Written by Hannah Dunleavy

In The News

Donkeys and Elephants

On a scale of one to evil-and-a-fucking-half, how “bad” was Saddam Hussein? Hannah Dunleavy and Donald Trump might have to agree to differ. She’s fine with that.

Donald Trump speaking at New Hampshire Town Hall on 19 August 2015. Photo by Michael Vadon 07, via Wikimedia Commons.

Donald Trump speaking at New Hampshire Town Hall on 19 August 2015. Photo by Michael Vadon 07, via Wikimedia Commons.

Remember when Donald Trump said there was stuff to admire about Kim Jong-un and we all spat out our tea and wondered what psychopath he’d lionise next? And then he revealed he had a man crush on authoritarian homophobe Vladimir Putin and it started to seem possible this whole presidential bid was actually an intricately plotted master crime in which some evil genius/bored teenagers kidnap Trump’s dog and blackmail him to carry out a series of increasingly bizarre stunts via a voice-modulated phone call at seven every morning.

Recently one of those calls clearly stated, “Say something positive about [audible giggles in background] Saddam Hussein.” And he did. And my hopes the world would even make it to the end of this ‘roid of a year faded further into the distance. (Seriously, I’m starting to wonder whether the horrors of 2016 aren’t the universe’s way of preparing us for the ultimate horror in November.)

Still, in the same week of the release of the Chilcot Report – which took longer to construct than the Hoover Dam and serves roughly the same purpose – at least it’s topical, right?

What Trump actually said about Saddam was this: “He was a bad guy – really bad guy. But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights. They didn’t talk. They were terrorists. Over. Today, Iraq is Harvard for terrorism.”

You could probably write a dissertation on what’s wrong with that collection of sentences (without even going into the grammar or why he just said “over” like he was on a walkie talkie), but I’m going to try to be brief.

“I started to wonder what I’d missed about the dictator. Did he find a cure for cancer? Bring fresh water to every home in the country? Invent a new kind of popcorn that never got stuck in your teeth?”

To be fair, he did at least acknowledge that Saddam was “a really bad guy”. Which is obviously the most emphatic thing you can say about a person who makes you question the existence of evil. I think we can all agree on that. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve heard Trump and thought, “Dear God, that guy is such a really bad guy.”

It’s also important to point out that it’s possible to start a sentence with the words, “I know he was a bad guy but…” and go on to make a valuable point. As an enthusiastic (amateur) historian, I do it all the time. Take Sir Francis Drake, who despite that sentimentalised view of English history 52 per cent of the population seem to be high on at present, was actually a “really bad guy”. A pirate, a killer and a slave trader. But…

And here’s the key to it: it’s all about the strength of the but. (And possibly some historical context, which obviously isn’t an excuse, but if it was, works better if you aren’t talking about a 20th-century despot.)

But… Drake beat the Armada. Pretty much singlehanded. Yes, he had good ships with good crews, but he had little-to-no help from anyone higher up the chain. Forget old Gloriana and that self-aggrandising speech at Tilbury, she wouldn’t even give him money to buy ammunition and feed his men.

At one point they were using dynamite Drake nicked off the Spanish and eating food he paid for out of his own pocket. The weather did more to save England than Queen Elizabeth I. Shit, the King of Spain did more to prevent a Spanish victory than she did.

Saving England doesn’t make Drake a good guy, but neatly underlines the point that many people are a whole lot more complex than the words good or bad imply.

Unless, of course, they are Saddam Hussein, who I thought we had generally decided was one of the worst abusers of human rights in living memory. You don’t have to have been a supporter of the invasion of Iraq – which, let’s remember, Trump was – to agree the guy was a twat. Sorry, “a really bad guy.”

So when I heard that “but” I started to wonder what I’d missed about the dictator. Did he find a cure for cancer? Bring fresh water to every home in the country? Invent a new kind of popcorn that never got stuck in your teeth?

But did he make the trains run on time? Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

More importantly, did he make the trains run on time? Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

No, what he did was what we all knew he did, only Trump had repackaged it as a positive. He brutally put down all opposition through torture, maiming and killing. Or, you know, “killed terrorists” which is, of course, true, but only if you expand the parameters of “terrorist” to include that guy at the dry cleaner who lost one of his shirts.

Iraq was, of course, during “the really bad guy’s” tenure, listed as a state sponsor of terrorism and it’s ironic that, statistically, it seems likely many of the same people who are cheering on Trump must also be among the 38 per cent who believe “the US has clear evidence that Saddam Hussein was working closely with Al Qaeda” on the September 11 attacks. (I think we are through the looking glass, people.)

The thing that scares me most – outside of the fact that people would vote for a man who can’t even construct coherent sentences – is that while police clash with protestors over more sad deaths at the hands of the police, the man at the top is preaching ruthless suppression. And many people are welcoming it. Because everybody always thinks they are on the side of the angels.

Meanwhile, as detractors start to posit the idea that Trump might not even serve as president if he wins and he refuses to rule that out, because he never rules anything out, Hillary Clinton has been cleared from the worry of charges over her email blunders, although her personal judgement did come in for a hammering.

Will it affect her chances? What I do know is that an organisation called Republican Women for Hillary has been founded, which aims not so much to praise her as to stop Trump.

“It’s really important that Republican leaders, especially Republican women leaders, stand up right now and say we’re not OK with Trump representing our party,” said Jennifer Lim, one of the group’s founders. “It’s important that when things like this happen that people speak up.”

Saddam Hussein would never have put up with that shit.

Read all of Donkeys and Elephants here.

@thatdunleavy

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Written by Hannah Dunleavy

Hannah Dunleavy is the deputy editor of Standard Issue. She likes whisky and not having to run anywhere.