Jamal Khashoggi and the Death of American Decency

Action with dark or selfish intent is troubling. Indifference in the face of injustice is evil.

Our American bonehead doesn't understand the immorality of a bone saw.

I’m no fan of the president or his party. Any number of actions taken by this president would have led to cries for the impeachment and removal from office of almost any other president under identical circumstances. If a Democratic president had been caught doing just a fraction of what Trump has done, the GOP would have screamed bloody murder, whether they were in power in Congress or not. The daily and weekly onslaught of shocking and despicable behavior by this administration has numbed many Americans to the point of disgust, rage and frustration. And some, perhaps even more dishearteningly, have resorted to hiding behind indifference. You would not be the only American to think there is literally nothing that can touch “Teflon Don,” no matter his crimes or incredibly inept leadership.

I’m hoping beyond hope that the actions of the last couple of weeks will prove different, though I’m not holding my breath.

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Journalist and American permanent resident Jamal Khashoggi was murdered. I know you know that, but read that sentence again. All sources and evidence point toward the government of Saudi Arabia, primarily Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, as instigating his murder. Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi royal family, was living in self-imposed exile as he wrote for The Washington Post. All sources and evidence point to Khashoggi being greeted at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by 15 men and never exiting alive. Turkish sources say that he was interrogated, tortured, killed and then dismembered by these men in seven minutes. Unless, of course, you choose to believe the Saudi news from the weekend that Khashoggi was killed during a “fistfight” inside the consulate. Right.

The president’s response has been reticent at best; he initially stalled — bobbling a theory of “rogue killers” seemingly out of nowhere — until he talked to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. After that, as he often does when speaking to powerful men that he respects, he took the king’s adamant denial as irrefutable proof that Saudi Arabia wasn’t behind the murder. Now, the president admits that Khashoggi is “probably” dead — after he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted that Saudi Arabia deserved “a few more days” to finish their investigation, supposedly in conjunction with the Turkish government. During all of this, the president simultaneously encouraged a crowd (dare I say “mob”?) at a rally to support Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte for assaulting a journalist. By the way, does anyone still believe the president is showing up at these rallies to support the actual candidates?

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Khashoggi’s death is a tragedy. That a journalist cannot feel free to write without fleeing their own country is terrible. That the Crown Prince’s supposedly “progressive” government would speak and act so destructively against a dissenting journalist is unforgivable. That Saudi Arabia continues to harp upon achievements like — gasp — allowing women to drive, and — gasp — allowing movies in public is ludicrous. All of these are concerns on the international stage. All should be taken extremely seriously.

The death of democracy is the American response. This president, and by proxy his party and his government, have acted like scared kittens who are afraid their milk will be taken away if caught mewling. Though some GOP representatives have spoken out in support of investigations and possible sanctions against Saudi Arabia, the great majority of the US government has been depressingly silent in defense of a journalist speaking truth to power. This is the danger of this administration. Action with dark or selfish intent is troubling. Indifference in the face of injustice is evil.

I grant you, it’s a delicate situation. In a region in which the US has a handful of mostly reluctant allies at best, Saudi Arabia is one of our few strong and consistent ones, even setting aside that 15 of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001 were Saudis. The Kingdom’s energy industry certainly plays a role (though maybe not as big a one as you think) in western financial interests. Though the Crown Prince (cleverly marketed in the zeitgeist  lately as MsB) has taken some baby steps towards some progressive advances, his nation is hardly a bulwark of freedom. Still, small steps are better than no steps, and should be encouraged.

But let’s look again at the bottom line: Khashoggi was a free and independent journalist who exiled himself for the freedom to speak out against a repressive regime. In a space that was supposedly safe, under the orders of the Saudi government, most people believe he was brutally murdered. And it is very possibly because of the president’s personal financial relationship with the Kingdom that our country’s official response has been cautious and downright defensive. The president has consistently displayed the impending arms sale –he claims the deal to be over $100 billion, sources point to it more in the neighborhood of $4 billion — as a reason to give them the benefit of a doubt. So how much is a human life worth? How much is the life of a brave journalist worth? Apparently, to the president, nothing. To most people a life, no matter how you view it, is worth more than any monetary amount. Our president doesn’t feel that way.

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This president does things on a daily basis that make me want to tear out my hair and move to Canada. But this may be the worst, most feckless, most cowardly, and most un-American thing I have seen this man do. The midterms are important. The investigation is important. Accountability is important. But this should have been the easiest test of any American president, to stand up to a regime that persecutes and murders journalists.

Then again, what are we expect from a president who calls the press “the enemy of the people?” Put a check on this corrupt and immoral executive branch. Vote.