An American student is arrested for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster – an act any rational country would consider minor. He pleads for his life, is jailed for a year-and-a-half, then returns to the United States brain-damaged and on the verge of death which soon comes. This happened to Otto Warmbier at the hands of the North Korean government where Kim Jong Un holds unchallenged power. It made headlines around the planet.
Yet when President Donald Trump was asked about it at this week’s summit with Kim, he said, “I don’t believe he knew about it. He tells me that he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word.”
Trump puts a lot of stock in his instinct. He brags about a kind of sixth sense for who is good and bad, who can be trusted and who must be watched. But, oddly, this magical ability always seems to come down on the side of iron-fisted autocrats, no matter what horror they stand accused of.
Russians meddled in the U.S. election. American intelligence agencies say it unequivocally happened. But in his first term, after talking to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Trump dropped this bombshell: “He says ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”
A Washington Post columnist who was critical of Saudi Arabian leadership is allegedly murdered and cut to pieces in a consulate in Turkey. The CIA says the evidence points to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as architect of the slaughter. But the Saudis deny it, Trump says he’d need more evidence to criticize them, and this week he sent his advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to meet the prince to discuss – not murder – but economic relations.
There are other examples, but the bottom line rarely wavers: Trump frequently makes it clear he sees despots as merely strong leaders. He openly admires them. Even when his own experts tell him those people have done brutal things, he brushes the assessments and the evidence aside – letting the brutes know, as he did again this week, that the Leader of the Free World won’t even call them out.