The president’s use of “dog” as an insult has drawn the attention of many.
On Saturday Oct. 26 a raid conducted between the United States and Kurdish intelligence resulted in the death of ISIS leader and founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The raid was conducted at al-Baghdadi’s compound in Northern Syria.
Trump quickly made the announcement of Baghdadi’s death to the media, doing so in his usual unapologetic, bombastic flair. Trump called him a “sick and sadistic man,” adding that “he died like a dog, he died like a coward.” Trump also said that it was “a very successful, flawless raid.”
One controversy surrounding the raid came in the form of the strange emphasis on the canine in Trump’s announcements. During his announcement of Baghdadi’s death, he referred to the IS leader as a “dog,” in a derogatory fashion.
This might have been done as a form of psychological propaganda, given that many extremist Muslims see dogs as unclean, and making this connection might have been a way to dissuade would-be extremists from sympathising with Baghdadi. But then came the tweet on Oct. 28, in which Trump posted the picture of the K-9 “hero” who helped sniff out the compound and contribute to Baghdadi’s death, getting injured in the process. Trump declassified the picture of the dog on Twitter, but did not initially give out his name for security reasons. The dog’s name – Conan – was later released to the public, and he is indeed a very good boy. He will visit the White House sometime next week. Trump followed up this canine rant with another one soon after, on an entirely different battlefront. On Nov. 1, shortly after Democratic Presidential Candidate Beto O’Rourke dropped out of the 2020 presidential race, President Trump gave a rally in which he added to his tally of canine epithets by saying of O’Rourke that “he quit like a dog.” This canine trend isn’t a coincidence or a case of grasping at straws, but a real trend, by Donald Trump. It is also worth noting that Trump is the first president in a century to not have a dog of his own. The last was William McKinley.
On the one hand, while I can certainly get calling a mass murderer a “dog,” it seems very wrong to call a political opponent of yours a “dog,” for reasons that should be obvious. Trump is an unapologetic person who speaks his mind, the single greatest source of his popularity, but there is such a thing as tact. Even if you dislike O’Rourke and his policies, I don’t think it would be smart to repeat those things as the sitting president. If Jimmy Carter had called a political opponent a dog, it would have gone down as his most controversial moment.
Additionally, the process of conducting the raid, Trump informed the SDF, Russia and Turkey of the operation, but he did not inform prominent government officials, including Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, and Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff. McConnell was not bothered by this, noting that Obama kept him out of the loop when Bin Laden was killed in 2011. However, Pelosi and Schiff were upset and promptly criticised Trump for it. Trump explained his decision not to notify Democrats by calling Schiff “A leaker like nobody’s seen before”. Of course, the U.S. had to inform Russia and Turkey, who hated Baghdadi as much as we did, about the raid, so that we wouldn’t violate their airspace and kick off a third world war in the process, but Trump’s decision to play this one close to his chest is indicative of these divisive and distrustful times, and of his reticence to work with a group attempting to impeach him in the House and Senate. Another controversial incident took place in the form of a Washington Post headline that was stealth edited after its release, prompting backlash from several pundits. The headline originally read: “Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, Islamic State’s Terrorist-In-Chief, dies at 48.” It was then changed to: “Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, Austere Religious Scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48.” The difference should be blatant and disturbing to all. Al-Baghdadi was anything but an ‘austere religious scholar.’ Several formally trained Islamic Scholars were quick to condemn him and IS’s practices as “un-Islamic” when the terrorist group gained ground, and started perpetrating – or claiming responsibility for – terrorist attacks in the west. On top of this, the man was responsible for a wide scale campaign of sexual enslavement of women, and even had sex slaves of his own, whom he repeatedly raped and then murdered. If he’s an “austere scholar,” then the Unabomber was a “clever inventor” too.
Of course, the backlash prompted the Washington Post to apologize and change the headline back to what it should have been, but the decision to sanitize this evil man’s deeds is still baffling. Did the Washington Post not want to be seen as Islamophobic for condemming a man who orchestrated the mass murder of Shia Muslims in Iraq? Moreover, why were they so kind with Baghdadi, when they repeatedly use harsher words on Trump? This is this kind of rhetoric and behavior that leads to Trump and his supporters calling the media “fake news,” and it is also why trust in the media and in journalists is at an all-time low. If you don’t want this president to have another four years in the White House, then this kind of journalistic stealth editing needs to stop – and it needs to stop anyways, because it is morally wrong, misleading, manipulative and foolish. You know that people can screencap these articles, right? If you don’t provide full transparency to any changes, redactions or alterations to your content after its release, then you are being journalistically unethical.
In the meantime, criticism and support for Trump’s operation and his subsequent handling of it– as well as the rhetoric surrounding it with Beto and Schiff– will no doubt remain split along ideological lines, with those in Trump’s camp relentlessly supporting him, and those outside relentlessly critiquing him. But it is likely that this operation will give Trump the same boost in morale and centrist support that Obama received when his men killed Bin Laden, and Trump certainly needs it as this divisive and inflammatory impeachment battle rages on, and his future in the White House remains uncertain.