One of the costs of the Trump Era is that all opinions become suspect because, even more than usual, everything is seen through the prism of whether you are for or against the president. Consequently, criticism of Trump is regularly assumed by his supporters to be rooted in bad faith.
The retort to any judgments against his statements or his policies typically begins with “You wouldn’t say this ...” and ends with “if Obama (or Bush or Clinton) were doing it.”
In the interest of candor, let’s acknowledge that many of us are automatically suspicious of everything Trump says because he not only is a documented liar but came close to copping to the fact during a news conference in Singapore.
In explaining what he’d do if he proved to be mistaken about his big bet this week on the integrity of Kim Jong Un, Trump said: “I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’”
Then he caught himself and added, “I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”
This was our salesman-in-chief reveling in his skill at covering up and deceiving.
But charges of hypocrisy against those who question Trump extend to the substantive matters as well. It’s thus important to take on two deeply flawed but predictable arguments that have been offered in defense of Trump’s lovefest with North Korea’s brutal dictator and the president’s approach to negotiation.
The first is that because the United States has sometimes allied (and frequently negotiated) with dictators, chastising Trump for ignoring North Korea’s loathsome human-rights record represents a double standard.
It’s true that human rights have often taken second place behind calculations about national security based on realpolitik. The United States, rightly, joined with Stalin to defeat Hitler because, between the two murderous regimes, Hitler’s posed the imminent danger. During the Cold War, the United States at times supported the installation of right-wing dictatorships to foil the communists or to protect American businesses.
But our wrongful indifference to human rights in the past should not be used as an excuse to justify apologias for dictatorships in our time. Moreover, previous American presidents (including Obama, both Bushes, and Clinton) have managed to negotiate with unsavory adversaries without pretending they were embodiments of George Washington or Nelson Mandela.