Once again, President Trump has come to Russian President
In a pre-taped interview with
"He is the leader of his country," Trump said, adding the usual boilerplate about wanting to have good relations and help fighting
O'Reilly interjected, "Putin's a killer." And a vexed Trump replied, "There are a lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country is so innocent?"
This was no gaffe. A similar conversation played out between
Putin "kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries," objected Scarborough. "Obviously that would be a concern, would it not?"
"He's running his country, and at least he's a leader, you know, unlike what we have in this country," Trump said, referring to then-President Obama.
"But, again, he kills journalists that don't agree with him," protested Scarborough.
"Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe," Trump said.
In July, Trump said something similar in response to questions from
One might expect to hear that kind of logic from a dorm room full of Marxists. And if Obama had ever suggested the same, conservatives would have pounced. Of course America isn't without sin. But ethically speaking, America has towered above
Why does Trump insist on such absurd moral equivalency?
Setting aside the left's Manchurian candidate theory, one distressing possibility: Trump doesn't recognize the difference between
Another: Trump thinks that autocratic behavior is absolutely fine. In the summer of 2015, Trump explained to a tea party audience that he doesn't like talk of "American exceptionalism" in part because he finds it "insulting" to other countries, but also because it encourages them to "eat our lunch." As
But let's give Trump the benefit of the doubt and assume that all he really wants is to repair relations with
Well then, he should find a new way to talk about, and defend, his policy.
The remarkable thing is that there are plenty of ways Trump could rebuff criticism of
He could say, for instance, "Look, during World War II we allied ourselves with Stalin, who did far worse things than Putin has been accused of." He could mention
It's the president's job to help shape public rhetoric, because how we talk about our ideals determines whether we sustain or erode them. Or, as the late literary critic
I don't care if Trump thinks we've fallen short of ideals -- of course we have, that's why we call them ideals. What bothers me is that he often sounds like he has contempt for those ideals in the first place.