Pres­i­dent Trump has a strange sense of honor

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Opinion - Dana Milbank is a colum­nist for the Wash­ing­ton Post.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, on his way to a bor­der photo op that even he re­port­edly thought point­less, gave in­sight last week into the think­ing that faked an im­mi­gra­tion cri­sis, shut down the gov­ern­ment and gave him the “ab­so­lute right” to use emer­gency pow­ers to cir­cum­vent Con­gress.

Asked an un­re­lated ques­tion on the White House South Lawn on Thurs­day, Trump vol­un­teered a com­par­i­son be­tween House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. — and the lead­ers of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China.

“I find China, frankly, in many ways, to be far more honor­able than Cryin’ Chuck and Nancy. I re­ally do,” he said. “I think that China is ac­tu­ally much eas­ier to deal with than the op­po­si­tion party.”

China, honor­able?

China, which is hold­ing a mil­lion mem­bers of re­li­gious mi­nori­ties in con­cen­tra­tion camps for “re-ed­u­ca­tion” by force?

China, ac­cord­ing to Trump’s own FBI di­rec­tor, is, by far, the lead­ing per­pe­tra­tor of tech­nol­ogy theft and es­pi­onage against the United States and is “us­ing il­le­gal meth­ods” to “re­place the U.S. as the world’s lead­ing su­per­power”?

China, whose rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party has caused the ex­ter­mi­na­tion of tens of mil­lions of peo­ple since the end of World War II, through gov­ern­ment-in­duced famine, the ide­o­log­i­cal purges of the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion and in mow­ing down re­form­ers in Tianan­men Square?

Trump has a strange sense of honor. In April, he be­stowed the same ad­jec­tive on the world’s most op­pres­sive leader, North Ko­rea’s nu­clear-armed dic­ta­tor: “Kim Jong Un, he re­ally has been very open and I think very honor­able from ev­ery­thing we’re see­ing.”

Now, the pres­i­dent is declar­ing that China’s dic­ta­tor­ship, by far the world’s big­gest in­ter­na­tional crim­i­nal and abuser of hu­man rights and op­er­a­tor of its most ex­ten­sive po­lice state, is more honor­able than his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents in the United States.

In Trump’s view, your op­po­nents are your en­e­mies — and your ac­tual en­e­mies are your friends. How can you ne­go­ti­ate with a man who thinks like this?

Rea­son­able peo­ple dis­agree over bor­der walls and other na­tional pri­or­i­ties. Op­po­nents of­ten dis­like each other. But it’s an­other thing to be­lieve loyal Amer­i­cans, sworn to up­hold the Con­sti­tu­tion, are less honor­able than the lead­ers of China, which for­mer de­fense sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis de­scribed as a “ma­lign ac­tor” pro­mot­ing its “au­thor­i­tar­ian model” at our ex­pense.

I of­ten crit­i­cize the ideas or ac­tions of Mitch McCon­nell, Ted Cruz, Steve King and the like, and con­demn Repub­li­cans’ cow­ardice in han­dling Trump; I don’t for a mo­ment doubt that they, un­like Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, want the United States to pros­per. De­scrib­ing the shut­down im­passe last week, a gloomy Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., said: “I see no way for­ward.” In a broader sense, there is no way for­ward if we can’t ac­cept that our Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents love our coun­try too.

We saw Trump place sim­i­lar faith in the other “ma­lign ac­tor” Mat­tis cited, Rus­sia, when

Trump, in Helsinki in July, sided with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin over the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity con­cern­ing Moscow’s elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence. Trump’s claim last week that “China is ac­tu­ally much eas­ier to deal with than the op­po­si­tion party,” like­wise, echoed his re­marks be­fore meet­ings last sum­mer with NATO, our British al­lies and with the Rus­sian dic­ta­tor: “Frankly, Putin may be the eas­i­est of all.”

We have also seen Trump’s up­side-down sense of honor in his be­lit­tling of for­mer se­na­tor John McCain’s wartime hero­ism and post­hu­mous dis­re­spect for McCain, in his petty squab­bles with par­ents of fallen Amer­i­can sol­diers and in his de­scrip­tion of a free press as the “en­emy of the peo­ple” — a phrase his honor­able Chi­nese friends used dur­ing their Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion.

Maybe Trump, who has, more than once, mis­spelled the word “honor,” is ig­no­rant of this regime’s his­tory. Last month, he claimed “re­la­tions with China have taken a BIG leap for­ward!” — echo­ing Mao Ze­dong’s Great Leap For­ward, which left an es­ti­mated 45 mil­lion peo­ple dead.

But he can’t be un­aware of China’s cur­rent atroc­i­ties. The Con­gres­sional-Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mis­sion on China, led by Repub­li­cans Sen. Marco Ru­bio, Fla., and Rep. Christo­pher Smith, N.J., is­sued a re­port in Oc­to­ber on China’s per­se­cu­tion of Chris­tians, its more than 1,300 po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious pris­on­ers, mass in­tern­ment of Uighurs and other Mus­lims, crack­downs on Ti­bet and a demo­cratic Hong Kong, de­ten­tion and harass­ment of Amer­i­cans, mul­ti­ple “ef­forts to ex­port its au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism,” an “ev­er­ex­pand­ing scope of do­mes­tic re­pres­sion” with Or­wellian tech­nolo­gies, and a “dire hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion” on a “down­ward tra­jec­tory, by vir­tu­ally ev­ery mea­sure, since Xi Jin­ping be­came Com­mu­nist Party Gen­eral Sec­re­tary.”

When Trump’s “good friend” Xi ef­fec­tively be­came pres­i­dent for life last year, Trump spoke ap­prov­ingly and called him “a great gen­tle­man.”

By declar­ing this man’s gov­ern­ment “far more honor­able” than pa­tri­otic Amer­i­can leg­is­la­tors, Trump dis­hon­ors us all.

JAC­QUE­LYN MARTIN/AP

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump at­tends a roundtable dis­cus­sion on bor­der se­cu­rity with lo­cal lead­ers Fri­day in the Cab­i­net Room of the White House.

Dana Milbank

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