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Trump joins China and Russia in denouncing US civil liberties, without pointing to an example

Trump's NYT interview reveals what he was currently thinking the moment he was asked a question, but his pronouncements are less than stable. Photograph: (Getty)

WION New Delhi Jul 21, 2016, 12.00 PM (IST) Jeff Halperin

Donald Trump gave an interview with The New York Times Wednesday night, the same evening he received the Republican nomination for President of the United States. The Times didn't publish a full transcript of the 45 minute discussion, but summarised the thrust of Trump's responses, supplemented when necessary with quotations.

The interview covers a range of topics.

Moral standing

Trump said he would not condemn authoritarian allies like Turkey, who critics fear is in the midst of a widespread purge of the regime's domestic enemies. President Erdogan has reportedly arrested or fired 50,000 people, from high-ranking figures in the military, justice system and police to university professors. In a move that rings of anything but democracy, he is currently trying to reinstate the death penalty.

"I don't think we have a right to lecture," Trump said. "How are we going to lecture people when people are shooting policemen in cold blood?" He was responding to the two recent fatal attacks against policemen by two ex-military African-American men, who appeared to be responding, in an appalling and unforgivable way, to numerous incidents of police brutality against African-Americans happening in cities across America.

It failed to dawn on Trump that he's comparing a rogue military faction and a sitting President's authoritarian response to the actions of two non-state actors. About the preponderance of videos emerging showing American policemen shooting unarmed civilians Trump was quiet, but that would have made his comparison closer to sensible.

Ironically, corroborating Trump's claim that the US shouldn't preach is Trump's own behaviour, as he has incited violence at his rallies. Unsurprisingly he has failed to criticize himself for this.

Foreign policy

Trump sees the world, and every single thing in it, through a money lens. 

When asked if under his presidency he would defend the 28 members of Nato, he laid a new condition; he would, but only after assessing their contributions to the alliance. Allies would receive protection if their relationship was economically advantageous, or would leave them to the wolves if they proved a net loss.

Many before have criticised the military-industrial complex, but the notion of the American military being nothing more than a money-making enterprise has never been laid out so nakely by someone so close to the White House. More, this response presupposes that signed international treaties are in no way legally binding, undermining not just Nato but the very idea of entering into agreements with other countries.

In terms of international trade he urged to put "America first", as if any other American politician has ever campaigned on "America second". He is by definition above rules, laws and agreements. "He was prepared to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement if he could not negotiate radically better terms."

The Coup

"I give credit to him for being able to turn that around", Trump said, as if talking about a dramatic come-from-behind victory in game 7. It doesn't take much reverence for morals or law to be concerned over the tens of thousands people imprisoned since the failed military coup, who can't all be guilty. Many world leaders urged Erdogan to be lawful in the wake of  the failed coup. This is as basic as it is important, so it's worth quoting the Times piece here in full:

"Asked if Mr Erdogan was exploiting the coup attempt to purge his political enemies, Mr Trump did not call for the Turkish leader to observe the rule of law, or Western standards of justice. 'When the world sees how bad the United States is and we start talking about civil liberties, I don't think we are a very good messenger,' he said."

The article points out that this places him in the same camp as Russia, North Korea and China, "and other autocratic nations (who) frequently cite violence and disorder on American streets to justify their own practises, and to make the case that the United States has no standing to criticise them".

But this obscures an important point: those countries have in mind footage of American police killing citizens, mostly poor or African-American ones, something Trump has never denounced and if anything supports. When he talks about the apparent erosion of civil liberties, it's unclear what he means. If he has in mind the two men who recently killed police officers, he's making a categorical mistake: by definition only agents of the state, not private citizens, can take away civil liberties. 

Islamic State

Obama's administration is in a bind: both its ally Turkey and the Kurds are fighting IS effectively, but Turkey is also fighting the Kurds out of fear they will break away and form their own state. Trump claims he will break this impasse meetings. Knowing no middle ground, the way to defeat IS is either to "bomb the shit out of them" or to converse. 

Regarding the leader of Syria Trump was uncharacteristically perspicacious, saying, "Assad is a bad man". Trump claimed to have been briefed by two former Republican secretaries of state, who gave him "a lot of knowledge", but shed no light on this knowledge.

Nuclear weapons

The Obama administration has begun the process of modernising its nuclear arsenal, but the next president will decide whether or not to launch the reboot in earnest, with all the purchasing of submarines and bombers that entails, for an estimated cost of $500-billion. "He talked of funding a major military buildup, starting with a modernisation of America's nuclear arsenal," the article says. 

To put it lightly, nothing in the Times interview, or anything he has ever said bolsters confidence that Trump can be trusted around nuclear weapons. "We have a lot of obsolete weapons. We have nuclear that we don't even know if it works."

Just how he plans to learn whether or not these nuclear weapons work should be a terriyfing thought to everybody.


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