As the coronavirus sweeps through the White House, infecting Donald Trump, advisor Hope Hicks, Kellyanne Conway, three Republican senators, and more, the bombshell report on Trump’s tax returns The New York Times dropped in late September already seems to be receding from the news cycle.
Updates on Trump’s health status dominate the headlines and television news coverage. The president is now suffering from the behaviors resulting from his repeated public denials of the lethal nature of the virus and his refusal to wear a mask and take other basic precautions to protect himself and others from the pestilence.
While Trump’s denials of the dangers of the coronavirus have proven deadly and certainly newsworthy, the Times reporting on Trump’s tax returns sheds light on another deadly denial that hasn’t received enough attention, and certainly not sharp focus: Trump’s enabling, indeed participation in, the genocide of thousands of Kurdish people in northern Syria carried out by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There is far more than Trump’s $70,000 hair-styling write-offs that need attention in this reporting.
At the time, Trump ordered the removal of the U.S. troops stationed in the region in part to provide protection for the Kurds, thus creating an unfettered genocidal path of destruction for Turkish forces against the over-matched and largely defenseless Kurds.
And for what? A few more million dollars in the pockets of the man who already holds one of the most powerful positions on the planet and who already brings in tens of millions of dollars each year from foreign sources.
The mass murder of thousands of Kurds has a price tag for Trump, who is already doing just fine, at least financially, in his life.
Back in November 2019, Trump’s pliability to Erdogan’s influence, or blackmail really, did receive attention. Media coverage highlighted, for example, statements by Trump’s former national security advisor John Bolton, who had recently left the administration, raising suspicions that Trump’s own financial interests were influencing his foreign policy decisions—or, to put it more pointedly, that foreign leaders were financially leveraging Trump to influence, if not coerce, his decisions.
Newsweek, for example, reported that Bolton expressed frustration at Trump’s Turkey strategy, suggesting “that Trump’s personal financial interests might be influencing his decisions as they were so far removed from his aides’ advice.”
The reporting highlighted how previously, when Trump had banned Muslims from entering the U.S., Erdogan called for Trump’s name to be removed for the hotel in Istanbul with which Trump had a licensing agreement from which he had collected more than $13 million. Erdogan dropped this campaign when Trump publicly supported his suppression of domestic opposition after a coup attempt.
Writing for the conservative journal The Bulwark, Tim Miller put it this way at the time:
Bolton’s accusation, if accurate, would amount to the biggest scandal in the American presidency in half a century: The most senior security staffer, a man with unparalleled access to the president, believes that Trump acted in a way that is indistinguishable from double-dealing despots the world over.
But even the outrage and alarm registered implicitly in this reporting does not capture the absolute criminal inhumanity of Trump’s behavior. Nor does, for example, reporting by Vox in the wake of the Times’ reporting on Trump’s tax returns, which fairly typified a good deal of the coverage. Alex Ward, reporting on the conflicts of interest spotlighted in Trump’s tax returns, articulated the key issue this way:
Yes, foreign governments funneling money into business linked with the president goes against federal law. But since such rule-breaking hasn’t — and likely won’t — lead to immediate action, the biggest concern is this: If the president makes decisions based on his private interests, and not the public’s, then he’s subjugating the demands of US foreign policy for the bottom line of his family’s business.
Trump abusing his office to serve his own interests at the expense of the American people is indeed horrible—and horribly dangerous for the nation, for all of us.
But participating in a genocide, in mass murder, in the most vile crime against humanity, so one can stroke one’s ego by preserving one’s name in big letters on a hotel and maybe rake in another million dollars when one is already quite comfortable—well, this brings Trump’s behavior to a whole other extreme level of grotesque evil and inhumanity.
This isn’t just about America’s national interest or security. It’s about how Trump feels—or doesn’t feel—about people, about lives, including the American people and their lives.
As I wrote back in October 2019, Trump needs to brought to the United Nations and tried for crimes against humanity based on the U.N.’s Genocide Convention.
And I also pointed out that Trump’s attitudes and actions toward the Kurds were no different from the attitudes he held toward the American people and the policies he pursued to undermine American lives—the lives of the white working class who supposedly support him, of people of color in the U.S., against LGBTQ people, against all Americans.
While Trump likely won’t be brought before the U.N. to face charges of genocide, he will be brought before the American people on November 3 for judgment.
It is important Americans recognize, and the media puts sharply into focus, Trump’s absolute disrespect, even hostility, toward life itself.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.