Even with President Trump’s most recent stance on Jamal Khashoggi’s death- just today he called it “the worst cover-up ever”- the president remains hesitant to point fingers at the Crown Prince. This hesitancy is hardly surprising given the president’s political and economic investment in the Saudi-American alliance. There are other reasons as well.
From doubting Barack Obama’s birthplace to authorizing a sweeping child detention policy that targeted immigrant families,Trump only truly values American citizenship. After Jamal Khashoggi was reported missing, the president offered this perspective: “Just spoke to the king of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened “to our Saudi Arabian citizen.” He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answer.”
By raising the matter of Khashoggi’s citizenship, Trump intended to raise doubts about whether he is someone worth spending capital on. It was a dog whistle to his base. It’s the same reason he does not want to know why a mother separated from her child at the border would leave her home in the first place. Not our citizen. Not our problem.
Another reason Trump doesn’t care who killed Khashoggi is his status as a Muslim journalist. Needless to say, Trump relies on the distortion of Islam as a useful prop. Never wavering at an opportunity to portray the faith as an existential threat to the culture of the West, he continuously denigrated and misrepresents Muslims and their religion. Based on his history, there is no reason to believe that Trump respects a man who prayed to Allah and worked for the Washington Post. In another early tweet, the president stated: “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia for that matter), any suggestion that I have is just more Fake News (of which there is plenty)!”
But Trump’s undisguised nationalism, calculated Islamophobia, and protracted war on journalism are not nearly as significant as the highly publicized $180 billion weapons deal struck between his administration and the Kingdom. Even if the president could bring himself to acknowledge that Khashoggi was a fine journalist and deserving of human rights, a transparent investigation into his death is simply not worth the financial ramifications. Besides, Trump has already made Khashoggi’s death a means to an end. Predicting that a full-fledged condemnation of the Crown Prince would be a rebuke against his own foreign policy objectives, the president has shown flashes of indignation but, at the end of the day, has no interest in compromising his own perceived business interests.
What is clear for sure is that this sordid episode has become yet another example of how indigent and banal politics in this country has gotten. Somehow we have arrived at a place where the freedom of the press is less important than covering up the crimes of a theocratic mafia. Somehow international law has become less important than signing off on missile contracts resulting in the obliteration of Yemeni school buses.