Members Only | December 9, 2019 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Donald Trump Opens the Door to Saudi Arabian Interference

With Russia, memes. With the Kingdom, bullets.

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I don’t often talk about how mad I am. I don’t often talk about how mad I am, because talking often about how mad I am prevents me from speaking clearly and rationally. I want to speak clearly and rationally. There is so much need for speaking clearly and rationally amid the endless streams of waste and filth polluting our public discourse.

But I can’t speak clearly and rationally at the expense of morality. Morality often begins with a feeling. The Gospels tell us of Jesus looking on the poor—he could hear and smell their misery—and he was “moved with pity.” But another way of putting it, another way of translating σπλαγχνισθεὶς, is that the rabbi felt compassion “in his guts.”


Your gut is right. Listen to it.


If you’re like me, your gut is telling you that so much is wrong. Your gut is telling you that so much is wrong and that so many people are ignoring, overlooking or knowingly rationalizing so much injustice in our country. I don’t mean to suggest anger with an unfair world. I don’t mean to advocate anger with the human condition. I do mean to suggest that rage is appropriate when bad people are allowed to do bad things, and when bad people create political conditions by which good people can’t satisfy justice.

Sometimes, it’s best to ignore your head.

Sometimes, it’s best to listen to your gut.

Florida saw a horrific crime Friday. A young military student started shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola. He killed three people and wounded several more before dying under police fire. The student was a Saudi national stateside for training. He bought the handgun legally. There are reports of his watching videos of mass shootings the night before. The FBI is investigating the scene as a potential act of terrorism.

Was it? The president isn’t waiting to find out. Donald Trump took to Twitter over the weekend. He said the murderer had nothing to us with the Saudi Arabian people. He said the murderer had nothing to do with the Saudi Arabian government. The FBI hasn’t begun investigating. How would he know? The Saudi king called to say so.

It’s wrong for the president to come to a conclusion about a crime before a crime has been investigated. It’s wrong for the president to tell us that something is true when he can’t yet know. It’s wrong for the president to trust uncritically the likes of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, whose government not only murdered a Post columnist last year, but bone-sawed Jamal Khashoggi into pieces for speaking truth to power.

More importantly, it’s wrong for the president of the United States to appear as if he were the Saudi king’s legal representation in the court of public opinion. In the absence of the king’s counsel (that is, Trump), the Republican Party and its right-wing media allies might be spewing all manner of Islamophobia, as they normally would when shooters are even the slightest bit brown. But the king and the president got ahead of the story, preempting what would normally be at least 24 hours of hysteria.

More importantly, it’s wrong for the president to deflect potential responsibility before we know whether the Saudis had anything to do with the Pensacola massacre. It was wrong for the current president to do that just as it was wrong for the George W. Bush administration to deflect attention away from Saudi Arabia and instead to Iraq. (The majority of the 9/11 attackers were Saudi; none was Iraqi.) In both cases, money and power (oil and tyranny) appeared to prevail over the blind administration of justice.

Even more importantly, the president has opened the door to yet another government to interfere with the American way of life. Even if the FBI were to conclude that the Pensacola shooter was a terrorist, what then? Trump would defend the kingdom, as he defended the Kremlin against confirmation that it undercut Hillary Clinton’s campaign with a massive propaganda operation to move public opinion against her. In both cases, the president of the United States would appear to be the tank for other countries, setting the stage of repeated crimes against America and our democracy.

Only next time, instead of memes and tweets, it might be bullets and bombs.

Gaslighting is what happens when bad people hurt other people, deny having hurt them and convince victims they are actually villains. Gaslighting is what happens when bad people act with impunity to the laws, rules and norms governing human behavior. Gaslighting is what happens when good people don’t listen to their guts.

Your gut is right. Listen to it.

And get mad.

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.

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