OPINION: In President Trump’s moral absence, Congress must fill the void

Graphic by Emma Li

President Donald Trump backpedaled on his promise to punish Saudi Arabia for the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In his stead, Congress will have to provide the moral leadership the president lamely failed to deliver.

The irony of the message Trump broadcast to the world after he dismissed the abhorrent killing of Khashoggi — due to geopolitical and economic concerns — is that American vigor depends on Saudi largess.

Evidently, money talks. And that’s what makes America great — a proclivity to betray the Statue of Liberty’s enjoinder of “The New Colossus,” where the Mother of Exiles commands reprieve for the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

In no uncertain terms, democracy’s lifeline is the freedom to express ideas — objectionable or otherwise. The United States, if it stands for anything fundamental and redeeming, it’s for freedom of expression.

Not surprisingly, the president’s weakness angered Democrats and Republicans, and re-ignited a disposition to shun infirmity. At least the legislative branch is not without the courage to reprimand or defend what’s right.

Here, it’s obvious why the president’s inaction drew ire from Congress. In a recent statement about Saudi Arabia and Khashoggi, Trump confessed to the world’s hazards, carving a space for Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s innocence.

Maybe the prince was involved. Then again, perhaps not. Unfortunately, the Central Intelligence Agency’s evidence was less than guaranteed. So, Trump declined the corroboration that linked King Salman’s impetuous heir to the slain journalist.

Besides, the Middle Eastern country is the United States’ favored military arms purchaser and key to maintaining oil’s recent price drop. Of course, there’s a faint chance that Iranian sales of the commodity and increased domestic production may be possible factors. Never mind the president’s misguided confidence in Riyadh’s pledge to buy American weapons or the ease of finding a new supplier in either Russia or China.

Clearly, the White House is remiss of expert analysis. Or, more tragically, the grey matter beneath Trump’s wheat chaff-colored hair (toupee?) loathes acumen.

Satire aside, the president’s luxuries don’t often include simple decisions. But, frankly, there was far too much focus on the wrong details. Sure, America and Saudi Arabia are willing beneficiaries of geopolitical and economic ties.

Still, ally or not, all that matters is a dissenting reporter was killed and dismembered (by all credible accounts) in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.  

This kowtowing to the Saudi regime for unprincipled reasons signals Trump’s impotence and America’s fall from her Promethean platform. And this cannot continue. Fortunately, Congress recognizes that forsaking Khashoggi is to abandon the First Amendment’s sanctity.

Troublingly, Trump’s tenure has been a campaign of delegitimization, to make an enemy of the fourth estate. The disturbing parallel between Khashoggi’s dismembered fate and the president’s lackluster response, is how severed America is from its animating values.

Unfortunately, the Stalinist adage that a single death is a tragedy, while a million is a mere statistic, holds. Khashoggi risked his life to speak against the Saudi Arabian government, to criticize its role in the war in Yemen. Yet, with the tragedy of his forfeited life, comes a new hope.

Congressional support to end the war in Yemen is gaining traction in light of this debacle, just as Congress is waking up to their responsibility to do what Trump would not: provide moral authority. The important facet here concerns whether Congress will rise to the occasion. Because, if they don’t, their failure is also ours.

Christopher Salazar Pitzer ’20 is a philosophy major from La Verne, CA. He’s not one to proselytize, but he believes whiskey on the rocks is sacrilege.

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