The Corner

Politics & Policy

The American President and American Values

Reporters tried to ask President Duterte of the Philippines about human rights. He shut them down, calling them “spies.” President Trump, sitting next to him, laughed. Earlier this year, Trump sat next to Vladimir Putin. Reporters were trying to ask questions. Putin pointed at them and said to Trump, “Are these the ones who insulted you?” Then the two had a good laugh.

Obviously, democratic leaders have to engage in diplomacy, holding their noses, doing the necessary. If Mao asks you to play ping-pong with him, maybe you do. But democratic leaders, especially the American president, stand for something abroad.

Putin is not just anti–press freedom. He is a killer of journalists. Duterte is not just anti–press freedom. He is a killer of journalists. Recall his famous sentence: “Just because you’re a journalist, you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch.”

To dictators, a “son of a bitch” is anyone who might inconvenience them.

I think we who spend so much of our day media-bashing have an obligation to remember: Press freedom is a key part of overall freedom. It is key to democracy. It is what we on the right, among others, take advantage of every day.

When the president of the United States is sitting next to the killers of journalists, he should not laugh along with them when it comes to the press. If he cannot defend a free press — the right of people to question and report on their leaders — he should at least refrain from laughing.

Is this “globalist” or “Wilsonian” or “cuck” — or whatever the epithet du jour is? Does it offend the sensibilities of “principled realism” (which often lacks principle and reality, I find)? In my view, it is American and right.

One more thing: Trump has bragged that he can get along with Duterte whereas President Obama could not. He has done the same bragging with respect to Putin. Obama, said Trump, “had zero chemistry with Putin.”

I’m not sure the facts reflect as well on Trump, and as badly on Obama, as the current president believes.

For eight years, I blasted Obama for insufficient attention to freedom, democracy, and human rights. I was looking forward to a successor administration — a Republican one. I’m not sure this Republican one has been any better. It has probably been worse. (I think of what Trump has done with Xi, Erdogan, Sisi, and others.) There is a shining exception, however: Cuba. This administration has been much better on that score, particularly in the person of Nikki Haley at the U.N. As I’ve remarked before, she seems to have a dose — a healthy dose — of the old-time religion.

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