Trump Praises Kim Jong Un, Dismisses Concerns About Human Rights Abuses

President Trump continues to dismiss concerns about Kim Jong Un's brutality, and to lavish praise on a man who has a considerable amount of blood on his hands.

Days after his Photo Op Summit in Singapore, President Trump continues to lavish praise on Kim Jong Un, a marked contrast to what he was saying a year ago and a strategy that essentially ignores the brutality of that Kim, his father, and his grandfather have unleashed on the North Korean people for the past seventy-three years:

Almost exactly one year ago, North Korea returned an imprisoned 22-year-old American college student to his family in the United States. It was not a happy reunion.

Otto Warmbier, whom the North Koreans had imprisoned for more than a year, arrived in a coma and died a few days later — spurring President Donald Trump to rail against the “brutality” of a North Korean government that lacked “basic human decency.” Trump gradually focused his attacks on the regime’s leader, Kim Jong Un, calling him a “sick puppy” and a “madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people.”

In Singapore this week, Trump warmly embraced that so-called madman.

He called Kim a “smart” and “funny guy” who “loves his people.” He predicted the two of them would have a “terrific relationship.” Trump told reporters that human rights had come up only briefly, but he gave no indication that he had confronted Kim about Warmbier’s death, whose precise cause remains unclear.

Still, Trump described what happened to Warmbieras a catalyst for the sudden, if uncertain, rapprochement between America and North Korea, saying the University of Virginia student “did not die in vain.”

Trump’s public turnabout on Kim and his regime’s atrocious human rights record was among the most dizzying developments of the past 48 hours, which saw the two leaders meet in Singapore for an unprecedented nuclear summit. It dismayed lawmakers, human rights activists and others who — while supportive of diplomacy — fear that Trump went overboard in his flattery of Kim to the point of normalizing his rule.

“Kim’s gulags, public executions, planned starvation, are legitimized on the world stage,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut raged on Twitter. “What the hell?”

“Talking to dictators is one thing; embracing them is another,” former Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement, denouncing “the horrendous human rights abuses North Korea’s leaders perpetrate against their own people.”

“It was really over the top and excessive,” added Sarah Margon, Washington director for Human Rights Watch.

(…)

Kim’s totalitarian regime may be the world’s cruelest, with practices reminiscent of the Nazis and the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin. The government, run by Kim’s father and grandfather before him, is believed to keep as many as 100,000 people— quite possibly more — in gulags and other detention sites, many in slave-like conditions. Defectors describe a terror state with zero tolerance for dissent, in which entire families are often punished for the actions of one member.

The young Kim — thought to be in his early- to mid-30s — has ruled just as ruthlessly as his father, who died in 2011. He’s alleged to have consolidated power by having an uncle executed — reportedly by anti-aircraft guns — and ordering his half-brother’s murder with nerve agent in a Malaysian airport.

(…)

When asked by Voice of America’s Greta Van Susteren how Kim reacted when Trump raised human rights, Trump said: “Very well,” before acknowledging it was only a small part of the conversation. Trump went on to indicate that the reason Kim has been a “rough guy” is because that’s the only way his family has known how to rule.

“He’s doing what he’s seen done,” Trump said, suggesting that Kim can change. “He’s smart, loves his people, he loves his country. He wants a lot of good things, and that’s why he’s doing this.”

As if that weren’t bad enough, in an interview on the long flight home with Fox News Channel’s Brett Beier, Trump essentially dismissed the Kim regime’s brutality:

President Donald Trump sat down with Fox News’ Bret Baier for a one-on-one interview aboard Air Force One.

During the interview, the president praised “President for Life” Xi Jinping and pointed out North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump also said he and the North Korean despot “understand each other.”

POTUS’s praise of Kim prompted Baier to ask why he would say such nice things about a “killer.”

“You were asked in the press conference a number of different times and in different ways about human rights and that you that call this relationship ‘really good’ and that he was ‘very talented person.'” Baier said.

