Trump's trampling of political norms spurs strongman comparisons – Politico

On a recent visit to Washington, members of an official Chinese delegation told their congressional hosts that Jared Kushner, with his murky mix of business and political interests, reminded them of a wealthy young communist “princeling” in their own country.

When Capitol Hill aides warned officials from another repressive foreign government that they could pay a political price for human rights abuses, their visitors scoffed: President Donald Trump had just called their leader, they said, and told him he was doing a great job.

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In addition to those interactions, recounted by people whowere present, in the days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, one diplomat from an undemocratic nation told POLITICO he was taking a guilty pleasure in the spectacle. “Now you guys can’t lecture everyone else anymore,” he said.

Trump has delighted in trampling political norms — from attacks on the judiciary and the media to groundless accusations about his political opponents — in ways that critics say resemble the behavior of foreign autocrats whom the United States has long condemned.

Now congressional officials, human rights activists and U.S. diplomats say they worry Trump may be setting a dangerous example overseas.

“There’s a credibility issue when it comes to the rule of law, particularly with the firing of Comey,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director of Human Rights Watch.

A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

The concerns will take on special resonance today when Trump sits down with Turkey’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish leader recently presided over a sweeping political crackdown—jailing opponents, shuttering media outlets and eroding the independence of Turkey’s judiciary.

At the same time, top Trump officials have downgraded the role of democratic values in U.S. foreign policy. In a recent speech, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said human rights concerns are often “an obstacle” to other U.S. interests. Trump has also taken forgiving stances toward other authoritarian rulers, including Egypt’s dictator, Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, who

The U.S. has long struggled to live up to its own ideals. During the Iraq War, foreign governments cited the CIA’s secret detentions and torture practices as damning proof that America has no special moral virtue. Even the recent wave of global ransomware attacks—based on computer code stolen from the National Security Agency—is a reminder that the United States practices aggressive cyber espionage.

And when it comes to Turkey, Trump himself has said the United States has little standing to preach about political rights given its failings at home. After Turkey’s military staged an aborted coup against Erdogan in July 2016, Trump praised Erdogan for his severe crackdown in response.

“I don’t know that we have a right to lecture. Just look about what’s happening with our country. How are we going to lecture … you see the riots and the horror going on in our own country?” Trump said. “When the world sees how bad the United States is and we start talking about civil liberties, I don’t think we are a very good messenger.”

Turkish and Russian media outlets prominently covered the remarks.

Trump officials have noted that Turkey is a NATO ally which assists the fight against the Islamic State.

Still, asked whether Obama would have hosted Erdogan amid the many concerns about his political crackdown at home, Colin Kahl, a former Obama White House national security aide who worked extensively on Turkey replied: “No chance.”

Edward-Isaac Dovere contributed to this report.

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