Credit: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Only four months into the Trump presidency, and America feels like an alien planet occupied by tentacled overlords who have taken we, the people, hostage. Yes, even Trump supporters, who seem to be suffering from a mass case of Stockholm Syndrome. The horror author Stephen King probably summed up the situation most chillingly when he tweeted that no horror novel he ever wrote matched the horror of what is unfolding before us ever since Trump became our president.
Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, he tried to impose a ban on Muslims entering the country, which, like everything else he has tried to implement, ended in failure and the ever-growing ire of people who champion human rights and sanctuary for refugees escaping authoritarian regimes. The crazy thing about the Muslim ban was that it did not ban any countries where Trump has business interests, and this includes Saudi Arabia, a country that Trump has himself criticized for its human rights abuses and the way they treat women, children, and gays. Let’s also not forget the fact that Saudi Arabia may also have been behind 9/11 — or at least Trump has said they were. Donald Trump has denigrated Islam and promised to protect us from the “Islam takeover” that exists only in his own mind, which was his purported reasoning for the infamous Muslim ban.
So, why is Trump in Saudi Arabia before he’s made any visits to American allies like Canada, Europe, or Mexico? Why is he kissing up to their high government officials and accepting medals, the royal treatment, and signing agreements? Most unfathomable of all, why do the Saudis seem to love Trump as much as he seems to love them now? Why does he treat them with more respect than he treats Germany’s Andrea Merkel or Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull or Canada’s Justin Trudeau?
The easy answer to Trump’s stunning hypocrisy (and the seemingly only way to resolve our collective cognitive dissonance) is the adage “follow the money,” and obviously money is a big part of it. Although Trump tweeted yesterday that his visit was to promote peace between the US and the Islamic world (yeah, right, I really believed that one), we now learn that he was really there to sell billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia. That’s right — he’s selling weapons to a country he has himself said was behind the 9/11 attacks. Whether they were or weren’t behind the attacks isn’t the point. Signing a weapons treaty with Saudi Arabia proves he doesn’t really care about the well-being of Americans. It’s always all about the money. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.
And yet his supporters scream and rant about people who protested against the Muslim ban. They accuse us of helping give Islam a way to infiltrate our “Christian” and “democratic” way of life here. They can’t think critically enough to understand that granting Muslim refugees (mostly women and children) sanctuary here doesn’t mean we sympathize with the jihadists or approve of fundamentalist Islam — in fact, it means we have compassion for the victims of fundamentalist Islam’s human rights abuses and recognize that these vulnerable people are human beings who need our help. But they are perfectly okay with our Muslim-hating president who seems to be cozying up to the very people they fear the most.
It’s no different than his attitude toward the Russians. While Russia is no longer a communist country and they haven’t been thought of as an enemy in many years, they aren’t exactly an ally either. Or they never have been until this presidency. Donald Trump seems to worship the Russians, even emulate them. Last week, he held a secret meeting in the Oval Office with Russian officials where no American press was invited but Russian photographers were. Trump supporters have resolved their cognitive dissonance over Trump’s inexplicable behavior by taking up his own attitudes — to the point of chanting “RUSSIA IS OUR FRIEND” at one of their protests. They can’t think critically enough to see their hypocrisy. No, to them, it’s the media that’s the enemy now — a beloved right protected under the 1st Amendment — because Trump has declared they are an enemy. Now those rights we take for granted are endangered.
Again, the easy explanation for the inexplicable is “follow the money.” Like Saudi Arabia, Russia is a country where Trump has business interests. If the investigation turns out to bear fruit (and I am certain it will if it isn’t stymied or somehow silenced), we will see that Russia at least partly financed his campaign, rigged the election, and has been funneling money to him and his far-right billionaire cronies all along. Of course, if the investigation finds collusion with Russia, his supporters will still find a way to defend him, or cry “FAKE NEWS!” They truly believe Trump is more trustworthy than the FBI. What kind of crazyworld are we in when we actually start to look at the FBI as the heroes — and even the victims? We have really fallen down the rabbit hole into an alternate universe with an alternate reality where we doubt our own perceptions and the truth is no longer required. It’s gaslighting writ large.
