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18 Oct 2018

The point, of course, isn’t that Trump should desist from intermingling with foreign leaders, no matter how repugnant. But Trump not only unreservedly compliments, supports and cosy up with such leaders, but he rejects using the political influence of the U.S to stress the importance the country places, or should place, on human rights issues.

In the wake of the abduction and suspected murder of a prominent Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, after visiting Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul early this month, one can’t help remembering Trump’s tweet just after he came back from meeting Supreme leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

“Our country’s biggest enemy is the Fake News so easily promulgated by fools,” the president tweeted. Like most African journalists, Khashoggi’s crime was to criticise the record of the Gulf kingdom on free speech and human rights issues and he paid the price with his life.

Following Khashoggi’s disappearance, when it comes to getting tough on Saudi Arabia Trump is talking the talk but it is not quite clear what he will do to follow up. He has already all but ruled out what is perhaps his most effective weapon – to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Instead of condemning Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – whose human rights record is getting dirtier with each day - he chose to defend the sale of more than $110billion of arms to the kingdom that is involved in war crimes in Yemen.

”I don’t want to hurt US jobs by stopping military sales with Saudi Arabia,” said Trump when asked if the U.S would take any action against Saudi Arabia over the murder of Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate.

Following an outcry from Republican senators, Trump then issued a thinly veiled threat at Saudi Arabia promising “severe punishment” if it is discovered that they were behind the disappearance of Khashoggi.

A political analyst, Ronald Dintle, who spoke to this publication indicated that this must not be taken as a threat but simply as a bargaining chip. “Trump is using thinly veiled threats as a way of trying to reach a compromise with the Kingdom.”

Well before Trump, the reputation of autocratic governments with the media has been bad, but when America – once considered the moral capital of the world – openly squanders the country’s leverage through unconditional support for strongmen such as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – dictators will unquestionably feel emboldened. And he already is feeling emboldened as he continues to defy threats not just from the U.S but any country that threatens to impose sanctions on the Kingdom. After all, why should Mohamed bin Salman take America’s threats seriously when Trump continues to incite his supporters to attack and assault journalists?

To say 2018 has been a bad year for the 4th estate would be an understatement. According to Dintle, “Africa and indeed the rest of the world should be alarmed when the United States embraces not so democratic leaders from other countries such as Putin, Duterte, Kim Jong Un and now the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. These are leaders who have a nasty record with regards to the way they treat journalists. Trump is not really concerned about what these man stand for as long as they respect him and massage his ego.”

In Africa, some dictators will feel emboldened by Trump's embrace to silence opposition voices with impunity. This of course is not to say Trump is the reason why we have African leaders who abuse and mistreat journalists. That has always been the norm but the Trump’s administration embrace of strongmen where the disappearance or killing of journalists is on the increase is worrisome.

“Almost every U.S administration has ignored human rights issues abroad. However the difference is the Trump administration has set a new precedent. When Trump engages with the worst offenders he remains silent and at times he is often seen as supporting them. It is this kind of indifference to human rights that makes global leaders increase their crackdown on critical and independent journalism,” says Dintle.

While Trump cannot be blamed for the uptick in the sense of impunity felt by dictatorial governments, his empathy for them has a great impact on the country’s standing on the global stage. Whatever is left of USA’s moral standing globally is fading fast like a distant drum.

“Unlike past US Presidents, Trump can be easily manipulated by tyrants. All they have to do is to praise him and then they will be in President Trump’s good graces. For him everything is transactional,” says Dintle.

Although his predecessors viewed tyrants such Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi as objectionable, President Trump views foreign policy relations through contractual lens and that is why he calls him a friend simply because they are fighting terrorism together.

For a country once referred to as the moral capital of the world, Trump’s incitement of his supporters to attack and assault journalists is bearing fruits not just in America but all over the world. How you may ask? One journalists at a time.

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