Let’s review the weekend Donald Trump had:
1. He danced around his receiving support from David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, later blaming a “bad earpiece” for the reason he was able to repeat Duke’s name to host Jake Tapper but unable to say he didn’t want their support.
Yes, on Friday Trump had disavowed Duke’s support. Which, one might think, should have made it easy for him to repeat that disavowal during the interview Sunday as long as he could hear the name, which he clearly could. Rather, this looks like yet another instance of Trump — the hilariously monikered “truth teller” — talking out of both sides of his mouth as he makes it up on the fly. In other words, it’s another instance of Trump showing just how ill-suited he is for the presidency. (Note that when Duke ran for president as a Republican in 1992, the party did what it could to keep him off ballots.)
2. He took the bait and retweeted a quote by Benito Mussolini — which had been tweeted by an account whose handle was explicitly a reference to the Italian fascist:
Trump tried to explain this away as his being interested in “interesting quotes,” not actual fascists. But this particular quote is not some innocuous thought about life in general: It’s the kind of thing a dictator says to justify his violence toward his own citizens. Which leads us to …
3. Trump’s quotes about the Tiananmen Square massacre from a 1990 interview with Playboy resurfaced:
Q: What were your other impressions of the Soviet Union?
Trump: I was very unimpressed. Their system is a disaster. What you will see there soon is a revolution; the signs are all there with the demonstrations and picketing. Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That’s my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.
Q: You mean firm hand as in China?
Trump: When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak … as being spit on by the rest of the world —
Q: Why is Gorbachev not firm enough?
Trump: I predict he will be overthrown, because he has shown extraordinary weakness. Suddenly, for the first time ever, there are coal-miner strikes and brush fires everywhere — which will all ultimately lead to a violent revolution. Yet Gorbachev is getting credit for being a wonderful leader and we should continue giving him credit, because he’s destroying the Soviet Union. But his giving an inch is going to end up costing him and all his friends what they most cherish — their jobs.
So, let’s review: His “problem with Gorbachev” was that he didn’t put down the protests that ultimately led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, marking the end of the Cold War. Winning the Cold War is generally considered one of the great American feats of the 20th century — and yet Trump as it was happening thought our country was “perceived as weak … as being spit on by the rest of the world.” And whose example did he deem “stronger”? That of the Chinese government, which killed hundreds if not thousands of its own people to put down similar protests. That kind of strength, Trump seemed to admire. The kind of actions that could lead to a political leader “costing him and all his friends … their jobs”? Weakness.
Think about that for a moment: The man who would be president of the United States sided with the government that ordered the murder of its own people over a man (Gorbachev) who allowed protests that led to more democracy (even if Russia’s later leadership — including another leader Trump admires, Vladimir Putin — squandered that opportunity). Just another day living like a lion instead of a sheep, amirite?
David Duke. Benito Mussolini. The killers of Tiananmen Square. These are the figures about whom Trump is ambivalent to admiring. No intellectually honest person can liken this kind of thinking to the GOP or conservative movement more broadly. This is, in terms of American politics, a unique kind of appeal that, as in other ways, is well out of step with mainstream Republicans and conservatives. It should absolutely be rejected.