It’s much more than a money trail, though. In fact, money may not even be the primary reason behind Trump’s love for Saudi Arabia and Russia. Trump has shown an affinity for authoritarian leaders, regardless of their ideology or their religious beliefs. We all know about his massive mancrush on Vladimir Putin and his minions, but he’s also praised North Korean president Kim Jong Un, one of the most fearsome — if not THE most fearsome — dictators in the modern world. He seems to admire and emulate dictators, because he himself is an authoritarian personality who believes in a harsh, punishing, “strongman” approach to governing as opposed to the democratic, egalitarian one favored by the western world. He insults and denigrates leaders who espouse fairness, equality, and compassion — or at the very least he ignores them as if they don’t matter. His refusal to shake hands with Germany’s chancellor Andrea Merkel compared with the hearty slaps on the back and simpering secret-sharing with Putin is very telling.
I spent much of last night and this morning puzzling over why Saudi leaders seem to fawn all over Trump and have given him a red-carpet welcome to their country worthy of a king — in spite of the fact he has repeatedly insulted their religion and culture. Of course, we can follow the money; with Trump, that’s a given. But there’s another reason. They love Trump because he is so much like them. They can identify with a man who shares their own values of repression, sexism and authoritarianism. A dictatorial approach to governing, in their minds, trumps religion (no pun intended). And the same applies to Donald Trump. Unlike our past presidents (even the most conservative among them), Trump has far more in common with King Salman or Putin than he does with Andrea Merkel or Justin Trudeau — and that should be a grave concern to anyone who calls themselves an American or who cherishes freedom and democracy.
There’s one other reason why Trump loves the Saudis and the Russians, which is perhaps the most important one of all: they give him the narcissistic supply he so craves. They probably know how fragile his ego is — after all, they are not stupid. Trump, like many narcissists, is naive enough to think they love him, they really, really love him, when in fact they are most likely laughing at him whenever he leaves the room. The weird thing about narcissists like Trump is the paradox of power. Narcissists, although predatory and dangerous to most, are also very emotionally needy. That neediness makes them incredibly naive and therefore easily manipulated. Their unreasonable demands for adulation may cause most people (who they see as beneath them) to cringe in fear, but they will gladly grovel before most psychopaths. Thus they become putty in the hands of psychopathic or sociopathic leaders like Vladimir Putin, who appear far less insecure and requiring of worship than Trump does. They will do anything they are asked and jettison any values they insist they have (which they really don’t) when they see that the tradeoff is a healthy dose of narcissistic supply. They’re the ultimate sellouts. Trump pretends to have values but it’s all a sham. The only thing he values (besides money and power) is being worshipped and adored.
And so now we are witnessing the spectacle of our president — who promised protection from terrorism — fawning all over Islamic jihadists in Saudi Arabia. No, I realize most Muslims are not fundamentalist crazies or jihadists, but the sentiment on the far right is that all of them are (at least up until now). As for Trump, he doesn’t care whether they are or not, as long as they’re giving him the praise and adulation he so craves. In comparison, the freedoms we enjoy here in America are a threat to his ego and a painful reminder of the things he refuses to see in himself. Here in America, instead of the red carpet treatment, bouquets of flowers, and medals of honor, he must face critics on Twitter who make memes poking fun at his hypocrisy and lies, angry protesters who force him to look in the mirror, bloggers and pundits calling him out on his duplicity,and now a high profile investigation into possible treason. But the biggest insult of all to Trump’s fragile sense of self is the evil media and “fake news” that has the temerity to shine a beacon of harsh white light on the truth which he so hates — the media that, for all its faults, is keeping most of us from slipping into into an inescapable abyss of alternative facts, twisted values, and rewritten history that would drive even George Orwell insane.