Baier then continued on, “You call people sometimes killers. He is a killer. He’s executing people.”

Trump dodged trying to say North Korea was a “tough country” with “tough people.”

“You take it over from your father–I don’t care who you are, what you are, how much of an advantage you have. If you can do that at 27 years old, that’s one in 10,000 that could do that,” Trump claimed, continuing to praise Kim. “So he’s a very smart guy. He’s a great negotiator, but I think we understand each other.”

Baier then pressed further, adding, “He has still done some really bad things.”

“Yeah, but so have a lot of other people done some really bad things,” Trump said, dodging again. “I could go through a lot of nations where a lot of bad things were done.”

Here’s the video:

And here’s the full interview as it aired:

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Trump has dismissed acts of brutality by an authoritarian ruler. Back in December 2015, then-candidate Trump was asked about the praise he was routinely lavishing on Russian President Vladimir Putin by MSNBC morning show host Joe Scarborough, who pointed out that Putin ”is a person who kills journalists, political opponents and invades countries.” Trump responded by saying that Putin is a person who is “running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.” When Scarborough pointed out that Putin “kills journalists that don’t agree with him.” Trump responded by saying, ”Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too, Joe.” Trump again dismissed Putin’s brutality in a pre-Super Bowl interview in 2017 with Bill O’Reilly by saying ”There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?”

All of this is consistent, of course, with the history of what we’ve seen from Trump since he has become President. Time after time, and it follows a script that he has followed to the letter since the Singapore Summit ended. In other interviews after the summit, the President said Kim was a funny guy who “loves his people.” This is the same person who stands at the top of a regime that has held the North Korean people in bondage for the past seventy-three years, has locked dissidents into concentration camps, and has executed people on a whim, including members of his own family. When he was specifically reminded of the crimes against humanity that Kim has committed, the President said that Kim was “tough” and “smart” and essentially dismissed the fact that he had shook hands with a man who has the blood of millions on his hands, including the blood of Otto Warmbier, whose torture-induced death he bizarrely claimed led to his Photo Op Summit. While this is consistent with Trump’s admiration for other dictators such as President al-Sisi in Egypt, the Saud family in Saudi Arabia, President Rodrigo Dueterte of The Philippines, Xi Jinping, and, of course, Vladimir Putin, it is nonetheless absolutely sickening to see a President of the United States so dismissive of human rights abuses and the reality of dictatorship.

All of this comes, of course, at the same time that this same President continues to spit in the face of the leaders of our closest and most loyal allies. Before he flew to Singapore, Trump attended the G-7 Summit, which went about as badly as you could expect, and by the time he left it was clear that he had created even more distance between himself and people such as British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Emmanuel Macron, with who had previously at least had something of a cordial relationship. On the way to Singapore, Trump lashed out at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over a perceived slight, continuing a feud that had begun when Trudeau expressed befuddlement over the idea that the President had used national security as an excuse to impose aluminum and steel on Canada as well as Europe and Mexico. In any case, it was yet another example of this President speaking worse about democratically elected leaders than he does about authoritarian dictators.

On some level, of course, it’s understandable that an Administration engaged in high-stakes negotiations with a nation such as North Korea would tone down rhetoric at least to some extent. It’s unlikely after all, that much diplomatic progress would be made if the President were continuing with the “fire and fury,” “[bigger] nuclear button,” and “Little Rocket Man” rhetoric that we saw last year. That being said, though, this does not mean that the President needs to abandon this nation’s tradition concern for human rights abuses and trampling on a record that had been consistent since the end of World War II of speaking out against such abuses when they occurred. Indeed, as several American Presidents showed us during the Cold War, it is possible to make diplomatic progress with dictators while still maintaining a record of speaking out against human rights abuses. Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan, for example, were all able to make real substantive progress with the leaders of the Soviet Union and China while at the same time calling those nations out in public and private for their appalling human rights records.

