Donald Trump is a zig-zagger when it comes to politics. He has taken multiple positions on many issues over the years. (Do you know what he used to think of the Electoral College? He gave it one of his choice labels: “disaster.”) But on certain issues, he is consistent.
During the campaign, Joe Scarborough asked Trump about Vladimir Putin — particularly Putin’s killing of political opponents. “Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also,” said Trump.
Just now, Bill O’Reilly has questioned Trump in the same way. The president responded, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?”
Back to the campaign — when Trump was asked about Turkey’s Erdogan, and that leader’s vicious crackdown after a coup attempt. Trump said that America had to focus on its own problems. Fair enough. But he went on to say, “When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.”
The Right had a name for this, long ago: “moral equivalence,” and a false moral equivalence at that. The label still applies, or ought to.
President Trump is portrayed as the Great Nationalist, Mr. America First, the Great Stars-’n’-Stripeser. For such a person, he seems to have a peculiar view of America.
In a column yesterday, I brought up Vladimir Kara-Murza, the Russian democrat. He was a close ally of Boris Nemtsov — who was killed in February 2015. A few months later, Kara-Murza fell into a coma, apparently the victim of a poisoning. He came out of it. He is now back in the hospital, back in a coma — same deal.
I had the honor of sitting next to him at a lunch last year. He sent his family out of Russia, for safekeeping. But he himself chose to remain, to stand for his principles and give courage to others.
You have to do a lot of dirty things in this world, especially when you set foreign policy. All sorts of compromises and accommodations have to be made. Often, you hold your nose. But I think that, basically, the United States ought to be on the side of people such as Vladimir Kara-Murza.
And on the side of ourselves, of course.