Donald Trump adopted a persona of the toughest guy in the room in his successful campaign for president. He stuck out his chest, insulted Republican and Democratic rivals alike, and told Americans that he alone spoke truth to power.
On the subject of the Armenian genocide, however, Trump is just the latest in a line of 98-pound weaklings to occupy the White House and to kowtow to Turkey.
We will give President Trump this: Unlike Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, he never promised to recognize the Armenian genocide.
Still, you would think a president who told voters that he would be fearless might muster the courage to say “genocide” when issuing the traditional April 24 presidential statement calling attention to the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians during the reign of the Ottoman Empire and its successor state, Turkey.
Or maybe the president is conserving his courage for other foreign trouble-makers. Trump appears intent on being buddies with Turkish President Recep Erdogan. Trump has called Erdogan twice since moving into the White House. The most recent call was to congratulate Erdogan on his victory in a referendum that tightened his grip on power.
We hope that the fact that Trump’s vast business interests include Trump Towers Istanbul are a coincidence and not a driving force in the president’s chumminess with Erdogan, who continues to roll back democratic practices in his country.
We can say with certainty that Turkish officials and citizens alike are inflamed by the subject of the genocide. They insist it never happened, that some deaths occurred, but they were the natural outcome of civil war and Armenian support for the Ottoman Turks’ bitter enemy, czarist Russia, during World War I.
Few people outside Turkey buy that story. The evidence is overwhelming. The Ottoman Turks organized the massacres and deportations with great care in advance. And they began the genocide in calculated fashion: Some 250 Armenian intellectuals – doctors, lawyers, writers, teachers – were arrested and deported from Constantinople. Almost all were later executed.
Trump sometimes tells people that he’s another Ronald Reagan. On the Armenian genocide, he’s no Reagan. On April 22, 1981, President Reagan issued a proclamation about the Holocaust that included this sentence:
“Like the genocide of the Armenians before it, and the genocide of the Cambodians which followed it – and like too many other such persecutions of too many other peoples – the lessons of the Holocaust must never be forgotten.”
The Bee’s Washington bureau reporter, Michael Doyle, noted that Trump’s statement Monday used “diplomatic language remarkably similar to that deployed by President Barack Obama and others. …”
If Trump ever said – even once – during the 2016 campaign that he would he would follow Obama’s lead on an issue, we don’t remember it.
Reagan got it right. Clinton, Bush and Obama did not. Trump has at least three more times to get it right. Official recognition of genocide is one of the best ways to ensure that the world does not forget the horrors that depraved minds inflict on other human beings.