The only explanation for Trump’s failure to do this is that it’s clearly something that he doesn’t care about very much. As long as he can be seen as making a “deal,” no matter how empty that deal actually is, he’s happy. Additionally, it seems clear that Trump really does prefer authoritarian leaders to the democratically elected leaders of our allies. This can perhaps be seen in the fact that, on numerous occasions, he has acted as President in a manner that makes it clear that he has disdain for things such as the rule of law and freedom of the press. Given that, the fact that he apparently doesn’t think Kim’s brutality is a big enough deal to speak out against isn’t surprising at all, it’s just another thing to add to the list of things that make the man utterly deplorable.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, National Security, North Korea, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    The only explanation for Trump’s failure to do this is that it’s clearly something that he doesn’t care about very much. As long as he can be seen as making a “deal,” no matter how empty that deal actually is, he’s happy.

    He thinks deal making is his core competence. He has thus far made 0 deals since being elected. No deals on Obamacare, DACA, the Wall, NAFTA, TPP, Mueller, Stormy Daniels. Zero deals. Conning fools into paying you good money to slap your name on a building is not the same as doing actual political deals. He’s a three card monte street hustler who thinks fleecing rubes qualifies him for international diplomacy.

    His actual core competence is of course as a reality TV star and con man. He’s doing great at that.

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  2. Kylopod says:

    “Yeah, but so have a lot of other people done some really bad things,” Trump said, dodging again. “I could go through a lot of nations where a lot of bad things were done.”

    This is straight from the playbook of Holocaust deniers. They talk like this all the time. (“Sure the Germans committed atrocities but, y’know, the Allies did the bombing of Dresden; war is war.”)

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  3. Mikey says:

    This goes way back with Trump. In 1990, he praised the Chinese government’s massacre of hundreds of students in Tiananmen Square:

    When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.

    He compared that “strength” with America:

    Our country is right now perceived as weak… as being spit on by the rest of the world.

    Keep in mind, again, this was 1990, and we’d just won the Cold War and become the world’s sole superpower. It was probably the peak of American geopolitical strength in the 20th century, but because we don’t send the Army in to quell riots by slaughtering the rioters, he saw us as “weak,” as being “spit on.”

    It was obvious then, and it’s obvious now, that Trump wishes he could rule America with the kind of “strength” the Chinese and North Korean governments wield over their subjects.

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  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Mikey:

    Trump wishes he could rule America with the kind of “strength” the Chinese and North Korean governments wield over their subjects

    It won’t be long.
    There is no one to stop him, unless Democrats can take Congress and actually exercise some oversight.
    Republicans, brain-washed into a cult of personality, have shown they are more than willing to simply stand by and let Dennison take over the country and run it as any authoritarian would.
    Failing a massive blue wave in November, it’s entirely possible that 2016 was our last Presidential election.

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  5. grumpy realist says:

    Trump wants to act like Kim Jong Un, obviously.

    And Trump’s supporters would go along with this 90% of the time.

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  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    It won’t be long.

    In case anyone thinks I’m indulging in hyperbole; here is RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel demanding fealty to (King) Dennison.

    Complacency is our enemy. Anyone that does not embrace the @realDonaldTrump agenda of making America great again will be making a mistake.

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  7. teve tory says:

    Republicans, brain-washed into a cult of personality, have shown they are more than willing to simply stand by and let Dennison take over the country and run it as any authoritarian would.
    Failing a massive blue wave in November, it’s entirely possible that 2016 was our last Presidential election.

    Anybody who pondered despotism and thought, well, at least it can’t happen here, should by now have their belief corrected. Trump and the Trumpers show that it absolutely could happen here. These idiots would happily support it.

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  8. mattbernius says:

    On a related note, I look forward to hearing what all the people who complained about Obama’s bowing and other protocol “breaches” think of President Trump’s saluting a North Korean General.

    https://www.cnn.com/videos/world/2018/06/14/north-korea-state-media-airs-unseen-video-trump-salute-general.cnn

  9. reid says:

    Trump is amoral. He has brief flashes of outrage over horrible things when people point them out, but it’s fleeting and quickly overwhelmed by his much stronger need to look tough and “win”. And it goes without saying that his followers don’t care. How many of them could be described similarly?

