My upcoming newspaper column:
In fifth grade, my teacher talked about how propaganda works. Reporting results of an automobile competition, he told us, Pravda, the Russian state newspaper, said a Russian car came in second while the American was next to last. There were two cars in the contest.
I thought of it as I read about Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, where, like presidents before him, he was given their highest civilian honor. (Saudi Arabia, let’s recall, was the home of nearly all the 9/11 attackers, and is not exactly a world leader in human rights.) Will he bow, I wondered: and if he does, what will we hear from those who excoriated President Obama for it? Well, the results are in. Not only did he bow, he dipped his knee. Curtsied, but for lack of a tutu. However, if you get your news from Fox this is the headline you saw: “Trump shakes hands with Saudi leader, doesn’t bow as Obama appeared to do.”
And that’s how it’s done. Posting a picture of a different gathering, they lie by telling a different truth. It’s what they’ve done since inception. That, and straight-up lying. Letters to the editor confirm how effective it’s been in cultivating disinterest in accurate news. “Pravda” means “truth.” Fox pretends it’s fair and balanced. The space between them is too tight for Trump’s medallion. Next day, during an interview, as video of the genuflection began, Jeanine Pirro motioned to cut, and cut they did. If Fox viewers want to see it (do they?), they may need another source.
But you won’t need to look elsewhere than here to find something positive about Donald Trump. His speech in Saudi Arabia, before he got “exhausted” after two days, wasn’t as bad as most, once he got past his usual self-referential braggadocio. For one thing, he’s gotten better at reading a teleprompter. More importantly, his writers toned down his usual malevolent rhetoric about Islam and about the country in which he was standing, even referring to Islam as a “great faith” and to Saudi Arabia as “sacred land.” Rather than repeating “Islam hates us,” he extolled “shared values.”
How will this fly with his base? Even some rational conservatives found it troubling. Trump also said he wouldn’t tell people of other nations how to live their lives or worship. That doesn’t apply back here, of course: for one example among many, it ignores his reinsertion of biblical testing into money spent on women’s health around the world.
If he’s not detained for having visited a Muslim country, we’ll see if his tone devolves after returning home, and whether it will have influenced Saudi tolerance for home-grown terrorists. Coming at the perfect time to redirect the conversation from treasonous activities, for Trumpists the trip is bringing a tidal wave of relief.
And yes, Dr. Freud, he also danced an all-male sword dance with Saudi princes.
Signing a $110 billion arms agreement is within the tradition of reminding Saudi kings nothing they do can sour relations with us. By some measures, they’re what passes for a moderating force among Arab nations, and oil is oil; although Israel might have other perspectives. Surely, it’s unrelated that the Kingdom and the UAE simultaneously announced committing $100 million to the nascent fund for women’s entrepreneurship initiated by Ivanka. And let’s not dwell on what Trump once said about donations to the Clinton Foundation, because it couldn’t have been “Saudi Arabia and many of the countries that gave vast amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation want women as slaves and to kill gays. Hillary must return all money from such countries!”
When President Obama spoke in Egypt, he was criticized for “lecturing” when speaking for improving human rights in the region, and for weakness in not using the words “Radical Islamic terrorism.” Trump didn’t use those exact words, either. He did, however, make it clear he doesn’t care how Saudis and others behave within or outside their borders as long as we can do deals and if they get tougher on Iran. Since, under Trump, we’re backtracking on caring for our own people, one might even argue it’s a reasonable approach. If amoral, at least it’s not hypocritical.