for the “bloody proxy war” in Yemen. Even just using that phrase “proxy war” implies guilt on both sides, as it takes two to proxy. But that’s a phrase Trump clearly heard once or twice, and thinks it makes him sounds all military-like.
(UPDATE: Greg Johnsen has a great piece on Just Security absolutely refuting this particular lie, with a year-by-year detailing of Iran and KSA’s involvement in Yemen)
The idea that Saudi Arabia would love to pull out of Yemen if only Iran would is blistering nonsense, and shows someone who has either been easily convinced by MBS’s half-baked lies or has decided to invent lies of his own, out of whole cloth. Saudi would do nothing of the sort.
For Trump to even pretend to be concerned about Yemen is stomach-turning, as he’s given Saudi Arabia carte blanche to do whatever they want inside that broken and shattering land. But that’s the point of this statement: Saudi Arabia, and MBS, can do whatever they want no matter what.
In some ways that’s nothing new; US foreign policy has been unduly influenced by Saudi Arabia since WWII. But there have been no statements as cravenly and openly immoral as this one, in which the President dismisses his own intelligence agencies in order to declare the US indifferent to slaughter, whether it is the personal and gruesome slaughter of a dissident journalist residing in the US or the wholesale slaughter of a nation.
It’s hardly worth saying that none of this is true, of course (or to ask what a “heavily negotiated trip” is). The money isn’t accurate, the contracts aren’t really contracts, and the idea that it will create “hundreds of thousands” of jobs is so preposterous that it in and of itself is grounds for invoking the 25th Amendment, if just on the basis of sheer contempt for the public.
But, as has been discussed, this completely inverts the idea of leverage. We have what the Saudis want and need. They can’t actually switch to Russia and China; that would take decades. The US has the power here. But we have ceded it to Saudi Arabia.
Why we have done so is and isn’t a mystery. Obviously, the US has never been a particularly moral country, feeling free to look the other way or to openly abet murder and abuse. In a way, this is a continuation. But never before have we been so open about a price; never before have we subsumed every aspect of our foreign policy to the whims and needs of one man.
I don’t know if Trump is personally in hock to the House of Saud, or if he depends on them for business. It’s very possible; he’s an grubby conman who always needs a source of easy cash, and rich immoral regimes enjoy that. And they enjoy having leverage over the President. It’s weird, I know. It does seem clear that Kushner is heavily over-leveraged and deeply dependent on Saudi money, which explains why MBS so gleefully cultivates this callow know-nothing. But it is unclear as to whether Kush has any influence anymore.
And while we do know that, from a neocon point-of-view, Saudi Arabia=Good because Iran=Bad, and having them as an ally is part of a scheme both grandiose and vague, we know that Trump isn’t truly motivated by any grand plans. He’s only motivated by self-interest.
Everything that happened this week is a result of his narcissism, his inability to take criticism, his constant need for praise, his pathological dishonesty, and his existence as both a conman and the easiest fucking mark on the planet. Since he only understands transactions, he is easily bought, and finds everything easy to sell. From rubbery steaks to any moral or actual foreign policy leverage, he’ll put it on the market if the buyer makes him feel special.
That’s who our President is. And despite some mewls of protestation from the GOP, until they decide to actually do anything, they are continuing to cede our country to his darkly mirrored vision. If their “resistance” can be summed up, it has to be done by Lindsay Graham.
If anyone knows about losing their moral voice, it’s Graham.