  10. al Ameda says:

    I recall that conservatives had a nervous breakdown when Obama met with Raul Castro and subsequently relaxed relations with Cuba. You remember the outrage, Obama was weak, no concessions from Cuba, etc. In fact, the current administrations wants to roll back whatever it was that Obama did with respect to Cuba.

    Well here we are. Am I wrong to expect that conservatives will be outraged that Trump has elevated N. Korea’s standing and received nothing in return?

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  11. CSK says:

    So far, the Trumpkins appear to be pretending Trump never said this, or simply ignoring it, since even they can’t rationalize it.

    So far.

  12. gVOR08 says:

    “You take it over from your father–I don’t care who you are, what you are, how much of an advantage you have. If you can do that at 27 years old, that’s one in 10,000 that could do that,” Trump claimed, continuing to praise Kim. “So he’s a very smart guy. He’s a great negotiator, but I think we understand each other.”

    Wow. Trump has twisted Kim’s history into a version of his own story, a story in which he believes taking over his father’s successful real estate company was terribly difficult and even dangerous. I wonder if Kim fed it to him, along with a load of flattery.

  13. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:

    Is it possible that Trump feels he and Kim understand each other because they’re both amoral psychotic despots?

  14. MBunge says:

    So after going on and on and on about Trump’s tough talk on North Korea (and being proven completely and utterly wrong again), now you’re going to flip and whine about Trump polishing Kim Jong Un’s ego? ANY progress toward resolving the problems of the Korean peninsula is going to involve some kissing of this monster’s behind and you all know it.

    Should the President be quite so loose and easy with such butt-kissing? Maybe not but Trump doing it Trump’s way got us to this point after a quarter-century of stalemate and failure.

    But, of course, when you don’t really care about the fate of Korea, millions of Koreans, the Pacific Rim, or even America and your fellow citizens, what else can be expected. Just keep massaging that Trump butt-hurt.

    Mike

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  15. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK:
    Yup.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    @MBunge:

    But, of course, when you don’t really care about the fate of Korea, millions of Koreans, the Pacific Rim, or even America and your fellow citizens, what else can be expected.

    So you really do understand Trump.

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  17. James Pearce says:

    @mattbernius: Trump saluting a NK general should be mentioned without reference to anything Obama did.

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  18. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Breaking:
    The NYAG is suing the Dennison family for extensive and persistent violations of state and federal law.
    Happy birthday Mr. President.

  19. rachel says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Really? I want to see a link to that.

  20. James Pearce says:

    @MBunge:

    ANY progress toward resolving the problems of the Korean peninsula is going to involve some kissing of this monster’s behind and you all know it.

    That’s actually why “the problems of the Korean peninsula” have been stalemated for a couple of generations. Resolving those issues was never deemed worth kissing a tyrant’s ass.

    Should the President be quite so loose and easy with such butt-kissing? Maybe not

    No, this is a “definitely not.” Kim Jong-Un has had relatives murdered.

    Do not congratulate. Do not kiss that ass.

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  21. Kathy says:

    Trump is exactly like a wild dog when it comes to rhetoric: he’s either at your feet or at your throat, with no possible thought of anything in between. in other words, he’s either threatening to beat you up or begging to kiss your ass.

  22. CSK says:
  23. Kylopod says:

    @MBunge:

    and being proven completely and utterly wrong again

    You keep saying that. What, may I ask, did Doug say about NK that was “proven completely and utterly wrong”?

    but Trump doing it Trump’s way got us to this point after a quarter-century of stalemate and failure.

    Dude, NK has been begging US presidents to come to the table for over a generation. All the past presidents refused. The only thing Trump did differently was that he didn’t refuse. That’s it. There was no special skill, no underhanded negotation, no masterful kabuki–all he did was simply make an affirmative “yes” where his predecessors said “no.”

