Following the fall of the Nazi regime, and at the Nuremberg trials, certain German defendants — including concentration camp guards and bureaucrats — raised a famous defense: “I was just following orders.”
I noticed recently that Trump and Republican have invented a new variant of the defense: “I was just giving orders.”
This is most obvious in the border-dispute area where Republicans have (like a mantra) sought to recast criticisms of the administration’s border-immigration policies into an attack instead on the individual border guards themselves. Thus, with their perfect blend of cynicism and deceit, Republicans have turned a morally wrong defense (“I was just following orders”) into an absolution and distraction benefitting the policy makers (“Hey, I was just giving orders”).
A perfect example of this new argument was provided by R. Gov. Rick Scott on the most recent Meet the Press. The following has been edited to show how this has become a committed Republican talking point:
CHUCK TODD: … Why do you think the president — doing this, it's just stoking racial resentment, left and right. He's done it multiple times this month alone. He obviously thinks this is good politics inside the Republican Party. Do you think it's good politics inside the Republican Party?
SEN. RICK SCOTT: Well, Chuck, let's look at what he said, all right, and why he did it. Congressman Cummings sat there and attacked our Border Patrol agents, all right? This is , this reminds me of what happened to soldiers coming back from Vietnam.
CHUCK TODD: But that justifies a racial resentment tweet in response? Is that presidential leadership?
SEN. RICK SCOTT: Well, look, I, I, look, I didn't do the tweets, Chuck. I can't talk about why he did what he did. But I'm very disappointed in the people, like Congressman Cummings, who is attacking Border Patrol agents that are trying to do their job, when the Democrats won't give them the resources to do it. They won't secure the border. They won't fix the asylum laws. And then Democrats want to sit there and say, “Oh, those Border Patrol agents don't care.” Let me tell you, I've been to the border. I've talked to Border Patrol agents. I know they care about these individuals. But we have got to give them the resources and the ability to do their job.
[. . .] You can ask him why he did the tweet. I can tell you, I’ve had — I've disagreed with the president with some things with regard to Puerto Rico. I mean, is he happy about that? Of course not, okay? But just like on Puerto Rico, I'm going to do what I believe is in the best interest of my state. I'm disappointed, when people are out there are attacking Border Patrol agents.
Of course, Elijah Cummings did not “attack the border patrol agents,” but instead criticized the administration’s inept, incompetent and cruel policies that have abused non-white immigrants on a historic scale. Indeed, in the very Congressional hearing that offended Republicans, Rep. Cummings was explicit that he was criticizing the Trump administration, not individual agents: “It is the Trump administration's own policies that are causing these problems. They all increased the number of people being held and unnecessarily detained … The damage the Trump administration has inflicted and is continuing to inflict will affect these children for the rest of their lives.”
But that has not stopped Trump and the Republicans from cowardly hiding behind border patrol agents — not just seeking cover but reprehensibly directing the fire at these civil servants.
This is fundamentally wrong for a number of reasons.
One, it is incorrect and repugnant. And it is the same type of thing as when Trump and his allies try shamefully to invoke anti-Semitism to defend their own racism. (“Defenders of a Racist President Use Jews as Human Shields.”)
Two, there is a particular form of obnoxiousness to this. President Trump and his cronies are not just hiding behind the border agents, but putting on a public presentation that suggests that they can't even imagine that they are the target of the criticism. After all, Mike Pence is a Godly man, didn’t you know?
Three, this whole technique again rests on the unbelievable incompetence of the mainstream media. Here is how the whole tactic falls apart — just ask Republican X what statement he/she is citing that criticizes the border agents, rather then the administration. Republicans don't have one. For example, look at Chuck Todd above. He doesn't say that E. Cummings made no such statement blaming border agents. No. Chuck basically confirms that Rep. Cummings said such things (which he did not), asking: “But that justifies a racial resentment tweet in response?” (What is “that”?)
I wrote this diary because I have seen this particular tactic spreading throughout most Republican statements, and I expect it will get worse.
Carthago delenda est