President Donald #trump’s propensity to say alarming things was on full display during an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly to be broadcast just before the Super Bowl. The conversation turned toward Trump’s desire for what is in effect détente with Vladimir Putin’s Russia when he made a shocking claim of #moral equivalence between that country and the #United States.
O’Reilly said, "But he's a killer, though. Putin's a killer.”
Trump responded, "There are a lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country's so innocent?"
Up until that point, the president was doing fine, making the same case for taking on Russia as an ally in the fight against ISIS and Winston Churchill, no slouch where it came to being an anti-Communist, for having the Soviet Union as an ally against Nazi Germany. The British prime minister said, “If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”
American politicians have done moral equivalence claims about the United States and tyrannies such as Russia before. But in past cases those claims were made by politicians on the left, sometimes to attack conservatives for opposing Soviet aggression back in the Cold War. Now Trump’s ill-considered foray into moral equivalency has caused a social media firestorm, with the anti-Trump left sounding like 1980s-era Reagan conservatives and the right, with some exceptions, lapsing into sputtering incoherence or even silence. The cliché that if a libel Democrat had said such a thing the thunder on the right would have been deafening was on full display. The irony could not be more delicious.
The best that can be said about Trump is that he is not acting as if he actually believes that the United States and Russia are morally equivalent. From having his UN ambassador Nikki Haley condemn Russia for its various aggressions to the more forthright stance toward Iran’s violations of treaties and UN resolutions, the POTUS is not acting like he feels any guilt over America’s past sins. The same could not be said about his predecessor, who once sneered at the idea of American exceptionalism, and acted as if the country he was elected to govern twice needed to be taken down a peg or two.
That Trump is going to have to walk back that exchange with O’Reilly is a given. The unsettling realization is setting in, though, is the country is in for a wild ride which would have been avoided had any Republican besides Trump had been elected in his stead.