In 1989, thousands of students and supporters flooded Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China to protest for democracy. In response, the Chinese government cracked down with brutal military force, killing hundreds if not thousands of Chinese citizens. It was one of the most dramatic cries for liberty and freedom of a century marked by the battles against totalitarianism. It is remembered as a time of bloody sacrifice and loss, and for the horrors of the merciless Chinese communist regime.
The same totalitarian government oppresses their citizens today, 27 years later. The drama of the time and the impact of the imagery has not been lost in the meantime. There are few photos as iconic as the lone student protester facing down a tank. Ready to die for freedom. Every American heart cries out in anguish against such oppression, and in solidarity with those students.
Well ... almost every American heart.
At the CNN/Salem GOP Debate on Thursday night, Donald Trump was challenged by Jake Tapper over his seemingly appreciative statements regarding totalitarian states and leaders. In his wholly inadequate and dismissive answer, Trump said several objectionable things, but one stood out as by far the worst. He referred to that massacre in Tiananmen Square as a "riot" that was put down by a "strong" government. A riot.
You know who calls it a riot? The brutal government that oppressed it. The vile, murderous tyrants who killed the protesters as well as the freedom of which they dreamt. The evil, authoritarian, dictatorial, totalitarian government called it a riot. And so did Donald Trump.
It is telling how casually he throws that out. At no point in his rambling campaign has Trump expressed a need for increased freedom and liberty as part of what would make America great. He does not articulate the values of democracy. They are at best incidental to his platform; at worst, anathema.
This morning Leon Wolf notes the ease with which his campaign responds to opposition with violence. He promises that the military will commit war crimes if he orders them to. He warns politicians against criticizing him lest they face consequences. He encourages his crowd to injure protesters and offers to pay their legal fees. He is enamored of the tools of the tyrant, and his supporters cheer him for it. Authority. Rule. "Strength."
Trump tells Jake Tapper that making an observation that governments are strong is not the same as saying they did a good thing. Yet he offers it up to say "they are strong and we are not." They have what we lack. In lacking it, we are less. It is, therefore, and obviously, a quality to be admired, desired, emulated, and adopted. In his original statement he literally said the massacre "shows you the power of strength." He has done nothing but tout and boast about strength his entire campaign. This was praise, and blatantly so. His supporters say it endlessly, too. We need a strong leader, they say. We want a dictator, they mean.
Perhaps this video from CNN's Gary Tuchman says it best:
"He can do what he wants." That's exactly how the Chinese government saw it on June 4, 1989. That's exactly why they called the protests for freedom a "riot."
And that's exactly why Trump called them that, too.