Trump’s Ukraine Comments Show the Dangers of Power Worship

“I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine, of Ukraine, Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” Donald Trump explained on a radio show the day after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

“So Putin is now saying, ‘It’s independent,’ a large section of Ukraine. I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s going to go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s the strongest peace force,” Trump added. “We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. … Here’s a guy who’s very savvy. … I know him very well. Very, very well.”

In the days that followed, Trump’s comments generated a lot of justified condemnation. But it bothered me that most of the criticism seemed to center on Trump’s use of the terms “savvy” and “genius,” and not “wonderful.” The former are descriptive terms while the latter is normative. After all, one can believe that Putin is brilliant while also being evil. But saying that the initiation of lawless slaughter is “wonderful” is morally grotesque. It’s all the more repugnant when you realize that Trump was celebrating Putin’s propaganda that he was merely sending in “peacekeepers” while suggesting there’s nothing wrong with Russia falsely declaring conquered territory is “independent.”

Eventually it dawned on Trump that he misread the moment. At the Conservative Political Action Conference he offered a real condemnation. “The Russian attack on the Ukraine is appalling. It’s an outrage and an atrocity that should never have been allowed to occur.” Reasonable people can debate the depth of his sincerity. Though it seems to me that if your first reaction to lawless slaughter is to marvel at the wonderful brilliance of it, you’ve told us who you are.

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