How Trump makes dictators stronger

Anne Applebaum writes: When Reagan welcomed Ferdinand Marcos to the White House in 1982, for example, he was careful to speak of the history of U.S.-Philippine friendship, “forged in shared history and common ideals.” He also praised the Philippine constitution: “Independence, liberty, democracy, justice, equality . . . are engraved in our constitutions and embodied in our peoples’ aspirations.”

In his frequent and markedly enthusiastic comments about dictators, we hear no such aspirational language from President Trump. His admiration for men who torture and murder their opponents contains no historical or ethical nuance, no reference to theoretical ideals. Compare Reagan’s language in 1982 to Trump’s language a few weeks ago, when Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, Egypt’s brutal dictator, visited Washington. “I just want to let everybody know, in case there was any doubt, that we are very much behind President Sissi,” he told the cameras. “He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation.”

Sissi has arrested tens of thousands of people, many of them tortured, many of them imprisoned for the “crime” of running independent charities or organizations.

His brutality is such that I’ve heard his prisons described as “factories for the creation of future Islamist fanatics.” His war on his people will increase instability in the region, not preserve it. Yet Trump’s language was not just positive but also personalized. Sissi, he declared, has been “very close to me from the first time I met him.”

For Sissi, this encounter was important: It helped to solidify his authority at home, justify his brutality and reinforce his power. [Continue reading…]

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