    And what did he get out of it? The exact same vague claim to commit to denuclearization that NK has offered more than a half-dozen times in the past–no more, no less. Trump paid “We’ll suspend all military drills” in return for “the check is in the mail.”

    Many past presidents have extracted real concessions from hostile foreign powers without making statements to the effect that a brutal, repressive dictator is actually a great guy. You’re twisting yourself into a pretzel to praise Trump for rhetoric that has not in fact led to the type of concrete achievements that past leaders have achieved without resorting to such rhetoric.

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  24. Michael Reynolds says:

    @MBunge:
    I was not ‘proven wrong,’ Bung, rather the contrary. I said Trump was overhyping a threat. He has now – on the basis of nothing – declared that threat, ‘over.’ Clearly, demonstrably, he was overhyping the threat.

    I said if he met with Kim he’d give away the store. Clearly, demonstrably, Trump gave away the store. And got nothing in return. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

    But you apparently get some pleasure from watching the heir to Washington, Lincoln and FDR suck the balls of a murderous little monster in exchange for. . . what was it again? Oh, right: nothing.

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  25. Kathy says:

    @rachel:

    Ask and ye shall retrieve

  26. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @MBunge:

    Maybe not but Trump doing it Trump’s way got us to this point after a quarter-century of stalemate and failure.

    To what point, Bunge?
    To the point of giving KJU legitimacy by letting him meet with the POTUS, and canceling military exercises, and receiving nothing in return but the same hollow assurances we have recieved dozens of times before? Anyone could have done that at any point. It’s meaningless and it does nothing to lessen the nuclear threat NoKo poses.
    I know you don’t have the balls to respond. Run away as per usual.

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  27. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy: Thank you. IANAL, but I don’t think presidential pardons will be much help in a state civil suit.

  28. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:

    They won’t help at all.

  29. Kathy says:

    @gVOR08:

    I would have preferred criminal charges, but what can you do about it? Let’s see if Dennison can even find lawyers to defend him on a civil suit. His spawn might, unless they, too, decline to pay their bills.

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  30. Hal_10000 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    He thinks deal making is his core competence. He has thus far made 0 deals since being elected. No deals on Obamacare, DACA, the Wall, NAFTA, TPP, Mueller, Stormy Daniels. Zero deals. Conning fools into paying you good money to slap your name on a building is not the same as doing actual political deals. He’s a three card monte street hustler who thinks fleecing rubes qualifies him for international diplomacy.

    This. Trump thinks he will find suckers in politics the same way he used to find them in business. But you’ll notice when he tried to negotiate a better deal with NBC — a company not filled with idiots — he did poorly. He doesn’t understand how hard it is to make international deals and how many decades of work have gone into it. I guarantee that any ideal on Iran or any deal on trade will be far weaker than what we already had just as this Korea “deal” is far weaker than what the US was seeking as its minimum baseline.

  31. CSK says:

    @Kathy:

    Trump is going insane on Twitter about this. He says he’ll never settle.

    You really should read the AG’s press release to which I linked above, as well as the petition. It’s glorious. Apparently the board of the foundation hasn’t met since 1999.

    No wonder Marla Maples took Tiffany to California.

  32. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    Trump is going insane on Twitter about this.

    I’d argue the condition precedes this morning.

    He says he’ll never settle.

    We already know he’s an idiot. There are no conceivable grounds on which he could possibly avoid depositions for this thing. And Paula Jones helped establish the precedent that a lawsuit is fair game for a White House occupant.

    I keep telling politicians who play for advantage that shoe will eventually be on their foot, but they don’t listen.

  33. MarkedMan says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    I know you don’t have the balls to respond. Run away as per usual.

    The Darryls: all due respect but you are resorting to bold and italics toward no end here. Your argument is obviously the stronger one. Heck, “stronger” is almost insulting as your opponent is not making an argument. And that’s the problem. You’ve just scored three goals on him, but he’s not on the pitch to play soccer. He’s wandered on to the field looking to see if there is a hornet nest he can whack with a stick and run away. You are engaged in two different activities. To you he’s an unattended goal. To him, you are the hornet nest.

