On Wednesday, fresh from his meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, President Donald Trump declared that the media was America’s greatest enemy.
“So funny to watch the Fake News, especially NBC and CNN. They are fighting hard to downplay the deal with North Korea. 500 days ago they would have ‘begged’ for this deal-looked like war would break out. Our Country’s biggest enemy is the Fake News so easily promulgated by fools!”
Which is bad. After all, whatever you think of the media, it’s hard to imagine that you’d rather live in a country without a free and independent media than one with it. And no matter what you think of the ongoing talks between the US and North Korea, it’s hard to imagine that a repressive regime with a history of human rights abuses is better than the American media.
But I digress. Because on Thursday morning, in an appearance on CNN’s “New Day,” Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks got into this exchange with Alisyn Camerota about Trump’s comments on the media:
CAMEROTA: Are you comfortable with the President calling the press the biggest enemy of the US?
BROOKS: President Trump has a way of using hyperbole in order to achieve strategic advantage. And he has a strategy and thought process behind the words that he uses. And quite frankly, he has been fairly successful at it. So, I’m not one to challenge President Trump in the hyperbole that he uses to achieve the goals he’s trying to achieve for our country. It might be different from my style. But obviously his style works. He’s President of the United States.
What Brooks is saying here is simple: The ends justify the means.
Under Brooks’ logic, Trump can say or do whatever he wants as long as it “works” – whatever that means. Attack the media? Sure, Brooks wouldn’t do it, but it helped Trump get elected. And get a sitdown with the North Koreans. And get a tax cut bill passed. And confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. And get tougher on our border.
This sort of reverse logic – because Trump is winning, his tactics are therefore justified – makes some sense on its face. But scratch the surface even slightly and you begin to see the danger inherent in the “being on top is all that matters” view of governance.
In fact, you don’t need to look any further than Trump’s own comments about Kim to understand the problems with Brooks’ logic.
In an interview with Bret Baier this week, the Fox News anchor asked Trump why he praised Kim, who is “clearly executing people.” Here’s Trump’s response:
“He’s a tough guy. Hey, when you take over a country, tough country, tough people, and you take it over from your father … if you could do that at 27 years old, I mean, that’s one in 10,000 that could do that.”
That idea – hey, Kim must be doing something right since he’s in power! – echoes what Trump said about Kim before leaving Singapore.
“Anybody that takes over a situation like he did, at 26 years of age, and is able to run it, and run it tough – I don’t say he was nice or I don’t say anything about it – he ran it,” explained Trump.
That focus on Kim’s ability to take over a country at a young age and “run it” overlooks all sorts of things, including:
- Kim took over from his father who was, yes, a dictator
- Kim has aggressively sought to stamp out any contrary voices to his own in the country
- According to Amnesty International, more than 200,000 North Koreans are imprisoned in labor camps in the country
Later in his news conference before leaving Singapore, Trump revealed another key element of his thinking on Kim. Of North Korea, he said: “It’s rough. It’s rough in a lot of places, by the way. Not just there.”
That was similar to Trump’s justification of his praise for Vladimir Putin, despite the Russian leader’s demonstrated record of targeting opposition journalists. “There are a lot of killers,” Trump said of Russia in 2017. “You think our country’s so innocent?”
That’s a remarkable worldview.
- People are bad all over, so who am I to judge who is worse or better?
- Results and power are all that matter. If you are able to retain power, the means by which you do so are largely immaterial because of No. 1.
That Trump holds that view is one thing – and, yes, it is a frightening and dangerous way to view the world and its leaders. But that Brooks, and many, many of his fellow Republicans in Congress – who as a co-equal branch of government seem entirely unwilling to raise questions about that worldview – is even worse.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said of the North Korea negotiations, “I don’t think the President is under any illusions who he is dealing with. He’s trying to do what anyone would do under those circumstances, which is to develop some rapport.”
Maybe that’s true. But the willingness to totally overlook Kim’s atrocious human rights record because, well, he runs stuff effectively, isn’t the sort of thing that should be greeted with a shrug of the shoulders – not by the President of the United States nor by the Republican majority in Congress.
Why? Because, regardless of party, they are expected to be a check on executive power and privilege. Simply saying, ‘Well, that’s Trump being Trump!’ isn’t good enough.