I’ve stopped writing about President Trump. How many times can one say that he’s unfit for office? But this latest story, the story of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is so awful. A Washington Post journalist enters the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and doesn’t come out. The Saudi government says he left and that they don’t know where his is. But wait! Turkish intelligence shows that he was killed in the consulate. But wait! He wasn’t just killed, he was killed and dismembered. But wait! He wasn’t just killed and dismembered, he was killed, dismembered, and tortured in the presence of the consul general. But wait! He wasn’t just killed, dismembered, and tortured in the presence of the consul general, he was tortured and dismembered while still alive, and then killed. But wait! The “top Saudi doctor of forensics” brought in to supervise the dismembering told the agents, as they “cut off Mr. Khashoggi’s head and dismembered his body,” to put on their headphones and listen to some music “to ease the tension when doing such work.” The story is a bottomless pit of immorality and degradation.
But what makes the story unbearable is the President’s reaction to it. The President and his son-in-law have touted their good relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who seems to be implicated in the murder. The President seems inclined to give the Saudis the benefit of the doubt, floating theories that put the Saudi authorities in a better light than the reported facts suggest, even though their new story—Khashoggi died accidentally during an interrogation gone wrong—doesn’t make any sense (where is the body? why didn’t you notify the family?) and isn’t exculpatory in any case.
Everyone knows that sometime the national interest requires the government to hold its nose and do business with unsavory characters. But with the Trump Administration, the overwhelming sense is that the President has no conception of the national interest and that he has no moral foundation from which to deliver a moral condemnation. The world can see that the United States doesn’t really mean what we say about human rights, and that when we run interference for those guilty of a gross human rights abuse, our leaders can’t explain the purpose of their actions. We suffer yet another humiliation on the world stage.