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Trump and Xi (and Us)

In Beijing, November 9, 2017 (Thomas Peter / Reuters)

Xi Jinping is outstandingly vicious, even for a boss of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party). To take one example: In July 2015, he rounded up some 250 human-rights lawyers in what became known as the “709 Crackdown.” (The term refers to the date on which the arrests began, July 9.) Some of the prisoners have been tortured to death; others have been tortured into insanity.

Our president, Donald Trump, has always spoken warmly of Xi. He has made statements that go far beyond the necessities of Realpolitik.

Here he is in May, following a visit by Xi to Palm Beach:

“You know, when I’m with him, because he’s great, when I’m with him, he’s a great guy. He was telling me, you know they go back 8,000 years, we have 1776 is like modern history. They consider 1776 like yesterday and they, you know, go back a long time. They talk about the different wars, it was very interesting. We got along great.”

More Trump: “I think I like him a lot. I think he likes me a lot. … I mean, he’s a great guy.”

Liu Xiaobo was the preeminent democracy leader in China. He was the spearhead of Charter 08, modeled on Václav Havel’s Charter 77. This, of course, landed Liu in prison, as it had Havel. In 2010, Liu received the Nobel Peace Prize, in absentia. Last summer, he died as he had long lived, surrounded by Red Guards.

That day was July 13. Fatefully, Donald Trump spoke about his friend Xi Jinping — on that very, awful day:

“Well, he’s a friend of mine. I have great respect for him. We’ve gotten to know each other very well. A great leader. He’s a very talented man. I think he’s a very good man. He loves China, I can tell you. He loves China. He wants to do what’s right for China.”

More: “President Xi is a terrific guy. I like being with him a lot, and he’s a very special person.”

In truth, Liu Xiaobo was a very special person. He loved China and wanted to do what was right for China. He sacrificed his very life for his country and his countrymen.

In November, the presidential chief of staff, John Kelly, was asked about the Chinese dictatorship. He said he would not “pass judgment” on it. “They have a system of government that has apparently worked for the Chinese people.”

China, bear in mind, is a police state, a one-party dictatorship with a gulag (called laogai). In China, people who want the rights that we in the Free World take for granted are routinely tortured to death. Routinely. It is part and parcel of the system.

Last month, Xi Jinping increased his already vast power. Term limits on the Chinese “presidency” have been abolished. Xi now has more power than anyone since Mao. He looks as unchallengeable as Putin in Russia and Erdogan in Turkey — two more dictators of whom Trump has spoken warmly and admiringly.

Yesterday, Trump said of Xi, “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.”

Trump was kidding around, people say. Sure, fine. I like kidding around. Big kidder myself. But over and over again, Trump refers to Xi Jinping as “great” or, even worse, “good” — good as in “he’s a very good man.”

You seldom get from President Trump a sense of the pricelessness of freedom. Of the glory of democracy. Of the evil of dictatorship. There seems to be a moral void at the White House.

Now, whenever I write this way, someone says — or many people say — “You never said anything about Obama and Castro!” (It happened again yesterday.) This is good for the ego — because you realize how few read you, or how quickly they forget.

Republicans and conservatives have made many concessions to Trump and Trumpism. Accommodations ’r’ us. But do we have to give up on freedom and democracy, and on telling the truth about people who stamp on the human face, all day and all night? No, no.

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