How politicians define their moral (ad)vantage point.
Today’s 3D Definition: Take Advantage
On his recent trip to China, Donald Trump made a point of praising the Chinese government with this rhetorical question: “After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country?”
Here is its 3D definition:
In a competitive, capitalist culture, to take advantage of someone is to take a strategic initiative and to engage in a meritorious or virtuous act. In all traditional moral systems, its meaning is to manipulate for selfish ends, a vice.
In fairness to Trump, the question he was commenting on concerned manipulative trade practices, which he had rightly or wrongly complained about in the past concerning China. Here is the full text of his comments: “But I don’t blame China. After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit.”
Adding “for the benefit of its citizens” makes it sound a little less selfish, but the competitive virtue he invoked was the same.
He then not only gave China “credit” — underlying his conception of the US as the world’s banker in the global game of monopoly — but insisted that the Chinese deserved not just credit, but “great credit.” This highlights the true symbolic significance of Trump’s 2016 electoral triumph: that the notions of profit and advantage have marginalized the quaint moral scruples that other less bold politicians continue to invoke. Martin Scorsese can begin to plan his next movie, The Wolf of Pennsylvania Avenue. Fair play, in Trump’s mind, is “a loser.” The rest of the political class may continue to pay lip service to the notion of fair play and level playing fields, but Trump has no time for those illusions.
Most politicians, aware of the importance of appearing moral, avoid using the expression in its competitive sense and will only use it to describe the behavior of their enemies or opponents. For example, Democrats have been insisting that Russia is an enemy after taking advantage of the American electoral system: “Still, this is another example of Russia taking advantage of the many online vulnerabilities in America’s voting network…”
Or this example from Slate: Russia uses information warfare to “take advantage of pre-existing dispositions among its enemies to choose its preferred courses of action.”
It is not only obvious but well documented that the CIA and other US intelligence agencies routinely seek to “take advantage” of any weak link in any foreign nation’s communication and electoral system, including tapping the phones of allied leaders. But committed to denouncing Russia to explain away their defeat in 2016, Democrats have nothing but praise for those agencies specialized in taking advantage of others. For example, in these tweets by Chuck Schumer or Claire McCaskill:
“The brave patriots in our Intel community work day & night, in plain sight & covertly to protect America. They have our trust & respect.” (Schumer)
“Intelligence community is the FIRSTLINE in our war against terror. The disrespect shown them by Trump is stunning.They’re the best in world.” (McCaskill)
Advantage is clearly in the eyes of the beholder.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: The White House