  34. Yank says:

    You keep saying that. What, may I ask, did Doug say about NK that was “proven completely and utterly wrong”?

    He can’t refute Doug’s point, so he is just deflecting.

    Mbunge’s schtick is to come into every thread and tell everyone we were wrong without citing any evidence and then running off when he gets push back on his bull****.

  35. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Yank:
    @Bung and the others are engaged in guerrilla warfare which is what you do when you realize you can’t survive a pitched battle. It’s an admission that their arguments cannot survive counterattack, and an admission that they lack the firepower to advance. They can neither successfully attack, nor withstand attack. So Bung blurts out his Hannity lie-du-jour and runs away.

  36. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I’m not comfortable with the analogy to guerilla warfare because it gives Bung’s hit-and-run approach a respectability it does not merit. It’s more the equivalent of suicide bombing. As I’ve mentioned before, the alt-right website The Right Stuff includes the following advice for trolls (quoted in George Hawley’s Making Sense of the Alt-Right):

    You should assume that you will never manage to convince your ideological enemies of the merit of your position. Rather, the purpose of trolling is to convince people reading your comments of the merit of your position. On many different web forums, lurkers outnumber posters 10 to 1. The purpose of trolling raids is to convince these anonymous people, not the person you disagree with. As such, you can win hearts and minds even when met with universal opposition.

    Of course, what “winning hearts and minds” means in this context is actually spewing propaganda in the hopes that some of it will stick even in the face of numerous rebuttals. It may not seem all that impressive on a forum like this one, where there are a lot of well-informed individuals ready to shoot down most of the crap coming from this crowd. But on Facebook, Youtube, and other general-interest websites (and I can tell you from experience that even I don’t have the time, patience or energy to confront all the bullshit I see), the “trolling raids” do have a real potential to sway some innocent onlookers by overwhelming the attempts to push back against them. That’s why people like this are getting paid.

  37. teve tory says:

    @MarkedMan:

    The Darryls: all due respect but you are resorting to bold and italics toward no end here. Your argument is obviously the stronger one. Heck, “stronger” is almost insulting as your opponent is not making an argument. And that’s the problem. You’ve just scored three goals on him, but he’s not on the pitch to play soccer. He’s wandered on to the field looking to see if there is a hornet nest he can whack with a stick and run away. You are engaged in two different activities. To you he’s an unattended goal. To him, you are the hornet nest.

    The lesson of the Gish Gallop is that a nitwit can babble claims in 30 seconds which take 30 minutes to fully refute. The only productive responses are 1) don’t engage 2) engage if you think there are sufficient lurkers who may be misled by the nitwit that refuting it is worth it. Option 3, engaging to change the nitwit’s mind, is going to be unproductive 99% of the time.

  38. teve tory says:

    I’m already pre-bored by the inevitable “Whatabout the Clinton Foundation” dummies.

  39. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    and the others are engaged in guerrilla warfare

    You may be right. But for my part I don’t think they are engaged in warfare of any type. Engaging someone like that, especially by name, is merely a perfect symbiotic relationship between antagonists. You want to refute their arguments. Easy enough. Those arguments are crap, or not even arguments. But I don’t think they want to argue back. Rather, they are throwing out pieces of bait in order to set the hook in you and make you flop around. Their goal is to get you to respond. The words or tactics they use resemble arguments in much the same that a fly fishing lure resembles a real life fly. The crafter of that lure watches how the fish react to it and then alters it with a colorful piece of thread or a shiny sequin and tries again to see if it works better. But that fisherman has no more interest in throwing real flies into the water than the trolls have in throwing a real argument into a blog thread.

    It may be worth throwing in a “for the record” post to correct some particular bit of nonsense, but I don’t think it is ever productive to reply to a troll post, or give it a down vote, or refer to a specific troll in a reply.

  40. An Interested Party says:

    Just keep massaging that Trump butt-hurt.

    Haven’t you run out of saliva yet? Apparently not…