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Donald Trump Tells America to Be Afraid

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Donald Trump in Iowa, USA, on 11/06/2016 © Mark Reinstein / Shutterstock

November 22, 2018 00:30 EDT

Donald Trump’s world is dangerous, so he chivalrously offers to shield Mohammed bin Salman from the imminent danger of having to answer for a crime everyone knows he committed.

In the midst of the devastating Great Depression in the 1930s that stung the entire US population, spread across the world and helped foment the rise of fascism in Europe, Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to reassure the nation that had just elected him president, pronouncing the famous words, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

This proved to be the prelude to a series of audacious reforms that changed the face of the American economy and politics for the next 50 years. His dismissal of fear was a way of asking the population for their confidence, patience and trust as he began to put in motion a program intended to guide the nation out of its darkest moment.

Responding to the darkest moment of Donald Trump’s presidency, complicated by public uproar concerning the egregious behavior of his favorite ally, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Trump used the opposite tactic, which he has done consistently on every issue since entering the White House. Be afraid, he tells the nation, and nowhere more clearly than in his nine-word preamble to his formal “statement,” in which he vows fealty to MBS. It begins with the subtitle, “America First!” followed by his reminder to the naive that “The world is a very dangerous place!”

Here is today’s 3D definition: 


Comporting unforeseen risks, whose existence alone exonerates certain people from accountability, since, well, you know, “shit happens”

Contextual note

What is Trump’s rhetorical strategy here? Is he, like Roosevelt before him, invoking fear in the hope of earning the public’s trust in his ability to guide them past danger? Is he attempting to demonstrate his admittedly belated empathy with murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the example of someone who became an unfortunate victim of this “dangerous place” we call the world?

More likely, he wants us to believe that the whole world is guilty of the crime rather than a political leader or a nation. He may also want us to understand an obvious truth: That political institutions across the globe are, as often as not, heartless, and indeed quite capable of snuffing people out who deviate from the logic of their system. That’s just the way it is, to quote Nancy Pelosi.

The implicit lesson: We should learn to live with that. Not that Trump wants us to think for very long about how cruel, arbitrary and nasty governments can be, but the fact that they are helps to justify his warning and prepares us for his ensuing dismissal of unnecessary calls for justice.

Historical note

In many ways, Donald Trump, the inveterate liar, is the most honest president the US has had, at least in recent decades. He says what he honestly feels or thinks, even when it is totally unjustified and immoral or reveals the deep cynicism behind certain government policies. Many of his supporters in 2016 cite that quality of “speaking out,” saying what’s on his mind, telling it like it is, as the reason they voted for him.

The world is a dangerous place, but instead of promising to make it less dangerous or, like Woodrow Wilson to make it “safe for democracy,” President Trump uses the idea to defend a murderous absolute monarchy. His message: America First means making sure that other people are the ones exposed to the dangers. It means that the government will support anything or anyone that defends or promotes American interests, which are essentially if not exclusively economic.

In the first full paragraph of his statement, Trump twists history to designate the people whom he most wants to submit to danger: the Iranians. He tells us Iran started the war in Yemen (it didn’t, of course, as every observer knows). His affirmation in the passive voice, “Iran is considered ‘the world’s leading sponsor of terror’” sounds as if there is general consensus on this point, but it is a slogan he invented to challenge the Iran nuclear deal and which he has been repeating ever since.

The Saudis have been the leading sponsors of Middle Eastern terrorism — including 9/11 — and some commentators have made the case that the US is the leading state sponsor of terrorism, having planned and spent the most money on equipping terrorizing governments and terrorist groups across the globe, whenever it was a question of defending American interests… essentially business interests, not the American people’s interest.

Trump correctly warns us that “we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi.” He’s right because we never know — and even less, remember — all the facts about anything, including what we had for breakfast this morning. But what he means is that there’s no point in even suspecting anyone without a literally smoking gun and powder burns on one’s cuffs. Applying the same rule to criminal law in the US, the prisons would be empty!

The president then offers us the real reason to go easy on MBS, even if he is a murderer. Saudi Arabia is “a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.” Fight? Is there a war we don’t know about? Declared by whom? Do the American people have beef with Iran? Or is it just to keep Israel (whom he mentions) happy? His answer would undoubtedly be: Return to the first full paragraph.

The real danger is taking seriously anything that Donald Trump says.

*[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.

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