“I just wanted to congratulate you,” President Donald Trump said on the phone. “I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem.”
Who was President Trump talking to?
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.
And how did President Duterte achieve that “unbelievable job”?
By sending out police and vigilante death squads to kill as many as 8,000 people suspected of selling and using illegal drugs without bothering with charges, lawyers or trials.
Not that this appeared to trouble Trump, who often says how he admires brutal strongman.
“Many countries have the problem, we have a problem,” Trump said to Duterte in an April 29 phone call, according to a transcript obtained this week by the Washington Post and The New York Times. “But what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”
There is a theory of realpolitik that says the United States sometimes must look the other way. It is a practical view that says our nation cannot afford to lecture autocratic leaders of other nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, about human rights abuses if we want them to work with us on shared concerns, such as stability in the Middle East and the fight against ISIS.
But Trump doesn’t just look the other way. He fawns over these guys.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, who overthrew his country’s first freely elected president, is “a fantastic guy.” President Kim Jong Un of Korea is “a pretty smart cookie.” President Xi Jinping of China is “a terrific person.” President Vladimir Putin of Russia has “been a leader.”
And now we learn that Duterte, who has bragged of “personally” killing drug dealers in summary executions, is doing an “unbelievable job.”
Trump flatters anybody who flatters him. That’s part of the problem. But every indication is that he truly admires the world’s autocrats and wouldn’t mind a little of that for himself.
It is obvious in his personal attacks on judges, and in the way he threatens to change libel laws to muzzle the media. It is obvious in the way he has tried to kill an FBI investigation into Russia’s monkeying around in the last election by personally pressuring former FBI Director James Comey, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers.
Trump may not understand when he is crossing a line. More likely, he does not believe there should be lines.
Because, you know, he’s president.